Workspace - Best Free Digital Photo Organiser

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We don't all have the same requirements when it comes to organising our digital image collection. Some people, like me, want a quick way of importing new images and viewing a large assortment of existing images in various formats. We want the software to show our existing directory structure and allow us to amend add and change it easily. Then we want to be able to export images to email, publish them to the internet and resize, crop and change images without destroying the original image file.

Buried within digital image files are a series of 'tags' which can be used to find and classify images according a whole series of criteria -  from date of creation to camera settings and even GPS settings.
There is also a huge demand for software which hunts through a user's drives and finds all image files and, without moving the original, creates an index with predetermined parameters.

In the first group, my 'best in class' list has four choices: FastStone Image Viewer, Zoner Photo Studio Free, XNView and, for those who use a Linux operating system, digiKam.

In the second group Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery are my top picks.

I don't happen to like the Picasa approach. I find that my computer "hunts" for images every time I edit or move a single image and this is yet another demand on my processor which I can do without. But there's no denying that Picasa is hugely popular and may be the idea solution for many. 

My screen grabs below are all taken from the same files on my PC: hence the programmes at this small size all look very similar. That's no accident. You could easily live with any of these programmes and they can be set up to work in a similar way.

Finally, if you are completely new to this category, you could do worse than read the Wikipedia article on image organisers, which also has a useful table of some of the vast array of free and commercial software:


FastStone Image Viewer, now in version 4.3, has recently become my first choice. It is an excellent all round package which does far more than just help you to organise your image files. I particularly like the way in which you can, with one click on an image, get a full screen view and then edit the image or see its embedded info by moving your mouse to the edge of your screen. The program is fast, slick and stable. It is not a "slimmed down" version of more fully featured software. The only negative side I can think of is that it does not have the automatic upload to the internet features of some of the other packages on offer. But it is easy to resize images for email, or for the web, make moderate adjustments etc. It also has a easy-to-use batch processing facility. There is18- language help and all major file types are supported including a good selection of RAW image formats. And if the image editing features are not sufficient for all your needs all of the time there's a handy software linking facility which allows you to couple Faststone with your favourite image editor so you can easily switch between the two. All-in-all a first class piece of software.


Zoner photo studio 12 freeZoner Photo Studio 12 Free is my second pick. To be honest there is not much to choose between any of the four packages mentioned here so a lot of it comes down to personal choice. I really like the look of Zoner: it has a professional feel and for a long time it was my first choice. Within the software you can organise, edit and share your images and there are German, French, Italian and Russian versions. On the downside, the software does not have advanced EXIF features or handle RAW image files. It is a slimmed down version of the "home" and "pro" versions which are available at a cost. On the upside, I like the three major functions within the package - manager (organiser) viewer and editor. Personally I use a separate software package to do all but the simplest image manipulation, but for basic operations Zoner is fine, quick and intuitive.


Zoner Photo Studio 12 FreeXNView is another really good package. It has many of the features of the other two, but I find it little less easy to use. It is stable, fast and has only a small download. There's a XN View sister program, XNView MP  in Beta 0.35 (which I presume stands for multi-platform) which is less fully featured but runs on a Mac and in Linux. It can import more than 300 graphic file formats and export to about 50 formats. Other features include image IPTC, EXIF metadata support, editing facilities, slide shows and support in 44 languages. Excellent.




DigiKam was built for Linux but there is also a Windows version. It is difficult to load effectively in Windows - but it can be done. And it is a very good, nicely designed piece of software which should appeal to serious amateur and professional photographers alike. Like my other top picks, it is packed with useful features. It is very much work in progress: new features and add ins are on offer all the time and even if you didn't choose it right now, you might want to bookmark the link to the didiKam website because I have a feeling it will be offering even more very shortly.




Picasa3Picasa3, from the Google stable, is a superb choice for those who want an organiser which will take control of the way in which you organise your images. Once installed it will offer you several ways of organising your image collection, adopting by choice a 'timelime' which places your most recent images at the top of the tree. It is ideally suited for easy integration with web albums on-line sharing of images. Simple highly automated features offer image correction, full-screen slide shows and you can now see your pictures arranged on a global map. Picasa can also organise your photos based on the faces of people in your snapshots. It's not foolproof but it works remarkably well. Picasa is free to download and is coupled with Picasa Web Albums which provides users with a gigabyte of free online image storage.


Windows Live Photo GalleryWindows Live Photo Gallery is to Microsoft what Picasa3 is to Google. It, too, works really well, and is fast and  less intrusive than Picasa. But it doesn't seem to offer quite the same easy functionality as Picasa. I think it is unlikely that many people would want to use it on its own but as a quick, fast way of finding images, on your hard drive drive it is excellent. You can edit images, email or publish them, print them, make slide shows, etc. It is less full features than most of the other packages, but for some that might be a definite advantage!







Quick Selection Guide

Fast Stone Image Viewer    Rating 9 of 10  

Pros   Quick, fast stable viewer with a good selection of supporting features.
Cons   Not the best for uploading to the web
Developer Home Page
Download link
File Size   5.1MB   Version 4.3   License Type Restricted Freeware (full commercial version available)   Installation Requirements Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/Vista/Server2008/Windows 7

Zoner Photo Studio Free    Rating 8 of 10

Pros   Superb design, excellent free slimmed down version of commercial software which works well for everyday use.
Cons   Missing some features in free version; tabs between manager, edit and view may not suit everyone
Developer Home Page
Download link
File Size   20MB   Version 12   License Type Restricted Freeware (full commercial version available)   Installation Requirements XP/Vista/Windows 7
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

XNView    Rating 8 of 10

Pros   A small fast well featured piece of software - in some ways the most versatile of any. Simple to use and very stable.
Cons   Very few - but does not seem to offer an easy route to upload images to the web
Developer Home Page
Download link
File Size   4.39MB   Version 1.97.8   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP/Vista/7 MacOS X Linux/FreeBSD/OpenBSD/NetBSD/Irix/Solaris/HP-UX/AIX

DigiKam    Rating 7 of 10

Pros   Could easily be a contender for the first place with a host of features aimed at the professional end of the market.
Cons   A daunting download for Windows, a difficult installation and it does not run really well in a Windows system.
Developer Home Page
Download link
File Size   250MB   Version 1.7.0   License Type Open Source Freeware (includes program code)   Installation Requirements Open Source Linux systems first and foremost but can run under Windows and Mac OS X
Info   NOTE: The download link here will give you the Windows version. For OpenSource Linux versions follow links from the homepage.

Picasa3    Rating 8 of 10

Pros   Powerful, free organiser will find all the photos on your drives, download new ones from your camera and scanner and upload them to the web and create online albums to share.
Cons   Somewhat intrusive, eating up processing power when you don't always need it. Not the easiest way to reorganise your images.
Developer Home Page
Download link
File Size   13.6MB   Version 3.8   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements Windows XP/Vista/7 , For Mac OS X 10.4.9+ (Requires Intel CPU), Linux version in Beta

Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011    Rating 7 of 10

Pros   Excellent fast utility with a clean, simple design and a versatile indexing system.
Cons   Needs Windows Live sign up; not the most powerful image editor; by default overwrites existing viewer preferences.
Developer Home Page
Download link
File Size   1.19MB   Version 2011   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (32-bit edition only), Windows Vista (32-bit or 64-bit editions), Windows 7 (32-bit or 64-bit editions), or Windows Server 2008.
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

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