Google Drive vs Google+ Photos vs Picasa Web

After the launch of Google Drive, I was excited to use it as a photo backup & sharing service. Unfortunately, the features for what I consider a good photo viewer are spread out over different Google products (Drive, Google+ photos, Picasa Web.)

I want to back up my photos online

This is easiest in Drive – drop your photos into the Drive folder, and you’re done.

You can’t do it on Google+. Yes, you can upload photos (including the neat Instant Upload function from your phone) but it won’t be an archive, because photos over 2048 pixels get resized from the original.

Picasa MacYou can’t do it easily on Picasa Web. You can let you upload your photos and preserve the size at least. However, if you want to download your photos again, you’ll need to install Picasa – you can’t do it from the web. The Picasa client application is a mess.

Let me qualify that last statement. Picasa is a mess because:

  • If you connect to Picasa Web, it doesn’t synchronise your online photos with the local store.
  • There’s no way to stop it scanning a bunch of areas on your hard drive on install.
  • The interface styling doesn’t follow either Google or Apple’s interface guidelines.
  • The “Import from Google+ photos” option is fairly confusing as this will be almost the same as Picasa Web, but not quite.
  • The “Back Up Pictures” is unnecessary – uploading to the cloud is the backup.
  • You can synchronise name tags with Google+ … which implies that name tag data in Picasa and Google+ are actually different.
  • Old features, like those for creating gift CDs, should now be removed.

I want to be able to view them online and on mobile in a decent interface

All three products have different photo viewers.

Google+ photos

Google+ photos

Picasa

Picasa

Google Drive photos

Google Drive

Google+ has the best viewer – there’s a grid of photos on the web and the Google+ mobile app, and a useful fan / zoom animation. Also, the background colour around the photo is black, which helps the photo itself be the focus.

Picasa is similar, but uses a white border, no animations, dated styling, and frames the photo in a smaller area.

Drive’s photo viewer doesn’t even resize a photo to fit into the browser height.

I want to be able to share photos easily

Google Drive sharing

Google Drive sharing

Picasa Web sharing

Picasa Web sharing

Google+ sharing

Google+ sharing

This is easiest in Drive. Click Share, click “anyone with the link can view”, and paste into an email / IM. You know for sure that they will be able to view it without being pestered to sign in or sign up to any services. You can also share to individuals by adding their email address.

In Picasa, you can’t share individual photos in this way without changing the visibility of the whole album. (You can share entire albums no problem.)

In Google+, you can share using Circles. Given that the only people I know who use Google+ are Google employees, I don’t want to share photos like this. Can I put an email address in that input box? Will it nag the target to sign up to Google+ before they can view the photo?

Making sense of it

Comparisons like this are a little convolved, because Google+ evolved from Picasa and the old service hasn’t been integrated properly yet, and Drive evolved from Docs which had a pretty different target segment. That said, it’s important that the offerings as they stand to the consumer today make sense, and right now they don’t.

79 thoughts on “Google Drive vs Google+ Photos vs Picasa Web”

  1. My big mistake was thinking that Picasa was a backup service that allowed me to control my content… It’s more like a prison cell where the door only opens one way… Once I upload my content, I can’t get it back easily. And, if I do, it’s just a low res shadow of its former self… The Picasa UI is a complete disaster. I just wish I had figured this out before I uploaded 20 GB of content… Very disappointed in Google. I expect this kind of crap from Microsoft…

  2. All, I have a good workaround for uploading full-res photos to Google+ from Picasa! Instead of first hitting the “Enable Sync” button, first “Share” the album (to whomever you like). Picasa will upload the full resolution photos to Google+. After the upload is complete, you may then turn on “Enable Sync”. The photos will not be uploaded a second time. After I did this, I tested the “Download album” option and a full (300MB) ZIP file of photos was downloaded!

  3. In Google+, it’s possible to share a link too. After the album is uploaded initially, it will state that it is “Visible to: Only you”. Clicking the “Only you” reveals the link sharing option. It’s unclear to me why this is different from the interface displayed by clicking the much more obvious green “Share” button.

  4. This is a great summary of the issues with the google photo products. It is really disappointing that we are where we are. I have been an exclusive user of picasa for many years, after having rejected iPhoto, Aperture, Flickr, and Facebook. I have work and personal photos going back consistently the last 10 years, but some scans dating from the 1900s. I need some way to put them in the cloud so they are accessible from any device (mainly ios, but my laptop too). I’ve tried dropbox but hit the limit so need to pay to store more. I’m reluctant to do this as I haven’t tried this for a reasonable amount of time. Google drive seems like a good option especially since extra storage is relatively inexpensive, but the ability to view and manage the photos is poor. I could upgrade to the pro version of Flickr but does anyone have a sense that they are going to be around in the long term? Meanwhile, I’m creating more and more photos, publishing to Instagram and blogs, and filling up my hard drive that is bound to crash at some point. We do backups but I still dont feel that comfortable. So yeah, Google, you are missing the beat here dudes. Get on it.

