Just like GMail, there is a lot to like about Picasa. It is fast, it is functional, free and relatively easy to use. It also comes with Picasa Web Albums which is the photo (and video) sharing site accompanying Picasa, the desktop software. The web album storage is limited to 1GB but adding storage is inexpensive and if you use Google+ and an Android phone, pictures up to 2048 pixels do not count towards storage capacity (and get uploaded automatically from the phone to Picasa Web).
I started using Picasa almost as soon as Google bought it (that’s also when I came to know of the software). At the time, it was way better than the other Windows-based software including the free Photo Gallery application. Just before our first child was born, I was lured into the Apple world and I got an iMac which came with iLife. iPhoto is a beautiful application which, along with the general simplicity of Mac OS X, was a delight to use after using Picasa. All the functionality of modern picture/video management (people tags, geo tags, face recognition, quick edits, detailed edits, organization by events, etc.) in an application which feels like it is part of the operating system. If you have a Mac, you already have this software and is a fantastic alternative to Picasa. iPhoto does offer sharing photos/videos to the web, via Apple’s MobileMe and also to Facebook, flickr, etc. There is also a PicasaWeb uploader from Google which allows you to upload pictures directly to PicasaWeb from iPhoto (although, if you are reading this to un-Google yourself, you can ignore that last bit ).
After using iPhoto for a bit, I realized that it is not easy to interoperate with a PC. Since I had Windows PC’s in addition to the iMac, I wanted to be able to see the iPhoto pictures/videos from other PC’s but that was only possible easily with iTunes sharing and not via folder sharing. Also, in order to reduce redundancy, I wanted to store my iPhoto Library on a network-attached storage device, but while that was possible, it was very complex to enable a Windows PC to see the contents of the iPhoto Library. There were a lot of times when I had to actually export pictures from iPhoto just to use them outside the Mac ecosystem. This difficulty led me to explore other options besides iPhoto.
Around this time, came Windows Live Essentials along with an excellent Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG) update. WLPG now included a ton of new features like face recognition, photo fuse (to merge parts of pictures from multiple pictures to create a perfectmoment), panorama creation, people tags (which can optionally map to Facebook), and upload to most of the popular web sharing sites like flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Picasa Web (using plugins), etc. WLPG is also different from iPhoto in that the tags are stored back into the jpg file as EXIF metadata instead of being stored in a separate proprietary database file like with iPhoto. This feature is awesome because then the pictures become truly portable and I don’t have to rely on one PC or one application to manage my collection.
I have been using WLPG on my Windows 7 PC’s which allow me to store my entire collection on an external drive and just point the PicturesLibraries on all the PC’s to that network location. Doing so eliminates redundancy and enables me to consolidate my collection to a central location and at the same time provides all the relevant metadata to any PC which browses the pictures.
If you have a Windows 7 PC, there is no reason to look anywhere else besides WLPG and if you have a Mac, you are perfectly fine with iPhoto. Both these programs are excellent by themselves and can easily replace Picasa.
Various ribbons in Windows Live Photo Gallery
Picasa Web, the web album companion to Picasa has a few competitors too. First of all, the free version of Picasa Web only allows 1GB of storage. As of today, 20GB can be bought for $5/yr and 80GB can be bought for $20/yr. Flickr Pro provides unlimited storage for $25/yr (there are small discounts if you sign up for multiple years). Facebook is becoming a popular photo sharing destination as well, with 250 millions photos uploaded each day. Since the past few months, I have been exclusively sharing my pictures on Facebook and the result is I see way more interaction with my friends and family on some of the pictures than I get on flickr. I always publish pictures with limited visibility (on flickr as well as on Facebook) and then share my albums to people I want to share with. Since everyone I want to share my pictures with, is on Facebook already, I see it being the best sharing service for me.
Flickr Pro is a great service because for $25/yr you get unlimited storage so you never have to worry about hitting your limits. The flickr website unfortunately still seems to be stuck in the 90′s and it is hard to navigate (compared to the other comparable services). I have started using it less frequently because Facebook seems better but also because most people I want to share with, are not on flickr or Yahoo! and as a result I have to resort to creating Guest Pass every single time. Creating a Guest Pass also limits the interactions on the shared photos because my friends and family who are not on flickr cannot comment or rate the photos.
However, as a replacement for Picasa Web, either Flickr Pro or Facebook would be adequate. There are other newer services like 500px (and increasingly, services like Instagram) which seemed to have gained some market share, but I have not used them, so I cannot comment. Photobucket and Smugmug are both excellent services and can be considered good alternatives as well.