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Google’s Picasa for Linux arrives

Google and CodeWeavers Inc. have released the first Google program, the popular beginner-level photography program, Picasa, for Linux. Although the Linux Picasa implementation includes most of the feature set of the Windows Picasa 2.x software. It is not, strictly speaking, a port of Picasa to Linux.

Instead, Linux Picasa combines Windows Picasa code and Wine technology to run Picasa on Linux.

Wine is an open-source implementation of the Windows API (application programming interface). It runs, in turn, on top of the X Window System and Linux. Wine is not, as has sometimes been said, a Windows emulator. Wine provides a Windows API middleware layer that enables Windows programs, such as Office 2003, to run on Linux without the slowing effects of operating system emulation or a virtual machine.

The new program has been re-tooled to work well with CodeWeavers’s CrossOver Office Wine emulation. Thus, Linux Picasa uses the program’s own native Windows DLLs (dynamic link libraries). Wine enables developers to use Windows DLLs, when they’re available, for greater speed.

The free Linux Picasa download includes a runtime version of CodeWeavers’s modified Wine, so that users can simply download the package from Google and run it on their Linux system. Users will not need to download and install Wine, or purchase CodeWeavers’s commercial version of Wine, CrossOver Office.

Thus, to run it, most x86 Linux users will only need to download the package and use their native package manager to install it. One of Google and CodeWeavers’s goals was to make Picasa as easy to install on Linux as it is on Windows. Therefore, the program comes with installers for RPM, Debian packages, and a Windows-style installer.

Picasa comes with the necessary Wine files for the required APIs, as well as Gecko, the Mozilla rendering engine, for displaying the photographs. Thus, you shouldn’t need to install any additional libraries or software to run it.

The program has been tested and installs and runs on most modern Debians, Ubuntu 5.1, Linspire 5, Mandriva 2005 and up, Red Hat Workstation, Fedora 4 and up, and SUSE 9.3 and 10. DesktopLinux.com has also tested Picasa for Linux on SUSE 10.1, and it ran well.

With the program, users can download images from cameras, and organize, edit, and print their photos and other images. Picasa can work with JPG, BMP, GIF, PNG, PSD, TIF, and RAW data files, including but not limited to, cameras from Canon, Nikon, Kodak, Minolta, and Pentax. For camera support, it uses the gphoto library. Thus, any camera supported by gphoto should also work with Picasa.

Picasa for Linux requires glibc 2.3 or greater, and a working X11 display system to perform basic work. You’ll need an XVideo extension on your display driver to view full-screen images, and a Linux kernel 2.6.13 (or better) kernel to be notified of file changes during run-time and automatically detect new media and camera attachments.

While the program’s desktop integration features require a current version of GNOME or KDE, the program also works with more obscure window managers like XFCE and Blackbox.

Google states that this is a “pre-beta” release, but we found it to be more polished than many final releases. It is, however, available only in the U.S. with an English interface at this time.

While the program uses the exact same binary as the Windows version, it is missing two features: CD-ROM burning and movie playback. According to the Picasa for Linux developers site, that’s because the CD driver used by Picasa is hard to support under Wine, and Wine doesn’t have the necessary codecs for Picasa movie-playback.

Those features will probably appear in an update to the program. Dan Kegel, a Picasa for Linux team programmer, explained that these “were beyond the scope of this first port.”

While the Wine libgphoto and Gecko parts of the package are open-source, Picasa itself is a proprietary program.

If the Linux Picasa project is successful, you can expect to see more Google Windows programs migrating to Linux via Wine and CodeWeavers. In addition, work is proceeding on native Linux Google applications. The first of these is expected to be Google Talk for Linux.

Picasa for Linux can be downloaded from Google’s Picasa for Linux web page.

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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