Which Collage do you prefer?

Here are two Collages of my photos using different programs. One has been made with Auto Collage ( a downloadable plug in for Windows Live Photo Gallery and available to trial from HERE) and the other made with Google’s Picasa inbuilt collage feature. .  Just curious as to which one looks the more attractive to you.


Snow through the window

Answers on a postcard please!



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Windows Live, its not the same……..

For the last five  years Windows Live has been my home on the Internet. Its where up until recently I tended to spend most of my time when online.  I made loads of ‘friends’ on there.  Spaces friends. It was so easy to make friends  because it was one of the few sites where you had your own ‘webpage’ easily constructed just the way that you wanted it.   Then you could, via your Home page, find other users Spaces and  go and read what they had to say,  then decide if you wished to be friends with them or not. Your home page contained an absolute brilliant search feature where you could search by Gender and age for example, thereby searching for like minded folks by using lots of useful criteria.

y1pL5FiVW-WIorH_sVKz3K9XgMntmdTpNCaRtm_o3TFib9hO7sM3bi6Ctb_dqf-JfrS6YLTg_-mjOS5Qjr2o4MKJQ  You could share your photos via your Spaces page, show your favourite books, music, films and for any visitor to your Space,  it was fairly straight forward to arrive at a decision as to whether they liked what they saw and then become your friend. Not only that but your home page also showed you a ‘running’ update of NEW users Spaces as well, so you could mosey over there and make friends with them if you liked what you saw. For me and countless others,  there was no other blogging site quite like it for forming friendships and becoming a  community.

Then Wave 3 arrived. None of the changes made to the Windows Live site in Wave 3 had been asked for by the ‘bread and butter’ ordinary user. Not only that, but the whole site became a nightmare to navigate around. Users couldn’t  find their friends. Why? Because now they were referred to as your Network and  not Spaces friends as before.   Users panicked. At  that time I became very busy trying to help those on my Network who couldn’t find their way around because of the new changes. Many of my friends ended up leaving the site  because they just couldn’t get used to any of the new changes, nor did they feel the changes enhanced  the site or improved it.  

 What's new with your network feed

One of the biggest changes was the introduction of a feed on your home page called ‘What’s new with your Network’ and the  inclusion  into that feed of ‘Web Activities.’  The idea behind this was that when anyone in your Network did anything on another site such as Twitter, Digg or flickr for example, it would show in your ‘What’s new with your Network’ feed.  Since the inception of this idea, many more sites have been added including Facebook.  The big problem  with this idea is that you can’t actually react to any of these updates apart from clicking on the update which just serves to take you from the Windows Live site to the external site.  Over a period of time, this has had the increasing effect that Windows Live users have slowly drifted away to using these other sites instead of staying on Windows Live as they were doing before Wave 3.

On your home page, you could be forgiven if you didn’t realise that on Windows Live you can create a webpage of your own called a Space. Despite the fact that previously this was the ‘hub’ of most peoples usage pre Wave 3, in Wave 3  it was ‘shunted’ to the depths  of the More tab with the result that anyone new joining Windows Live will not even be aware of its existence.   To add to this, where previously you could skip from blog to blog easily and also find new people with just one click, now its an absolute nightmare to go to another users Space never mind finding any new ones.

Any updates made on the site itself such as someone posting to their blog or making a comment on someone else’s blog which used to take centre stage on your home page, now tends to get  lost in a barrage of ‘Fred Bloggs said this on twitter’ or ‘ Sid Blank stated this on Facebook’  and as your home page only displays up to 20 updates by default, you miss most updates anyway, unless you were to sit there for hours glued to your home page!  You can extend this to 50 updates from your Home page, but cannot make that the default number.

Unlike on Facebook or twitter etc, the feed updates do not let you interact with them in any way. You can’t even ‘like’ or ‘unlike’ them and you certainly can’t comment on them. They are just feed updates and the only thing you can do is click on the URL if present or the update itself, and therefore whizz off somewhere else.  Is this really the outcome that the Windows Live teams wanted to occur?  I know that I wouldn’t want to encourage my users to go elsewhere if I had a site, I would want them to stay right there.

Some more spam Then there’s the constant spam to contend with in the  comments on your blogs.  Windows Live doesn’t employ Captcha. Well, not for comments at any rate.  It employs Captcha  if you try to complain about said spam where you the innocent party in the whole affair,  have to fill one in alongside a copy of the spam message you received and  the URL of the perpetrator.  Then repeat the whole thing again in a follow up email.  If the Live teams want to see proof of the Spam perpetrators, they just have to go and look at the comments on their own Space! 

Its all very off-putting for users including me, and if I am getting fed up when I have been an avid Windows Live user and stalwart fan then it  really isn’t looking terribly positive in my book.

