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TECHNOLOGY BRIEF

Goodies from Google: free software


July 30, 2004


WASHINGTON — The world's most popular search engine is about a lot more than searching these days. Yet you wouldn't know it by looking at Google's still-spartan main page www.google.com.

A search field is just about all you see there. Yet the search engine giant is slowly but surely offering users a growing number of goodies, all for free, and all targeting areas of keen interest to the plugged-in generation: digital imaging, file sharing, and blogging.

Digital camera owners will appreciate Google's new Picasa file browser and image organiser www.picasa.com/google. Picasa's interface is unique – instead of traditional menus along the top, the program has buttons along the side and top that make accessing the appropriate features a breeze. Once images are found on your hard drive, the program organises them for you automatically.

Perhaps best of all, you can use Picasa to assign keywords to your photos for easy retrieval later. You might have thousands of photos scattered across your hard drive, but if you've tagged them with appropriate keywords in Picasa, you can easily get to all of the photos of, say, your vacation travels or your pets.

Picasa can import images from just about any Twain-compatible device, including digital cameras. Scrolling through the images with Picasa is very smooth, and the program offers some rudimentary but effective editing controls, as well, including enhancing, cropping, and rotating. The editing controls are easy enough for novices to use. One advantage of Picasa as an image editor is that it's a lot less complex and daunting than Adobe's powerhouse graphic editor PhotoShop.

Sharing photos is another forte of Picasa, and for that the Picasa feature known as Hello is front and centre. Hello www.hello.com is a free tool from Google that lets you send your photos instantly to any number of friends. Within Picasa, you just highlight the image you'd like to send, click the Hello button, and you're whisked off to the Hello Web page.

If you haven't signed up for Hello yet, you'll be presented with an opportunity to do so. Registration is a simple affair: create a user name and password, and supply an e-mail address.

Hello works like a cross between an instant messenger and a file sharing application. The main application allows you to send as many image files as you wish to any number of friends, even if you're using a slow dial-up connection.

The images are transmitted almost instantly, thanks to a proprietary image transfer process, and if your friend wishes to download a full-sized printable version of an image, he or she can do so at will. The images can be displayed simultaneously on your computer screen and that of the recipient, and you can use the Hello interface to chat about the pictures in real time.

When used with Google's Picasa, images transmitted via Hello will appear automatically in the recipient's Picasa folders.

Why can Google offer these tools for free? The one obvious moneymaking hook with Picasa is that there is an optional photo printing solution available from the application. You don't have to use the photo printing solution, but it's there, and it's a for-fee service. Hello and Picasa are advertising them as free, however, at least for now.

In addition to these new tools, Google is now the force behind Blogger www.blogger.com/start, a program that makes it very easy to join the blogging revolution by creating your own blog.

What's a blog? It's short for "Web log," a kind of online diary that you make available to the world. Blogs are being used these days for all kinds of purposes – from purely narcissistic to entirely journalistic.

For example, in the United States, journalists are using blogs at this year's Democratic national convention to give readers up-to-the- minute accounts of their observations and thoughts from this newsworthy event. Entertainment personalities are increasingly using blogs to keep in touch with their fans. The list of bloggers is getting long indeed.

You can join that list for free with Blogger. What you'll end up with is a Web address of your own that you can send to people who might be interested in reading your blog. You can create a general blog or one centred on a special topic of interest to you. Readers of your blog can post responses.

Free software is increasingly hard to find these days. While the old adage that "you get what you pay for" still generally holds true, thanks to these new goodies from Google, you can get a lot of fun and useful software for nothing – at least for now. – Sapa-DPA


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