Live Photo Gallery v Google Picasa.round 4.

This round is all about the extras that are included with both of these free programs. For this post, I am going to take a look at some of the extras included with Google’s Picasa, and then do a later post about the extras included with Live Photo Gallery. To say that both of these programs are completely free to use, they both include some fantastic extras for you to make use of. I am going to concentrate on the ones that I feel are likely to be the most useful to  new users.

Name Tags.

The new version of Picasa now includes name tags, and this feature is very useful because its such a time saver.  As soon as you have installed Picasa and it has finished  loading in all of your photos stored on your computer, it begins to scan all of them for peoples faces. You can add a name to a persons photo and then Picasa will find all other instances of that named person and ask you to verify if those photos are of the same person or not  You can confirm them all or individually.  I  personally love this feature and it really works well, saving you the trouble of sifting through all of your photo collection to name individuals included in them.  However, do note here that Picasa will find every person’s face in every photo that you have stored! Luckily you can choose to tell it to ignore any that are superfluous.

Confirm all your people photos

Creating a Collage. 

Another useful feature included in Picasa is the ability to create a collage of a collection of your photographs.  To create a collage, you simply select some photos or pictures and then click on the Collage icon at the bottom of the viewing area.  You can scramble and shuffle the pictures, change the background to either a plain one or have one of the pictures as a background. Each picture included can have a frame or not, and you have complete control over the finished  size of the Collage.

Creating A Collage in Picasa

Geotagging in Picasa.

Another very useful included feature is geotagging which is made so easy to do in the new version. If you have a photo that was taken at a particular place or spot, just click on the Places icon and a world map will load on the right hand side of the viewing screen. You can then move and click until you arrive at the town/city or area where the photo was taken. Then all you do is just drag and drop the chosen photo into the map to geotag it. You can add as many shots of that area/building etc as you want just by dragging them to the map area. Each photo geotagged is then assigned a small red ‘flag’ on the right hand lower side to denote that it has been geotagged. Its so easy!  Again, I love this feature.

Putting my pic in its place

Making a Movie

You can take a collection of pictures and easily create a movie out of them inside Picasa.  This feature is ideal for a collection of photos of a trip that you made or a day out for example,or as in my demo a theme.   You can add some music to the movie from your music files, decide on the title and the fonts used for it, choose the transitions between each photograph, play it through and then edit it until you are satisfied with the result. You can also add some captions to individual photos when you edit it.

Unfortunately I have not been able to  include the completed video in this post  to show you as  I had  lot’s of problems trying to get my video file uploaded to YouTube, in fact I had to give up trying in the end as I do not have unlimited uploads/downloads. This uploading videos area  definitely needs sorting out by the Picasa bods as it appears that I am not the only one who has experienced difficulty in this area.  Let’s hope that I have better luck in my next post when I’ll be taking a look at the extra features available in Live Photo Gallery.

TG EDIT. Have now managed to get the video uploaded to YouTube by cheating and using Windows Live Movie Maker instead. So the enclosed video is made with Picasa but uploaded with Movie Maker. I have not altered it in any way.

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Talking about the MSN Toolbar.

Although I usually use the Windows Live toolbar that comes with the Windows Live Essentials suite of programs when I use an toolbar, I have recently switched to using the new MSN Toolbar instead. In my view it supplies a far better integration with all the Live services than the Live toolbar does, is far more customisable  and looks very attractive into the bargain. I have used this toolbar before when it was in beta but at that time the Windows Live services were not as fully incorporated into it as they are now.

New MSN toolbar

Once you have downloaded the MSN Toolbar from you can  then begin to customize it for your own use. First of all  you will need to sign in on the right hand side of the toolbar with your Live ID. Then moving on to the next  icon on the left  which  is a  small spanner (Toolbar Options)  you can set up just how you would like your toolbar to look. There is a wide choice of colours to choose from,  a choice of scenes which include the seasons and some seasonal events such as Christmas, Valentines Day, New Year, Autumn and  Winter etc.  In the Quality choice  you can also choose to give feedback to Microsoft or not and find our more information about the MSN Toolbar such as the current version that you are using under About.