I know its not easy to get feedback from all of your users, especially when you are such a large corporation such as Microsoft.  Its easier to ask those users who can make their voices heard such as the MVP’s, the Information Technology people and the professionals, but obviously there is a mismatch between what they think is an essential feature for the site and what the ‘ordinary everyday’ user actually needs.  Meanwhile Windows Live is slowly bleeding its users elsewhere.


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Live Photo Gallery v Google Picasa. And the winner is…..

Arriving at a final conclusion about which one of these two excellent free photo editing programs is superior to the other has certainly not been easy.  Until recently I would have definitely chosen Windows Live Photo Gallery, simply because of its ability to upload your photos to so many other photo hosting sites such as flickr and Facebook and  its inbuilt panoramic photo stitching ability.  It has been the mainstay for all of my photo editing for as long as it has been available to use,  but since the recent new updates to Picasa such as the excellent  People tagging which recognises the same faces in your photos and  the  easy to use  Geotagging feature, I have to choose  Picasa. 

Yes there all me

The new facial recognition is so time saving, requiring the user to only  tag a few photos of a particular person in order to enable  Picasa to then find other instances of  that face then tag all other instances automatically, or if it is not sure, suggesting to the user all other instances. This is a boon if you have lots of photos of a person. The Geotagging feature is so easy to do as well,  being right there on the viewing page. 

Geotagging in PicasaSince I began to compare both of these programs, Picasa has received two new updates. Contrast this with Live Photo Gallery which has not been updated with any new features for nearly a year.  That means that even if Geotagging and people recognition were introduced into Photo Gallery in the next Wave 4 update, supposedly scheduled for sometime next year, it then means that Photo Gallery would in essence be playing ‘catch up’ with Picasa.

My only gripe with Picasa is that it doesn’t allow you to publish your photos to outside sites such as Flickr or Facebook, by default you have to upload to your Picasa Web albums,  although this can be worked around  by simply downloading the PixelPipe plug in to Picasa and then enabling Flickr and Facebook sites (or any other site that you happen to use) into PixelPipe. 

The default extras available in each program tend to balance one another out.  Picasa contains an excellent Collage feature by default, whereas Photo Gallery has the ability to create a panoramic photo.  Both allow you to make a movie using your photos and both of the Movie features are fairly easy to get to grips with even for a new user.  There are other extras available for Photo Gallery such as Auto Collage and Photosynth which can be downloaded from HERE  but they are not currently built into Photo Gallery by default.   Also Auto Collage is not free to use at this time.

I am hoping and keeping my fingers crossed that in the new Wave 4 updates to LIve Gallery the following will be included into Photo Gallery by default. Auto Collage incorporated, Geotagging inside the Live Gallery window using the excellent Bing maps, Photosynth also included and people tagging being able to (as in Picasa) recognise the same face in all of your  photos after you have tagged just a  few.

Then  my conclusions would obviously be completely different, but as these two excellent free photo editing applications stand at this point in time and  in light of the recent updates made to it,  I have to choose Google’s Picasa.


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Live Photo Gallery v Google Picasa.round 4 continued.

Live Photo Gallery  Extras.

In this post i will  take a look at the extras that are included in Windows Live Photo Gallery. There are others available such as Auto Collage and Photosynth but at this time they are not available in Live Gallery  by default and need to be downloaded from the extras website, so in the interests of fairness I will not include them.

My favourite extra that comes as default in Photo Gallery is the Panoramic feature.  It is available to the user by clicking on the EXTRAS tab at the top of the viewing window once you have highlighted your chosen photos to make into a panoramic photo.  Of course in order to make use of this feature, you have to first of all take some suitable photographs of your subject or the inbuilt stitching process will not work.

To do this, you simply take a series of shots panning sideways as you take them. So for example, if you want to take a photograph of a particular location but it is too wide to fit into one  shot, all you need to do is take your first shot at the left or right  hand side of the vista, then move the camera across to the left or right, making sure that the second shot slightly overlaps the first one, then move across again and take another shot which overlaps the second one until you have completely included the whole of the subject.  (see the three photos below.)

SNC13674SNC13675 SNC13676

You can also take a photo of a tall building for example and in that instance move the camera from the bottom to the top of the subject (or vice versa)  in order to include it all.  Once you have loaded your photos into Live Photo Gallery, then all you do is select them, followed by clicking on the make tab in the task bar and then selecting Create a panoramic photo from the drop down list. Live photo gallery will then attempt to stitch your photos together into a panoramic shot and once it has achieved this, you can give the completed picture a name.  It can then be cropped (to exclude any rough edges) and fixed in the usual way, before being saved to your picture files. (see below the completed panoramic photo.)

