Google Picasa 3.8 is a free photo management application which also offers basic, yet powerful, image editing functionality. It's simple enough even for the casual user to get to grips with.
Picasa's main strengths lie in managing and organising your photographs, which the software can do in a variety of different ways. For example, you can use geo-tagging to search by location and a highly effective facial recognition function allows you to search for pictures of your friends using their name. You also get the usual tagging and rating options which allow you to easily keep track of your favourites.
Being a Google product, it's also well integrated with the company's other services, so face tagging works in conjunction with your Gmail contacts list and you can have your photo albums remain automatically in sync with online Picasa albums without the need to manually upload new or re-edited pictures.
Despite being free to use, the software offers a polished user interface which makes organising and locating your pictures very easy. You can create virtual albums without having to move pictures around on your hard drive. This means the same picture can appear in multiple albums.
Double-clicking on an image thumbnail takes you immediately into a simple image editor which provides a small selection of quick-fix options. Here, you can easily crop and straighten your pictures as well as boost or mute the colour and contrast or automatically remove redeye. A tuning menu gives you four sliders which facilitate easy highlight and shadow adjustments and the ability to fix the overall colour. A third tab then lets you apply some simple special effects.
For many people, this will be just the level of editing they need, but if you want to do something a little more adventurous there's the option to automatically upload your photo to the Picnik online photo-editing service which offers many more editing options, although the more useful ones require a paid upgrade to the premium version. Picasa offers many ways of enjoying your finished pictures, via integrated uploading to online services such as Facebook, Flickr and eblogger blogs. You can also easily make video slideshows and collages and, because of the program's simplicity, all of these functions are easy to find and presented in a customisable row of buttons for easy access.