Google probably isn't the first name you associate with advanced photo handling, but the latest version of Picasa could well change your mind and win you over. And not just because the Google connection means Picasa is free.
In fact, Google brings a great deal to Picasa, starting with its search expertise. What this means in practice is that you can get pretty good organisational control over your photos without having to manually tag each one.
The key is to copy your photos using a sensible naming strategy, and with Picasa 3.5's reworked Import dialog this is easy, thanks to the ability to select groups of photos to copy to their own custom folders. You can also star your best photos and reject the worst while they're still on your card.
The new Import dialog makes full use of Google's web know-how. Now you can specify your photos (all or starred) are copied directly to your free online web albums as well as to your hard disk.
Most users will still prefer to use Picasa's enhancement tools - straighten, crop, remove red eye, add fill-in flash and so on - before uploading, but the option highlights Picasa's superb web sharing and its focus on productivity.
So what else does Picasa 3.5 offer? The surprising answer, and the real focus of this 3.5 release, is tagging. Google gives the whole process a couple of brilliant and powerful twists, and manages to turn what used to be a depressing chore into a stroll in the park.
Picasa 3.5's new tagging capabilities are all accessed via a new collapsible sidebar on the right of the screen. There are three tabs on offer: the first, Tags, lets you quickly add and apply tags by typing in the text-entry box and selecting from the dropdown matches. There's also a small Quick Tags section at the bottom of the panel where you can store ten commonly used tags. It's an efficient approach, but tagging is still demanding.
The second tab, Places, allows you to geo-reference your images. This is much simpler than before, thanks to another of Google's strengths: maps.
Open the Places tab and a Google Map of the Earth appears in it; type in an address or postcode and your map relocates accordingly, and you can simply drag and drop your images onto it. Select geo-referenced images in future and the map quickly updates accordingly.
The third tab, People, is the most impressive by far. Leave Picasa 3.5 open overnight and it will get to work analysing your photos, pulling out and identifying faces.
The following morning it will present a selection of faces organised into expandable groups. If a face is of someone important to you, type in their name to create a face tag.
This appears as an album in a new People section in the left-hand navigation panel. Leave Picasa to work again and, when you next click on your face tag, you'll find a selection of suggested matches you can quickly dismiss or confirm.
So how good is the recognition? Astonishingly good - at least for adults. Working through a collection of 60,000 images, Picasa 3.5 identified more than 500 shots of one person without a single false-positive.
The hit rate falls quickly for children and especially babies, but that's hardly surprising since their faces have fewer distinct features and can change significantly over even a short time. However, you can still work quickly through hundreds of suggestions.
It's important to note that, while Google's technology is stunning, face identification is never going to be perfect. It works only on clearly recognisable, more-or-less full-on faces, which tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
Instead, what face tagging offers is a reasonable and useful stab at people recognition for those with neither the time nor inclination to work through their entire collection manually. More than this, it offers a whole new entry route to your photos.
Last month, we looked at Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 and its new face-tagging system and came away unconvinced. With Picasa 3.5 we're converted.
For one, Google's face identification and matching are far more accurate than that of Adobe; but the major difference is the overall approach. With Elements 8, face tagging feels like another image-handling chore; with Picasa 3.5, it's fast and fun.