Xmas shopping in York stitch

As with Picasa, you can also create a movie with your photographs, and as a fair comparison, I chose to make a movie using exactly the same photographs and music as I used in Picasa.  After selecting the particular photos, all you do is click on the Make tab and then select Make a Movie. As long as you have Live Movie Maker installed, you are then taken to the Movie Maker screen where you can then easily create your movie.  Again in the interests of fairness I have used the Auto Movie feature and not altered anything apart from the title screen  (font,background colour) and the ending screen. (font,background colour.)

You can choose to make a blog post about your chosen photos if you have Live Writer installed, or you can burn your photos to a DVD to send or give to someone else.  Live photo gallery does allow you to tag people in your photographs if it recognises that a person is included in a shot as it recognises faces , but as yet it does not ‘recognise’ a particular face once you have already tagged that person  in the same way that  Picasa does, so for example, if you have named someone in a few of your photos, it won’t then know who they are, or suggest that it is the same person.   Nor is there any way to Geotag your photos into Bing maps either. 

You can make a collage of your photos in Live photo Gallery by downloading Auto Collage, but at the moment this is not included in Photo Gallery by default. You can of course easily add more photo tools to Live Photo Gallery by downloading either Auto Collage or Photosynth directly from the Extras tab and  I hope that they will be included into Windows Live Photo Gallery in the next Wave 4 update alongside an easy to use Geotagging feature utilising the excellent Bing maps.


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Talking about the new Bing Bar.

Today I  have been trying out the new Bing bar in Internet Explorer 8 and thought it might be useful  to  write a post about how useful I have found it.  It is actually almost a carbon copy of the MSN toolbar that I posted about recently and works in more or less the same way, in fact it has replaced the MSN Toolbar beta.  You will need to have Silverlight on board in order to use the new Bing bar which is available from HERE..

New Bing BarOnce you have downloaded the new Bing Bar from HERE , you can customize it fully to suit your tastes and interests. You can choose which buttons to have available for use by simply dragging them to and fro from the buttons drop down list which  is accessible  by clicking on the plus sign to the right of the default buttons,  and there are some very useful ones to choose from. For example in my case,  I don’t need the cars, money, sport or travel buttons, but I will make use of the TV, Tech and Gadgets, Weather, Windows Live and Life and Style buttons so you can fully tailor the choice of buttons to use to suit you, your interests and your lifestyle.

All buttons to choose fromAs with the MSN Toolbar, by clicking on the Spanner icon on the right hand side of the toolbar, you can also choose the colour and a seasonal theme as well for your Bing Bar. On the far right hand side, you can input your Live ID by clicking on the small down arrow and inserting your  Live ID credentials. The Toolbar will then show your Live ID icon on the far right hand side. . Once you are signed in, you can then click again on the small black arrow to either sign out or alternatively click on view your profile to be taken straight to your Windows Live profile page. A nice touch. To the immediate left of the spanner icon is a small green shield containing a tick which when clicked on states whether or not your computer is at the recommended safely level. I presume that when this is not so, the shield turns red to warn you that all  is not well.

Safety shieldClicking on each of your chosen buttons on the toolbar instigates a  drop down list of choices depending on the button in question, and I try to show some of the choices available to you here. For example, clicking  on the Windows Live button if you have chosen it for your Toolbar  will then display a drop down list allowing  you the choice of going or accessing Live Photo Gallery, Spaces, SkyDrive, your Profile, your photos or alternatively your Mobile. So a quick and easy way to access all of your Windows Live pages and applications whilst you are  browsing the web.

Windows Live dropdownThe weather button is fully customisable and once you have input your location either via your postcode or town, shows your local weather in a very attractive format for the next five days complete with descriptive icons ably illustrated by the picture below.

setting up your weatherOne button I was very keen to include  in my Bar was of course the Tech and Gadgets button, and again this when clicked on shows a variety of technological news about the latest Gadgets and includes News, Features, Photos, Shopping, Mobiles and also an MSN blog about Technology and Gadgets. I had better use this particular button with some caution or I might end up going on a  big spending spree!

Tech and Gadgets buttonThe News button features the news  from your particular  location, so in my case the top news in the drop down list is from the UK. Similarly, the TV button features news about the  TV programs currently being shown in your location so in my particular case, the drop down features the latest news from ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of here.’ which is currently showing this week on ITV. All the news in the list  features a small screen of the person being talked about in each news feature. Again in the TV button list, there is quite a choice available to peruse, such as news, Features, Photos, Video, Soaps and another blog to read.  Quite a comprehensive list to work through!

TV drop down is location savvyI  am certainly going to use this Bing Bar from now on, it is definitely as good if not better than the MSN Toolbar that I was previously using and I thoroughly recommend that you give it a try. it is fully customisable to suit you and your interests and that is always a winning feature in my book!  So take a look at this video about the new Bing Bar and then  why don’t you give it a try! It works in both Internet Explorer and Firefox.

TG   Enjoy.

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