My 4-year old how-to guide, Picasa Photo Sync on Multiple Computers has attracted tens of thousands of viewers, and is still quite popular. In fact too popular, thanks to Google. I can’t believe people actually read it today and try to follow the advice therein… it’s and OLD post with outdated information. I’ve long struggled trying to find a better solution… and now that I have it … drumroll … but wait, first things first:
What’s the problem with Picasa?
Picasa is my favorite photo management program, and hey, it’s hard to beat free! Yes, I believe SaaS is the future of computing, and I do keep many photos online (just canceled Flickr Pro in favor of PicasaWeb), but quick-and-dirty manipulation of large image files en masse is still easier, faster on a local PC. Or one of the computers I use – if only I could. It’s hard to believe that Google, an undeniably Web-centric company would create a Software that’s designed to be used by one single user and one single computer – that’s stone-age vision, and again, is very antagonistic to being a visionary Web company.
Picasa does not save your edits in the image file itself, rather it uses a set of system files: picasa.ini files in every photo folder and a bunch of proprietary databases in two hidden system directories. This is actually a good concept, you can experiment and safely revert back to the original – trouble starts when you want to move to a new computer, or God forbid access your photos from multiple computers – some of the associated changes will come through, others won’t. You will soon have multiple versions of the databases and sometimes of the images themselves, and that leads to chaos.
The original concept in my previous guide was based on syncing the hidden Picasa databases between all computers involved. It worked for a while… then I started to see corrupted databases, so I abandoned synchronization. In the meantime wireless home networks became more robust, so instead of redundant chaos, the next best option was maintaining once central Picasa home-base, and accessing it from other computers via the network. This could quite easily be done by mapping the main computer’s drive as a network drive, say P: (for Photos or Picasa), setting Picasa on all the satellite computers to forget the local Pictures folders and only scan the new P: drive.
In this setup Picasa still had to index all images it read from the network and recreate a local database on the individual computers, so the solution was quite redundant – but worked relatively well. Through a succession of new releases Google moved more information on user edits into the per-folder Picasa.ini files, so the system was able to rebuild the database almost completely. Cropping and some other information was still missing, so you could never be 100% certain you were looking at identical version of your images. The safest way to avoid confusion and different views of the same photos was to make a policy of only editing images on the “main computer” where they were stored, thus rendering all other networked computers to passive viewers only.
There has to be a better solution.. one that allows any member of the family (and any user account) using any computer on a network to share the one and only Picasa database – view and edit all the same, with any changes, tagging, editing immediately saved no matter which computer is being used. Yes, there is one – keep on reading :-) But first some disclaimers:
- I’ve tested the solutions below in Windows 7
- They should work on Vista, too, and I believe there is a logical equivalent under XP, but I’ve never checked it
- These solutions work for me, but I can not guarantee they will work for you – experiment on your own
- Before making any changes, do back up your Picasa database (I’ll show details below)
- Even if everything works, there’s no way knowing if a future Picasa release will change everything…
- I’m not a Windows Guru, and make no claims that this is the best or most elegant solution – just one that works for me
- I cannot provide individual support – you are welcome to comment / contribute below, and may get a response from another reader, but I can not make promises.
Now, we’re ready to rock and roll … but this post is getting lengthy, so I’m cutting it off now – please read Part 2 for the detailed solution.