  5. “Picasa Web Albums offers 1 GB of free storage for photos and videos. However, files under certain size limits don’t count towards this free storage limit. This applies to uploads for other Google product that store photos and videos in Picasa Web Albums, including Blogger, Google+ and Google Maps.”

    That certain size is 2048 X 2048. At a resolution of 240 pixel/inch, in photoshop, that nets me a pic of 8.5 X 8.5 inches when printed. I can store a lot of pics – free – at that rate. Or am I missing something?

    I just want to store my images in ONE place and be able to access and grab them from G+ and Blogger.

  6. You guys miss the point; Google isn’t trying to actually provide useful software. They provide just enough to get you to give them information they can mine to advertise to you. If you are waiting for polished applications from this company; you’ll be waiting forever. I’d recommend Asus Webstorage or something like that.

  7. I am trying to figure out a good backup solution as well. As it stands, google drive seems most viable for photo dumps. I have 63 gb of photos covering a century and I might migrate all of them to the google drive folder. Ideally there shouldbe an option to mark a folder for automatic syncing like ms skydrive.

  8. Great article which covers all the thoughts (plus a bit more!!) that has been going on in my head recently and I’m trying to understand. The Google Drive part (which I use, but only for my docs) is another area I did not realise was a photo/video backup/sharing service!! So that just adds confusion!! Anyway, great read.

  9. I want to move all of my Picasa web albums to Google+. Sites this work?

    Jonathan Discount on September 2, 2012 at 8:41 pm said:
    All, I have a good workaround for uploading full-res photos to Google+ from Picasa! Instead of first hitting the “Enable Sync” button, first “Share” the album (to whomever you like). Picasa will upload the full resolution photos to Google+. After the upload is complete, you may then turn on “Enable Sync”. The photos will not be uploaded a second time. After I did this, I tested the “Download album” option and a full (300MB) ZIP file of photos was downloaded!

  10. Agree with this. What I LOVE about Picasa is the facial recognition. What has broken it for me now is that I have switched to a new laptop. I would like to seamlessly access photos whether they are in the cloud or local and let Picasa worry about sycning them. This is not possible! I have to ‘download’ from Picasa web and then get another copy in the picasa library and then what – have it uploaded again. After organsing and uploading 20Gbytes of photos this is annoying. I think I’ll be switching to iphoto given my new laptop is a Mac. But I have an android phone so I’ll have to work out how to get photos from there to iphoto, or switch to an iphone!!

  11. Well said! Good article.

    Google photos needs a more consistent multi-screen UI + functionality.
    And Picasa app for Android!
    Go Google go!!!

  12. I’m trying to use Google Drive as a backup for my photos (in their original format and resolution), but I’m struggling with proper tagging. There’s definitely an internal tagging system, since when you upload a photo Google tries to tag it using image recognition technology (Goggles or whatever), sometimes with multiple tags. When uploading a photo of a pyramid of Giza, multiple tags are added: pyramid, Egypt, etc. Searching one _or all_ of these tags displays the photo itself in the result list.
    Folders can’t do that. I can put my photos in multiple folders: pyramid, Egypt, Mexico, but when I search for a ‘tag’ like pyramid, the result displays the folder, not the images ‘tagged’ with the folder’s name. And it gets absolutely no results when you try to search for multiple ‘tags’, like: pyramid Mexico (which should list the images with pyramids, taken in Mexico). While Google’s internal tagging can do that.
    Is there a workaround for this? I mean, is there a way to display or edit internal image tags of Google? I don’t want to use image descriptions to tag photos, it is really uncomfortable (tagging multiple photos at once is impossible), even if it is searchable.

  13. I like using Picasa to organize photos on my computers, laptop or desktop. And the photo editing tools are decent enough for me. But my dilemma is I use a regular camera to take photos and my Android phone to take photos and want to combine those photos in Picasa to create one album like Disney Trip 2012. A simple fix would be to load my camera photos onto my computer through Picasa. Create an album in Google plus. And when syncing in Picasa give me the option to choose a google plus album to sync with. Like a “choose google+ album to sync” option.

  14. If you need to get pictures out of Picasa Web Albums, head over to google.com/takeout and select your picasa web albums only, you will get a nice zipped up archive of all you Picasa Web Albums.

  15. Yes, that about sums it up. I didn’t realize how big a mess until I got my Samsung Galaxy s3 and tried uploading new photos to Picasa only to find them in my Google +photos and then NOT find them in my desk top Picasso. I want one simple “cloud” based archive for my photos that I can see from my smart phone and desktop. Currently looking at Dropbox as an option (seems simple) . Not sold on Google Drive yet.

