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Picasa for Linux is a good Windows application

Comment But it sure as heck isn't a good Linux one
Wed May 31 2006, 23:31
SEARCH GIANT Google released some days ago what it calls "Picasa for Linux", and I decided to take it for a spin on my 2.4 Ghz P4 (512MB RAM) Linux desktop which runs Blag, a British distro based on Fedora Core 3.

While many might welcome the fact that Google has at last given the Linux users some attention, in reality what the company has done is packing "windows compatibility" libraries from the WINE project along with a slightly modified build of Picasa for Windows, sticking a cheap "for Linux" label on top of it.

alt='picasalinux-6'
Picasa for Windows on Linux - hear, hear!

But it is not, I repeat, a Linux program. The "About..." screen might have been modified to read "for Linux", and they have indeed learned how to build a .rpm package to comply with linux installation conventions. They may have sawed off portions of code that would have never worked under emulation (like the CD-burning support), they may have patched, sewed pieces of the Mozilla Gecko engine and added it to the mix - the Gecko engine called, I'm willing to bet, through the Mozilla ActiveX control so not to have to touch the Windows application too much, I'm sure-. But the resulting Frankensteinian mishmash, -despite how carefully made the stitches were made-, still looks and feels alien to a Linux desktop, and exactly as the Windows version.

Yes, I concede that it might be easier for end users to have something readily available to install effortlessly on their linux desktops rather than going through the hassle of setting up Win4Lin or VMWare workstation and then proceeding to download and install the "Windows version" of Picasa on top of it. But that convenience is short sighted. Google is still refusing to develop a state of the art linux application and instead seems to wish the vocal linux minority would just shut up, smile, and swallow the unsavoury meal.

alt='picasalinux-7'
Hello! Hello? Anybody there?

Does it work?. I tested it for a couple days and it does indeed run. It scans the hard drive, it finds the pictures, it didn't crash - EVER. I was able to retouch some photos, print two (albeit slowly) in full colour laser glory, rotate images, you name it. E-mail even worked smoothly, and as slowly as in the windows version. I wonder why there's such annoying redundancy and legacy backpack of rusty "Hello" code poorly "integrated" into the program. -Can someone tell me why a single program offers two choices for mailing a picture which are basically identical in function? (namely "mail via Hello" and "Mail via GMail").

Only two functions failed to work properly during my tests, the "screen saver" one and the "set as desktop wallpaper" options. Neither worked despite my efforts to see what could be wrong. But hey, it's an almost perfect score... "very good for a first version" I hear the chorus of parrots yelling. That is not, however, my point. My criticism of "Picasa for Windows stitched to run on Linux" is philosophical. A company with the resources of Google, a company with the cash, the know how, the internal resources, can't make a proper Linux build of one of its flagship software products?. Okay... "this is just the first step, maybe they'll do such a proper linux version in the future" some might say. Well, apparently not!. If this works, they plan to cater to the needs of the linux user by feeding us quickly stitched "Windows leftovers" from the previous night, carefully "cooked" 10 minutes in the microwave oven.

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Picasa Mail, on Picasa for Windows on Linux.

What really worries me, is that Google apparently thinks that cheap effortless repackaging of windows code under emulation make one good Linux application, and a strategy which can be replicated across all of Google's software products, not only today but moving forward. The FAQ reads: "If Picasa for Linux is successful, then other Google applications (and future versions of Picasa) may also be ported using Wine". They admit, however, that Google Earth under WINE would be too suicidal, so they're apparently going to do that one as a true linux app from the ground up. Why lower the quality standards with the other Google apps then?.

A letter to "Mr. Google"
Dear Google: you're great with search. Picasa on Windows works ok. It isn't Earth shattering, just works. Picasa on Windows still needs lots of improvement and liposuction to avoid feature creep and bloat. You have, dear Google, an incredible opportunity to do things right, to leverage your market position on search and use that (and its associated cash flow) to create great software on non-Windows platforms too, to level the playing field and wrestle control of the APIs and the technologies from the Redmond juggernaut.

IBM tried the "Windows ports are good enough" approach back in the early '90s. Please don't repeat that mistake. I've seen it. First IBM partnered with Micrografx and created "Mirrors" a set of libraries that allowed compilation of Windows apps as "native" OS/2 ones. The problem was... that apps built with Mirrors behaved and looked exactly like its twin sister apps. Which was the reason why OS/2 users shunned them. Years later, they insisted with Open32, and now that OS/2 is at the end of its life, people can now run "OS/2 packaged" versions of win32 apps, through Odin, another layer of win32 compatibility code similar in design to WINE. But this neither ODIN nor WINE make native apps, which is what you, Google, should be doing.

alt='picasalinux-9'
File requester and configuration dialogues don't respect OS look and feel

Even Adobe who isn't particularly Linux-friendly managed to come up with a decent linux version of Adobe Reader 7 for Linux whose file requester dialogues look native - perhaps because it uses and calls the Gnome libraries and APIs. So why isn't Google actively supporting Gnome?. What prevents google from putting people from the Picasa team, on Google's payroll, to start workings on Gnome integration with Picasa?. Why not donate key portions of the code and let it grow and blossom like OpenOffice.org did after Sun set it free - or Mozilla and Firefox did, if you prefer-?.

Whoever was put in charge of the "Picasa for Windows on Linux" clearly doesn't have much of a clue. This is proved by the following statement from the product's FAQ page:

Q: Why are movie files so big?

Due to licensing issues with movie codecs, we can't include a motion-compressing codec for making movies. As a result, we can only produce movies that are uncompressed. If you can obtain a license to use a better codec on your Linux system, we recommend that you use that licensed software to compress the resulting movie files; they should drastically drop in size with any such codec.

So there are no open video compression codecs that are patent-free, Google? Really? I'm sure the guys who created and maintain the OGG Theora open codec would be very amused to hear about that.

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Image editing works as good in 'Picasa for Windows on Linux' as does if
you run Picasa for Windows on Linux

This paragraph of the FAQ is almost laughable, so I will include it verbatim:

Q: What's different between the Windows version of Picasa and Picasa for Linux?

There are a few differences:
* Picasa for Linux is currently available only in the U.S., with an English interface. * Google's Hello photo-messaging application is Windows only, so it's not currently integrated with Picasa for Linux. * CD burning isn't supported in Picasa for Linux. The button will be grayed out in the interface. The CD-ROM-burning library used by Picasa uses a Windows driver that's not easy to support on Wine. * Similarly, the backup feature is not supported. * There's currently no Export to TiVo? feature."

That could be summed up as "there's a lot of stuff that we couldn't make work under WINE emulation, so forget those features ever existed". Isn't this new version nice?".

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Even Adobe can do native file requesters properly

Perhaps I'm silly but the Google I'd like to see is a Google that doesn't release cheap, half baked "ports" that aren't actually ports at all but actually second rate repackaged mixes of old code, but one Google that instead commits manpower and resources to enhance and build great open source products -around Google's web services, of course, the bread and butter of the Corporation-. You've already got the brand name, you've got the mindshare and the product recognition, why not do a Picasa for Linux right?. Come on, Google, I think you can do it.

And if any of you readers think I'm crazy and that this WINE approach is the way to go, send your compliments to Google. ?

See Also
Adobe rediscovers linux with reader v7

 

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