It looks like the beta release of Chrome isn't the only big Google release today. The company is also rolling out a major update to its Windows-based Picasa photo management application and the Picasa Web Albums Web service, according to CNET:

With a face recognition feature set to launch at noon PDT Tuesday, Google's Picasa Web Albums will help users label their photos with the names of subjects. That and other changes to the photo-sharing site are joined by a new beta version of the accompanying Picasa 3.0 photo-editing software.

The "name tag" feature presents users with collections of photos with what it judges to be the same person, then lets them click a button to affix a name. Once photographic subjects are named, users can browse an album of that individual on the fly.

"Once you've started naming people, we'll start suggesting names for you based on similarity," said Mike Horowitz, Google's Picasa product manager. "The process of naming people is really addictive and tremendously fun."

The problem with tagging is that it's a chore, so most people don't bother. But Picasa's name tag feature automates the process enough--and provides enough reason to use it--that I believe many users will take the tagging plunge.

Overall, Google's Picasa moves show that despite a long period of near-dormancy, Google still evidently is committed to the photography site and software.

Picasa 3 beta
Google also plans to release a beta version of the Picasa 3 image-editing. It works on Windows.

The new Picasa software brings several changes:

  • A movie maker mode lets people combine photos with music to export movie versions of galleries to watch on a PC or upload to YouTube.
  • A new retouch brush lets people edit out skin blemishes and other trouble spots. And the tool can automatically fix red-eye problems caused by flash photography.
  • A new collage mode lets users compile many photos into one composite image. This time, users get precise control over image placement for example by moving, rotating, and resizing photos, and the software can produce a high-resolution composite for poster-size prints.
  • A photo viewer for quick slide shows, an option that during installation politely asks to own the file associations for JPEG, TIFF, raw images from higher-end cameras, and some other formats. The slide show software can view PNG files, which is handy, but the editing software still can't, which is a significant limitation for me.
  • Online synchronization. If photos have been uploaded from Picasa to the Web site, they can be edited later and the changes, including tags, are synchronized to the Web site. This is very handy since you might want to get images up quickly to share with friends then edit them later. Unfortunately, changes on the Web site aren't mirrored back to the PC, so all those name tags will stay put in the cloud for now.

Good stuff. I use (and pay for) Picasa Web Albums for Web-based photo backup, so this is a big deal for me. I'm curious if the Web interface will get any more sophisticated. Right now, it's a flat view with no sub-folders, which is a problem for people like me who have tons of albums up there.