Jan 28, 2005

I seem to be spending a lot of time these days downloading software
from Google’s website. Considering the fact that I was only faintly
aware that Google even produced desktop software until just recently,
I’m surprised to find not one but three pieces of Google branded software on my hard drive.

It all started with Google’s desktop search program. I kind of came across it by accident a while ago, somehow missing all the commotion surrounding desktop search tools. Microsoft, Yahoo, and others have since entered the fray but I haven’t found either the time or desire to check out other offerings.

As for Google’s tool, I’ve found it very useful. Searching files on my computer used to be like watching glaciers move. This thing is so snappy you almost assume it’s broken. There are some flaws, e.g. I wish it could search non-Outlook related email and I wish it would search my C# code files, but I’ll live.

As for the feature itself, it’s pretty easy to predict something such as this becoming standard for all operating systems from this point on, likely leaving third-party software begging for scraps. That might not mean good things for Google and friends but that’s ok. It does mean I’ll spend a lot less time staring at a progress bar both today and tomorrow.

Google’s little picture program, Picasa, was next on my list. Picasa, which I’d like to retitle Your Mother-in-law’s Picture Program, is a great compliment to my current suite of picture editing programs, which include Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, and Gimp. Picasa’s focus is rather different from those programs, choosing to worry about things like photo albums and organization rather than hardcore editing. Because of this, it offers a bunch of neat, whizzbang features that are just perfect for the casual user. Create slideshows or picture collages in a couple of buttons. Enhance your pictures using a couple of simple, but effective, visual effects. All of this is wrapped in one of the better user interfaces I’ve seen for these types of programs in years.

The feature that really puts it over the top is its ability to send pictures via email in approximately one button press. Select your pictures and press go. Picasa will open your favorite email program, create a new message, and attach your selected photos to that email in a web-optimized form. That is, the pictures are generally smaller, in both file size and resolution.

For me, this saves me the cumbersome steps of opening Photoshop, altering a picture, saving my work, and attaching its altered form to a new email. For casual users, like my mother-in-law, this really opens up picture sharing on the web. She doesn’t have to worry about file sizes. She doesn’t have to care about the resolution of the photos her 2 megapixel camera belts out. She just has to hit the send button. Amen to that.

Heavy use of Picasa, led me to Hello, another Google tool. Hello can best be described as an instant messenger program with pictures. Think of it as AOL IM with a visual element. Chat with your friends and send them pictures, fully aided by Picasa. One feature that I really liked was the fact that you could spy on your friend; Hello’s filmstrip presentation provides a little indicator of what they are currently eyeing. I also really like the concept of including a thumbnail of the currently viewed picture in the chat log. That simple feature makes the conversation about something. Very cool.

If anyone is looking for some software to whittle away some hours in, these are all good candidates. I’m not sure I’m done looking for a desktop search tool quite yet (for example, Copernic’s offering looks pretty nice, but I bet Picasa gets real comfortable on my computer. As far as Hello goes, don’t be surprised to see an invite show up in your email, provided I actually want to see your pictures.

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