Published: January 27, 2023 Author: Andrey Isaev
Every year, we store more and more photos is our archives so we can later return to precious moments in our lives. However, an important photos can get lost if you do not take care of the systematized storage. In the past there was a convenient application to work with a photo archive. It was Picasa. In this article we discuss all types of alternatives available today.
In April 2012 Google decided to close down the Picasa project in favor of the development of Google Photo. Till that time, as a free application, Picasa has been able to win the huge audience of users around the world. Indeed, for its time, Picasa offered innovative approaches to manage photo archive.
Even though Google does not distribute Picasa anymore, users still can download its installation from various unofficial sources. However, what they can get is lack of adaptation to latest operating systems, the inability to support modern formats with high compression quality (webp and heic), non-working geolocation in the photos after disconnecting from the Google ecosystem, and no way to get support.
As time passes, the need for modern and free alternative grows stronger. In preparation for this review we made:
We hope it will help you find an alternative to the Picasa application that suits your needs best.
Please keep in mind, that in this article we focus specifically on applications for organizing your photo archive. Photo editors is completely different category.
First of all, let's look at the distinctive characteristics of Picasa, thanks to which it was able to attract close attention:
Having refreshed the memory of the advantages of Picasa, let's move on to the consideration of the first possible alternative.
This application is included in the base package of Windows 10 and 11. It opens by default when opening photos from File Explorer. First of all, let's pay attention to how the built-in application can help the user for easy viewing and managing a large family photo archive.
Perhaps, only one and the most important drawback can be singled out - some of the functions, for unknown reasons, simply refuse to work normally.
For example, a user can add arbitrary folders to the index, but then for some reason finds in the application only a part of the photos from these folders, and in the worst case, does not find anything at all. If files were scanned and added to the library, but later moved or new files were added, nothing will change in the index, which suggests that there is no function for regular folder scanning in the program.
Surprisingly, the developers seem to be aware of this problem - otherwise how can one explain the presence in the program interface of a special explanation why the user may have something wrong with the contents of the folders:
Such a wording gives the impression that the program has all the specified functionality from the very beginning, but it will only work normally if the user uploads his entire archive to his personal OneDrive cloud storage (and therefore pays monthly for storage). This factor moves the program into a completely different category of paid applications, which makes it impossible to consider it further as a free counterpart to Picasa.
Microsoft's Photos app could truly be an almost complete alternative to Picasa. However, without the obligatory upload of all its files to OneDrive, it leaves much to be desired - in addition to the critical problem described above, it lacks support for maps and any functions for putting things in order inside the archive, and there are also a number of minor glitches.
On Microsoft's English site, this program is called Photo Movie Editor. This explains a lot. If you do not expect functionality from it in managing the archive, then it is simply great. The video production there is really impressive. However, to work with the archive, you will have to choose something else.
This is a separate category of programs for working with images, which can only be called Picasa analogues due to a completely different approach to working with archives. Unlike Picasa, they don't create a full catalog of your entire archive. At best, they only collect information about favorite photos, albums and categories (like XnView). The principle of working with them is very similar to working with a regular explorer - the user wanders through the full tree of folders on his computer, and he himself must somehow remember where and what photos are. If the archive is large, then the user will inevitably have to spend his time sorting photos into folders with self-explanatory names. Otherwise, you just won't be able to find anything.
For this very reason, such programs do not and simply cannot have such useful things as a time scale, a map with event locations (and even just the ability to show the place of a specific photo on the map is missing) or grouping by people and so on.
However, the utilities are quite popular and do their job well. A user looking for a replacement for Picasa will not be able to fully satisfy his needs with the help of utilities, and will be forced to continue looking for a replacement among programs from other categories, but having one of them on his computer “just in case” is not such a bad idea, What's more, the most popular ones are completely free. And for certain tasks they can be quite suitable.
In this review, three of the most popular utilities in this category are considered - XnView MP, IrfanView and FastStone Image Viewer. Of course, the selection doesn't end there, but these three have been around for a very long time and are the undisputed leaders in the category. In fact, they are quite similar, both in terms of the principle of operation and functionality, with the exception of small differences.
All of these programs from the late 1990s and early 2000s managed to retain the typical interface of those years with a lot of icons on the toolbar, which now looks outdated. Instead of making the default interface as convenient as possible for most users, the creators chose to follow the path of increasing the number of settings, which, at the same time, are not set to the best values by default. However, the benefits in the settings are very doubtful, because they only overload the interface and complicate the development of the program.
As an example of a not very well-thought-out user interface, I would like to cite the implementation of a slide show in all of the programs listed. In all of them, in order to start displaying images, the user will first be taken to a large dialog with a long list of options. There are so many of them in XnView that you have to make two bookmarks to fit them into the dialog.
At the same time, the number of settings is not at all equivalent to the proper quality. The slideshow itself is not animated like in Picasa, the pictures on the screen are static. For two of the three, you can only set up a beautiful transition between pictures, but by default it is turned off. The user is prompted to simply stare at a static photo for a few seconds and wait for the next one.
The saddest thing is that by default, all of them have the full path to the file of the displayed image in the upper left corner, which is very distracting from viewing. Moreover, for IrfanView and FastStone, the color of this inscription is poisonous green, so that it was certainly impossible not to notice. It's hard not to be sarcastic that, of course, that's what users watch slideshows of their photos for.
The main advantage of all three programs is their free use.
The program from the French developer dates back to 1998.