Setting seasons and colours Clicking on the Cogwheel icon (Customise your buttons) allows you to choose which ‘news’ buttons you wish to have on your toolbar by dragging each button from the provided list to the toolbar or dragging from the toolbar to the list if you wish to remove a button. from those already provided by default.  To enable the five day weather feature for your area, you simply click on the weather icon and then insert your location into the Options. You can choose to  display this as Fahrenheit or Centigrade.

Choose your weather

When you click on each news button, you are  shown a list of news in a drop down list, and can then choose which news ‘headline’ you wish to read about by simply clicking on Read More. At the far left of the toolbar is the Bing search box and to the left of that, the MSN butterfly which when clicked will  take you to the MSN home page.

 Reading the news headlines Gadgets menu

So I hear you ask, where is all the Windows Live integration that you mentioned at the beginning of this post? Well the MSN Toolbar has a trick up its sleeve!  See that up arrow button in between the ‘spanner’ icon and the ‘cogwheel’ icon?   Click on that  ‘Flip’ arrow and viola!  There are all the Windows Live buttons!  Click on Windows Live to be taken straight to your Windows Live homepage! Click on the Hotmail tab to see all of your Hotmail emails and also write a new email as well. . Click on Email this page to send the entire page in an email message or perhaps you would prefer to send it via Instant message instead? If so, click on the next button on IM this Page.  However, the best part of this toolbar in my estimation  is to be found when you click on the last button in this list, the More services button.

Windows Live services in MSN

Clicking on More Services displays a list of ALL the live services including Photo Gallery, Spaces, SkyDrive, Profile, Photos, Mobile, Groups, Events, Calendar, Family Safety, Writer, Movie Maker and Mail.  You are also shown exactly where each service is available from.  In the case of Spaces for example, you are shown that you  can access your Space  from both online and also your mobile. You can also see which other applications work well with that particular program or service. So in the case of Spaces you are told it works well with Writer, Events and Mobile.

More Live services availableBy clicking on the bottom of each one you can then go directly to that service as long as it is online. It all works quite well with the online services such as Profile, Calendar, SkyDrive, Photos Groups and Mobile, but Spaces does not take you directly to your Spaces page, instead it takes you to your Spaces home page. All of the included Live Essentials Suite of programs such as Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer and Live Mail take you to their relevant download pages. 

In summary, I liked the MSN Toolbar when i was testing it out whilst it was in beta, it really looks attractive, and its news tabs contain some very useful buttons. Because the user is able to fully configure it to suit them it becomes far more useful than many of its rivals.  But for me, its the integration with all of the Live services that I find the most useful, and I could argue that this has now become the definitive toolbar to use if you also make use of Windows Live and its services. . This is what the Live Toolbar could and should  have been.


Live Photo Gallery v Google Picasa round 3.

More extensive editing in Picasa.

In this post I intend to take a look at the more intensive editing features contained in both of these two free desktop photo  editing programs. . Looking at Picasa first, it’s editing sidebar which is placed on the left hand side of the photo screen  is divided into three separate areas or tabs. These consist of Basic Fixes, Tuning and Effects.

Picasa's Basic FixesBasic Fixes contains clickable icons for Crop, Straighten, Redeye, I’m Feeling Lucky (auto fix) Auto Contrast, Auto Colour, Retouch, Text and Fill Light. Only Fill Light has a adjustable slider. The Redeye feature in Picasa is particularly impressive because even if the person who is affected by the redeye is some distance away in the photograph, Picasa can still enable Redeye correction and it automatically draws a green square around each affected eye so that all the user has to do is to click on Apply.

Fix red eye in PIcasaTwo features which are included in this category that are not available in Photo Gallery are Retouch and Text. As the name implies, Retouch allows the user to touch up someone’s face in order to cover up any  blemishes for example by brushing it out. You can choose which size of brush you wish to use and then by clicking the circle above the blemish you can cover it, and then click on Apply. You are able to ‘undo’ the patch or cover if you are not happy.

The text feature allows you to place some text into the photograph. You can choose which font and size of font to use and also its alignment and its transparency.

Placing text on a photo The middle tab Tuning consists of four separate sliders for Fill Light, Highlights, Shadows and Colour Temperature to enable you to ‘fine tune’ the photograph.  All can be reversed with Undo Retouches. The last tab Effects features all the different Effects that you can apply to your photo  shown as small icons consisting of that  particular photo so that you can easily see just how each effect will look when applied to the photograph. So Picasa contains some  quite extensive editing features considering that it comes entirely free to use.

