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The old Windows Photos app is better than the new one, and you can still use it

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Many of us are just used to using the Photos app in Windows 10 and 11 to review the images captured by our phones. But the Photos app is actually the new Photos app and probably the old version is even better.

Fortunately, Microsoft seems to have recognized this. What is known as Microsoft Photos legacy it still resides within the Windows Store, and there’s a good reason you might still prefer it to the latest version: its superior content-searching capabilities.

One of the problems with taking pictures that we take is that we tend to take the picture, save it or post it on social media and then forget about it. But not always. Sometimes you want to look through old photos, to see how your kids grew up, remember a favorite vacation or event, or just search for photos you took of a particular scene. This is where Photos Legacy… well, no excelsbut it’s far better than the modern Photos app.

The tip is in the search box. In the Legacy Photos app, you can search for “people, places, or things.” In the modern Photos app, you can search for “file names, types, and dates.” It’s just stupid. Who actually knows the file name of the photo you just took, let alone remember it? And unless it’s a holiday or an anniversary, it’s entirely unlikely that you even remember when you took the photo.

Photos Legacy applies a certain amount of artificial intelligence to actually recognize and catalog the photos you’ve taken. In Photos Legacy, I can type “beach” into the search box and dig up photos of the nearby California coast. I can search for mountains and Photos will return photos I’ve taken of hills and mountains. It’s not perfect; I took a photo of Lake Tahoe (which is surrounded by mountains) which he couldn’t find, but he acknowledged that the place existed on his file. Both Photos apps will create “Memories” from a particular day, but only the Legacy app suggests its own categories, like “Sports” to organize my son’s high school athletic shots. I can’t do any of that in what is now the default Photos app.

origin 1I searched for “beach” in the first image, but Photos Legacy suggested “reef” for these photos taken at the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few years ago.

Additionally, Photos Legacy lets you activate and search by face, including your own and others. It’s possible that Microsoft leans much more into privacy than the competition, as this feature is minimal at best. Of all the photos I took of family and friends, it recognized only two: mine and the face of a statue downtown that I’d used to test some outdoor shots.

Both Photos apps are otherwise nearly identical, although the newer app looks a little more organized and can now access Apple’s iCloud as well. Both Photos apps now include thumbnail functionality that once stank then it has improved since then, with speed now significantly improved. Both apps let you crop, adjust, and even auto-adjust an image based on the auto-enhance feature available under the “Filter” tab. Auto Enhance isn’t as necessary as it once was, as cameras now shoot with near-perfect lighting and exposure under most conditions. It’s still a handy feature to have, though.

The only thing I don’t like about Photos Legacy is that it can take some time to index (not search) the photos you’ve saved in the cloud, and it does use some network bandwidth and data. If you want to use Photos Legacy to index your photos, leave it running in the background for a while.

origin 1Photos Legacy pales in comparison to Google in terms of facial recognition, but at least it works.

Mark Hachman/IDG

Recognizing and searching for photos, then, is what justifies downloading the Photos Legacy app. To be fair, Microsoft still pales in comparison to Google Photos here. Allowing Google Photos to recognize and separate photos based on who’s in them creates numerous categories—even more categories for my kids—as they get older and into their teens. Since my wife pays Google for an account for her small business, I can upload my photos to both the Google and Microsoft clouds to compare them. Google wins, every time.

However, Microsoft’s Photos app offers some of these automatic recognition features, but it’s not the actual Photos app you should be using. Download and launch the Legacy Microsoft Photos app Instead.