The program is fully supported by a single developer named Irfan Skijian, originally from Bosnia and now living in Austria. The program differs in that it does not try to replace the system explorer. It is assumed that the user will view the files in a regular explorer, and clicking on the photo will start viewing. The program also has its own navigator - as a separate subroutine. Perhaps this is just a tribute to fashion and some respect for colleagues, because this navigator can hardly be called convenient for use.
Although this can be seen as a reasonable approach. There is no need to produce conductors in the program when the operating system already has one and quite convenient.
weak functionality is compensated by a system of third-party plugins that add support for formats and other useful features.
primitive slideshow with difficult to read settings dialog.
Humanity can be angry at Google all they want for depriving everyone of such a great program as Picasa, but Google's strategy is very logical and completely justified - they want to make more money. Google management is doing everything possible to ensure that users store their photos on their servers and, in addition, pay them for it. Every month, and then all my life. According to this logic, one can speculate that later, as they grow older, children and grandchildren will also want a copy of the family archive for themselves. They will also start paying by regularly adding their new photos and videos there. The volume will only grow every year, as will the income of Google companies. Perhaps now this is not much, but given that we all have smartphones, the number of megapixels in them is growing with each new model, the volume of archives will expand significantly in a short time.
Of course, you can’t talk about storing photos in the cloud as soon as something bad. There are a lot of advantages in this method, and regardless of whose service it is:
There are many cloud services for photography, and they are all quite different. Let's take a closer look at the three most famous and polar ones in order to provide the most complete picture.
The most advanced photo cloud service because it is so much more than just a service. This is a whole ecosystem that consists of the iPhone, the Photos application on Mac OS, and, in fact, iCloud itself. And it's all seamlessly integrated. Working with photos is simplified as much as possible, uploading to the cloud takes place automatically, synchronization is performed between devices of one user, and there is also a very convenient way to share with family and relatives.
If we return to Picasa, then they took a lot from its functionality and did it at a very decent level:
In some things they went even further:
But there are also disadvantages, which, as often happens, are a continuation of the advantages:
Speaking of cloud services, one cannot fail to mention Google due to its huge popularity. Its main difference from iCloud is that it provides only a part of the ecosystem - there are mobile applications for iOS and Android, but no desktop application. On the computer, it is proposed to use only the browser, which is consistent with their philosophy and outlook on the future.
Another key difference between Google's philosophy and Apple's philosophy is their relationship to user data. For them, it is a source of income. And if you accept the fact that the user completely gives the entire history of his family to them for storage, and at the same time Google has the right to look at it, train its neural networks on it, use it for other internal purposes, including to make more targeted advertising, then this service is actually a very good option.
It may be surprising to see this program in this category, because in the distant past it was a common desktop application, but today everything has changed. This is exactly a cloud service plus a desktop application to boot. Paid in exactly the same way by subscription for $9.99 per month. This amount, in addition to the license for the application, also includes 1TB of storage in the cloud. Search and indexing of photos from local folders is not provided there.
This service can be safely recommended to those who are professionally engaged in photography, shoot with a professional camera and want to get the most out of their pictures, since the possibilities of color correction, editing, retouching and other toolset are really at their best. Which is not surprising, because the “big brother” of this program is the legendary Photoshop.
However, for a less professional audience looking for a replacement for Picasa, this is perhaps not the best choice. First, it's expensive. Secondly, this is still a professional tool that will be much more difficult to master. Thirdly, it lacks some of the less professional but handy features that users are used to in Picasa - no slideshows, no event maps, collages, and the like.
Having studied all the “neighboring” categories, without which this review would be incomplete, we move on to the type of applications that are much closer to Picasa in terms of their ideology and functionality. There are surprisingly few such apps and almost all of them are paid, but we found two free ones for numerous users who are looking for an alternative to Picasa. Let's talk about them, and about the most popular solution in the paid category.
This is relatively new application first released at the end of 2021. It is regularly updated with new functionality, but the most necessary functions are already there. The mission of the developers is to provide the best photo management tool, regardless of the photo location, allowing the user to decide where and how to store her or his photos and videos. Definitely this application is worth it to evaluate it and make your own opinion - whether Tonfotos satisfies all the needs of modern users.
It is a long-established open source program originally written for Linux but later ported to other OSes. Formally, it has many of the features that users are used to in Picasa. The truth is implemented in a kind of "Linux" style. If you want rich features, flexibility of settings and are not afraid of the complexity of development, a peculiar design, then this application is quite possible to try.
This program has a long history, so it is not surprising why it is the most popular in the category of paid photo archive management applications. And it is she who is often recommended in similar reviews on other sites. Her price is decent - $134.95 for a license. However, you can try the trial version for 30 days. The price is high, but most likely justified, given that the program is aimed at people for whom maintaining an archive of photos in order is part of their professional duties. This is fairly easy to understand by using the program a bit and looking at the rest of the products in the company's lineup. It is unlikely that developers see their target audience as ordinary people who just want to simplify their lives when working with family photo archives and who are not looking for new difficulties.
The functionality of the program is very extensive and it is made much better than digiKam, but still little attention is paid to the enjoyment of viewing.
As you can see, despite the fact that 10 years have passed since the end of support for Picasa, the situation with alternatives is still not very simple. There are few worthy direct analogues. There are quite a few solutions from neighboring categories, especially cloud services have developed during this time. However, if the user does not want to become dependent on one of the cloud services and wants to decide for himself where and how to store his digital heritage, then the new Tonfotos application seems to be the best option. It still has a long way to go in terms of functionality, but even now it has everything you need to start easily navigating through tens and hundreds of gigabytes of images and enjoy viewing, returning to the best moments of the past.
Since the app is free and extremely easy to learn, everyone can try it out for themselves and decide for themselves if the app is right for their needs. You can download Tonfotos here.