Google Picasa 3.5 Takes Some Cues From iPhoto ’09

picasa_logoIn case you’re an Apple user who isn’t on board with iPhoto ’09, Google has just updated its own free image management software, Picasa, which shares its name with the web-based Flickr rival. Picasa 3.5 for Mac takes a lot of direction from iPhoto ’09, borrowing at least two major features from Apple’s own software.

Picasa web users will recognize the “new” features for the desktop version, which haven’t previously been available on locally installed instances of Picasa in the past. They include face recognition, which Picasa calls “Name Tags,” and support for geotagged photos with location data.

With Name Tags, Picasa will analyze your photos and group them according to faces it find in them, at which point you’re able to assign names to these faces, and then search your library based on people you’ve tagged. If it sounds like Faces in iPhoto ’09, that’s because it is, with the exception that when signed into your Gmail account with the app, Picasa will offer auto-complete suggestions of names you start typing.

Google also baked-in location support in Picasa 3.5, which resembles iPhoto ’09’s Places organizational feature. That means photos with embedded geotagging EXIF data, like those taken with the iPhone’s built-in camera, or using an Eye-Fi Geo card, can be optionally displayed on a map in Picasa 3.5. If you’ve taken your photos without embedded location information, you can simply drag them to the appropriate location on a built-in Google map to achieve the same effect.

Version 3.5 also brings an improved importing process, so that you can star your favorite shots, upload to the web, and share with your Google contacts all in one fell swoop. Tagging is also better than it was before, with better batch tagging, quick tags, and tag counts for image groups.

picasa_screenIf you’re looking for an alternative to iPhoto, and you’re already very plugged into Google via its various personal information management apps, Picasa is a good choice. It isn’t much of a resource hog, it’s very good at combing and organizing your computer’s image files without much intervention on your part, and it plugs into your existing Google account information to fill in a lot of blanks. If I weren’t a MobileMe user (which I might not be for long after yesterday’s announcement), I’d definitely consider using Picasa as my full-time solution.

Picasa 3.5 is available now for Mac and PC, though not for Linux, and it’s an English-only download. It’s completely free, which is something iPhoto ’09 is not, if you haven’t purchased a new Mac lately.

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