Picasa vs Xnview: Image Viewer and Organizer Showdown

By Sam Cook

Two programs enter, and . . . well two programs leave, but not before we closely examine their very different approaches to the lightweight division of image viewing.

What program do you use to view and browse your photos? There are certainly a lot of options to choose from—freeware viewers, paid image editors, branded software that’s packed in with digital cameras—yet a lot of us end up going with the default solution, the Windows Photo Viewer. But surely there’s a place between Photoshop’s heavyweight robustness and the simplicity of a built-in application. Just because you don’t want to invest money into a paid program, that doesn’t mean you should use a barebones alternative.

Picasa and Xnview , and the very different approaches they offer to the same basic features.

Viewing a Single Image

Picasa’s basic file viewing solution is more elegant and pretty than Xnview’s, certainly, but it comes at a cost. Since Xnview opens images in a new window, you can open as many different files as you want and view them all at once. With Picasa, that simply isn’t the case, and any new file you load will take over for the previous one. Even in the full Picasa window, there’s simply no good way to view photos side-by-side, except for thumbnail images.

Browsing Photos

is Windows Explorer, and nothing else. It shows you everything you’d expect to see when looking for files on your computer, right down to the (completely unnecessary) Control Panel. In short, it’s the perfect solution if you’re used to organizing your pictures by folder, and don’t want to change. 

As before, Picasa trades power for a slick interface and dynamic features. Xnview makes you do the organizational heavy lifting, but it also lets you do the organizational heavy lifting.

Screen Capture

When running, Picasa takes over the “PrtScn” button, and a single press will automatically save your current monitor (not both) into a “Screen Captures” folder. At the same time, it momentarily pops up a notification tab for viewing the snagged image right away. Xnview has a similar, but far more customizable function. Though menu settings, you can not only change the screen capture shortcut key, but also determine whether it grabs the desktop (single screen), the active window (both screens if no window is selected), a particular open window, or even a user-drawn rectangle. Xnview screen capture solution is the far more robust one—even if it doesn’t have a slick notification tab, and instead automatically opens the captured image.



Of course, like most Google products, one of Picasa’s greatest strengths is that it’s made to work with the company’s other offerings. Picasa lets you upload and sync with your online Picasa albums, or send an image directly into a Blogger post or a Gmail message (Microsoft’s Outlook is also supported). Xnview simply can’t compete with all of that, though it does have an email option that connects with Outlook.

Which one is best?

The winner between these two programs is a matter of personal preference. They’re both free, powerful, and lightweight ways to view your image files. But Picasa is the automatic transmission to Xnview’s manual, taking away a level of user control to create an easier, more user-friendly experience. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t use both programs, harnessing each for what it does best. Make Picasa’s slick viewer be your default, but fire up Xnview when you need to take screen shots. Organize your important photos into folders, but let Picasa watch them for changes. It’s the best of both worlds.    
What do you use to view photos on your PC?