  16. Bought extra storage 2 years ago on Picasa, but really disappointed in it. Luckily I didn’t have to restore, but I’m still very confused on what I should do now. Renew or change to another service – but which one ?
    One issue I had with Picasa (on top of the ones already mentioned in this great article) is that videos are not uploaded. I want my videos and photos to be uploaded seamlessly and be able to download whenever I want, and watch them online or from any computer easily. Haven’t found a good way yet…
    I just want to rsync to an online library !

  17. What about batch uploading to Drive? A year ago, I tried uploading my ‘photos’ folder which had subfolders and those subfolders and subfolders. It wouldn’t let me do it. I had to upload each and every single folder separately, effectively loosing the organization on my computer. That is hardly a backup service is it? Does anyone know if this is fixed yet?

  18. I’m uploading all my photos to google drive right now, bought the 100 gigs/month for $5. Not a bad price. You have to install the google drive software.

    Copy the folders you want synced to “your Google drive” directory.
    Right click on the little icon on the bottom right hand corner and select “Preferences”.

    Under Sync Options, Select the folders you want. It doesn’t list the sub directories though which is kinda lame.

    Once they’re synced, I guess it would be safe to remove the copy from your harddrive.

  19. I’ve been trying to figure out the best solution to my photo storage for ages. I’ve been using a combination of picasa, drive and Google plus. I’ve now come to my conclusion with the help of a few apps. I use drive because it’s the easiest way to sync and upload the bulk of my photos which are edited and saved on my pc, I can just save to the relevant filler on the pc and it is then synced to the web and in turn to my tablet and phone. There are also some good chrome drive apps such as pixlr which allow editing directly to drive through the browser. On my phone and tablet I have an app called cloudvault installed which acts as an instant upload to drive. As soon as I snap a photo with my phone it is uploaded to a folder in Google drive which is great. That, in turn well sync to the web and my pc for editing of necessary. Finally, on my tablet and phone I have another app called gfolio which acts as a full photo gallery browser for Google drive so I can flick through and show off all of my photos on the move. All in all this set up currently works as close to perfection as I could ask for.

  20. What’s the best tool to share a slide show?

    I have tried Drive. I have put all the pics in a folder and shared the folder. The recipient sees all the pics already but has to click on each one. Is there a way for the recipient to put them in a slide show? He does not see the grid view icon to make matters worse.

  21. I am also having difficulty syncing original size RAW photos with Picasa. They are 12-14mb on the Picasa client, but 2 or so mb online. That’s a LOT of data loss. I have all the storage set right and all the toggles set took full size.

    Help, please!

  22. I love gdrive as a two-way backup between my computer and phone. And I using the foldersync app to backup all new photos from my phone to Gdrive. And because of gdrive desktop sync I see my mobile photos in my computer ass well.
    What I miss is to view them in my phones gallery. Only google+ images can be viewed there.
    Today GDrive photo viewer is good and are resizing good. And to use google+ as a backup target realy S***.

    I want google to make it possible to view images from gdrive in android gallery.

  23. edit from my last comment: Skydrive sync is better in all ways. Good backup and image viewing. Tried it before and think I will stick to it.

  24. I encountered the same mess recently and was a little frustrated. After reading over this article and the responses I took down all my online photos to start clean.

    I installed Google Drive windows app. I moved my photos into the Google Drive sync folder via windows explorer. Everything syncs from there to Drive’s cloud.

    Then use Google Picasa windows app and add that folder to it’s folder manager and set to scan always. If I want to share via Google+, i can sync duplicates in the social world and not worry about losing fidelity and deal with the development process that is G+.

    Through the G+ and Drive phone apps, you can access everything and changes to drive from anywhere will be synced to your local machine(s).

    This meets my needs for backup and separately social sharing and my local content is always intact and not duplicated locally. Picasa’s tagging, face recognition, face tagging, editing, location data, organization, etc. is all synced seamlessly into Google Drive.

    For those worried about moving to a new computer, install the Google Drive windows app then sync first, then install Picasa and locate the local folder via its folder manager.

    Now you can edit photos with Picasa and get the sync capabilities of Drive across many devices.

  25. Thank you, kindly, for this explanation! I found this by searching for google-plus vs. picasa vs google-drive (shouldn’t have to do that!) Finally I can ignore picasa; I thought the problem was with me, but the problem is as you said the UI is a mess :-)

  26. Great article, Google should follow your guidelines and make a single good product out of the three.. I don’t know google photos and I don’t work at google, so no google+, but I use both drive and picasa and what you say about it being a mess is absolutely true. Pity, because other features are great.

  27. I have all my photos backed up into Google Drive. Just bought a new computer and would like to download them to Picasa (not picasa web). What’s the best way to do it? I have tried downloading the entire photos folder from Google Drive and then using Picasa to scan it, but it did not work. Any ideas?

  28. Very well stated! this is a great comparison of all 3 products, and was exactly what we were looking for to justify each product’s use. I think Google should consider the best of each product and integrate all three eventually. Thank you for posting this.

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