PIcasa shows you its effects.

More extensive editing in Photo Gallery.

In direct contrast, the editing column in Photo Gallery is placed on the right hand side of the photo editing screen. It’s editing tools make far more  use  of sliders in order to adjust each feature. They consist of the following, Auto Adjust, Adjust Exposure, Adjust Colour, Straighten Photo, Crop Photo, Adjust Detail, Fix Red eye and Black and White Effects. With the adjust exposure feature as well as sliders for Brightness, Contrast, Shadows and Highlights, you also have  a Histogram so that you can see how your adjustments look.

The Adjust colour also makes use of sliders for Colour Temperature, Tint and Saturation.

Photo Gallery's finer adjustmentsWhen you click on Straighten photo, a grid is overlaid on top of the photograph to assist with lining up any vertical or horizontal lines in that photo. Crop photo allows you to crop out any areas that are superficial to the photo and both of these features also work exactly the same  in Picasa.

The Adjust detail feature is relatively new  to Photo Gallery and was added during the last updates. It allows you to Sharpen up your photo by using a slider. Firstly as soon as you select Adjust detail, the photo is ‘zoomed in’ so that you are more able to see the close up affects of your sharpening, then because applying any sharpening usually introduces ‘noise’ into the photo, you can click on the Analyze button to reduce the noise that may have been introduced during the sharpening procedure.  I have found that this feature works quite well.

Adjusting detail in Photo GalleryThe Fix red eye in Photo Gallery does not work in the same way as the same feature  in Picasa.  Instead, the user  has to manually drag the mouse pointer around the effected eye instead of the program automatically drawing a rectangle for you, and so whilst it is fairly easy to do if the affected person was fairly close to the camera when the photo was taken, it is not as useful if the person was stood quite a distance away.  However, one could argue that its harder to spot the incidence of Redeye if someone is a further away. 

Fix red eye in Photo galleryThe Black and white effects in Photo Gallery also are shown as small icons displaying their effects, but not of  that particular photo, so the only way to see just how they look when applied to your photo is to click on them and try them out.   All adjustments made to any photograph can easily be undone by clicking on the Undo button at the very bottom of the Edit column.

Black and White effects in PG In the next round between these two programs,  I intend to focus on any extras that either program provides such as the Panoramic feature incorporated into Photo Gallery and  the Collage feature and the Geotagging that is available in Picasa.


Facebook, my pet peeves.

facebook-icon3 Along with the rest of the world, I am on Facebook. I first joined Facebook because a family member asked me to. At first it seemed okay. Another way to keep in touch with family and friends. Some of my family began asking me to join them in using certain applications on there. The first time I accepted  I was puzzled as to why the application needed not only all  of my details in order to work, but also requested that I  include a certain amount of my family/friends details as well. Why? Why does an application, whether it be a game or anything else on Facebook NEED all of your details and those of your friends before it will work?

If I download a game to my computer to play, it doesn’t need to know my life history before it allows me to download and play it? And more importantly, what do these applications do with all of the supplied data that they insist that they need?

Allow access

You could of course argue that they need all that data in order to spread themselves around Facebook (sounds like a virus doesn’t it?) thereby ending up being used by more people. I would argue that if your application or game is good enough, then your users would tell their family and friends about it anyway. What’s wrong with simply relying on ‘word of mouth’ to increase your usage?

Then following the build up on Facebook of these applications such as games and the like, we are all now inundated with  the downright annoying ‘nags’ about them in our feeds.  Despite posting to my feed countless times that I am NOT interested in joining ‘Farmhouse Families’ or ‘Mafia shoot up’ or anything else for that matter, I still get pestered to join this or that. So I block that particular application. Problem solved? NO! Because no sooner do you block one application than along comes another one in its wake! Grrr! There must be one new application born every few minutes on Facebook, or that’s how it seems to me!  I can’t keep up with the blocking and hiding!

Another bloody app There are other niggles I have with Facebook. How you can’t use your nickname for example or the fact that it doesn’t use RSS feeds so that I can check any updates in my desktop email program.

I would close my account on there in a jiffy but most of my family also use Facebook  regularly and I also have some long term friends from Live Journal on there as well. Hmm. Think I might have to do some serious culling of contacts on there especially those who are always nagging me to join this or join that.


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