Walt Mossberg

Free Kodak Software Helps Find, Organize, Fix and Share Photos

If you get a digital camera for Christmas or Hanukkah this year and start snapping away, you can accumulate hundreds or even thousands of digital pictures amazingly quickly. And even if a lot of them are fuzzy images of red-eyed relatives, you’ll soon need a good way to find and organize them on your computer, and to easily touch them up, email them, upload them to the Web and print them.

You could use the software that came with the camera for some of this, but, in general, software created by hardware companies isn’t very good. Since most people use Windows computers, they will likely just dump the pictures into the My Pictures folder that Windows provides. But this folder was never meant for true photo organizing.

If you use an Apple Macintosh, you’re in much better shape, because Apple provides a very good built-in photo-organizing program called iPhoto. But iPhoto isn’t integrated with any of the popular online photo sites that let you store and share pictures. And, of course, it’s unavailable to the vast majority of people, who use Windows.

However, there’s a very nice photo-organizing program out there that’s free, works on both Windows and Mac and is closely integrated with one of the best online photo sites. It brings most of the best features of iPhoto to Windows users, and for Mac users, it offers tight integration with a Web-based photo site.

This free software is called EasyShare, and it comes from Eastman Kodak, though you don’t have to own a Kodak camera or printer to use it. It works with any brand of camera and printer to easily organize, email, print and touch up your pictures. And it’s closely linked to Kodak’s EasyShare Gallery online photo site, formerly called Ofoto, which is one of the best Web photo services and is free to use.

I’ve been testing EasyShare, on both a Windows and a Macintosh computer, and I like it. It’s the exception to the rule that hardware companies can’t create good software. EasyShare comes with all Kodak cameras and printers. Owners of other brands can download it by going to kodak.com and clicking on “Downloads & Drivers.”

Photo-organizing programs are different from traditional photo-editing software like Adobe’s Photoshop. Where traditional photo software is mainly about tweaking and perfecting your pictures, organizing programs are mainly about finding, arranging and sharing pictures, with a little light editing thrown in.

There are other popular Windows programs that aim to help you organize your pictures. Among the best known are Picasa, ACDSee and Corel Photo Album. Adobe had a good organizer called Photoshop Album, but it has since folded it into its editing-centric Photoshop Elements.

But most of these programs fall short of the combination of simplicity and power that Apple’s iPhoto pioneered. They often require users to know too much about the Windows folder and file system. By contrast, EasyShare, like iPhoto, frees you from the file system, relying instead on its own system for organizing your pictures.

As in iPhoto, a key feature of EasyShare is the virtual album, which doesn’t correspond to any folder on the hard disk. Any picture can appear in an infinite number of virtual albums without having to be copied or taking up extra harddisk space. For instance, a picture of Sally opening a Christmas gift in Providence, R.I., in 2005, could appear in albums called “Christmas,” “Sally,” “Providence trip,” “2005” and so on.

EasyShare lets you burn CDs of your photos, easily email them to friends and print them in creative ways. It also has some very nice touch-up features, including a one-click fix function that previews changes by splitting the picture temporarily into “before” and “after” halves.

EasyShare software
Kodak’s EasyShare on Windows

The Windows and Mac versions of EasyShare look very different, but they share the same basic commands and about 95% of the features. The Windows version has a few editing features the Mac version lacks, including editing of uncompressed RAW photo files. The Mac version also has some things the Windows version lacks, such as automated backups and the ability to create “smart albums,” which automatically gather up photos based on criteria you set in advance.

Once your photos are in virtual albums inside EasyShare, these albums can be uploaded to the online EasyShare Gallery. You can also designate pictures in any album as “favorites,” and they can be automatically synchronized with a favorites collection online.

Obviously, this integration with the online site is a business strategy for Kodak: Once your pictures are stored on its online site, Kodak hopes you’ll order prints and gifts made from them. But you don’t have to join the site to use EasyShare, even though the program will nag you to do so. And if you do join, the Gallery is free and very useful. It provides a safe backup for your photos and a way to share them without emailing copies all around. Instead, you send emails from the software that offer links to the photos on the Gallery.

If you’re getting a new digital camera or are just buried in pictures from an old one, Kodak EasyShare software is worth a try.

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