Recently, I had one of my clients call me to express some frustrations she had over dealing with the image files she had downloaded from her digital camera. She had no problems getting the images transferred from the camera to the PC, but she was having issues simply handling the files after they had been put on the PC. Primarily, it was opening and e-mailing the images.

XP has a decent basic toolset for dealing with digital image files. The problem in this case was that Dell had pre-installed JASC’s PaintShop Pro and set it as the default handler of JPEG files. I’m sure PaintShop Pro is a decent app, but it wasn’t even a full version, but some kind of trial version that was asking them for money to upgrade. I hate it when OEMs slap on random third party tools to handle things like photos and MP3s. That part of the situation was easy enough to fix – just alter the file associations so that XP’s built in picture viewer was the default handler for JPEGs.

The other problem was dealing with the heft associated with high-resolution JPEG images. A lot of novice users don’t realize that when they take pictures at their camera’s highest quality setting, the resulting files can be quite massive. That’s fine when you are just dealing with the files on your own PC. But it does become a problem when it comes to e-mailing them. Many ISPs and e-mail providers have limits on attachment sizes, and you can’t ZIP to compress a JPEG because it’s already considered to be a compressed format. In this particular case, my client was using a Webmail interface, so she couldn’t simply use XP’s built-in feature to alter the JPEG’s quality setting to shrink the file size. Because this client accesses her e-mail from 3-4 different computers, we decided that Webmail was the better choice over using a full POP mail client, such as Outlook Express or Outlook.

Enter Picasa, Google’s free photo management tool. At first blush, it reminded me a lot of Apple’s iPhoto on OS X. I installed it and gave her a quick primer on how to use it to manage her library of photos. She was amazed at how easy to use it was, and in no time, I was showing her how to use Picasa’s export tool to save selected images at a lower resolution to shrink down file sizes. Although the process of attaching photo files was still a little cumbersome with her Webmail interface, at least the files were smaller and much easier to handle. JPEG files that were originally 2-3M were now under 100k, with the images looking pretty much the same to the naked eye on a screen. I did point out that she should keep the original hi-res versions of the files as they’d be necessary if she ever wanted to order prints or output them on a photo printer herself.

We discussed future alternatives, like using one of the many popular photo sharing Web sites. But for now, she’s happy just e-mailing them. Picasa certainly made it easier for her to manage, view, and manipulate her growing number of photos.

[tags]jpg,jpeg,picasa,paintshop pro,photo management,compression,hi-res[/tags]