What happened? Google is closing down its free photo organising tool Picasa, pushing users to switch to Google Photos, instead. Google bought Picasa in 2004, offering it as a free download. The service lets you manage images stored across your PC, search for shots using facial recognition, perform basic edits and apply various effects. However, Picasa hasn’t changed much in recent years, with Google instead focusing on Google Photos, its online photo service that offers clever automated editing tools and free web-based backup. It’s not surprising, then, that Google is closing down Picasa in favour of Photos, which is not only more up to date but fits better with the company’s online business model. How will it affect you? Google will no longer support the Picasa Desktop tool from 15 March. However, that doesn’t mean the software will instantly stop working, only that Google will stop providing updates and support. You’ll still be able to use Picasa, but it’s probably best to start looking for alternatives. If you have any photos uploaded to Picasa’s website, you’ll need to find them a new home by May.
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Google is obviously hoping Picasa fans will switch to Google Photos to organise and edit their photos. Google Photos stores everything in the cloud, which, on the positive side, means you can keep all your images in one place, whether they’re from mobile devices or scattered across multiple PCs, and access them anywhere with an internet connection. It also means free backup. Plus, Google Photos’ editing and organisational tools are much better than Picasa’s. You can search for images by date or by content, for example, which means you can find pictures of documents by looking for text, or look at every photo you’ve taken of breakfast. Google will automatically touch up your photos and it can turn multiple shots taken in succession into clever animated GIFs, while still leaving the original image intact. The drawback to Google Photos’ cloud storage is that all your family photos are kept on the company’s servers, so if you’re not keen on handing over your personal data to the tech giant, you’ll want to consider a different option. Adobe Lightroom is perhaps the best known and is much more powerful than either Picasa or Google Photos, although it’s also more challenging to use. You can buy it outright for $103 inc VAT or get a Creative Cloud subscription including Photoshop editing software for $9 a month. Free alternatives include Magix Photo Manager, which, like Picasa, scans your entire PC for photo files; and Microsoft’s own Windows Photo Gallery. If you choose to switch to Google Photos, any images stored in Picasa Web Albums will already be there as long as you log in with the same credentials. If you decide not to, Google said it would be “creating a new place” for users to access Web Albums data. What do we think? It’s always irritating when software you know and love is mothballed (meaning you need to seek out a new tool and learn how to use it). Google often kills off its services but not usually ones as popular as Picasa. We would have preferred to see Picasa and Google Photos merge into one rather than see the former simply abandoned. Google Photos is excellent if you’re blessed with a steady internet connection and don’t mind Google having access to your photos. If you don’t have reliable broadband, a Desktop-based photography tool is a better option, even you have to pay for it. For this reason alone, it would have been better to overhaul Picasa using Google Photos as a base, perhaps even dumping the brand name, keeping the offline Desktop option and using Google Photos for online backup and sharing. Alas, we’re not surprised that Google wants to push more content online – that’s its business, after all. See our feature on page 46 to find out how to make the most of Google Photos.