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Photoshop Finds its Way to the Web

Adobe offers a free, scaled down version of its photo-editing software.

Today, when you take pictures with your digital camera, you have an inordinate number of options for online editing, storing, and sharing your shots. Thanks to improvements in Flash, popular graphics software, and the availability of fast broadband connections, a number of impressive online photo-editing sites have emerged in the past couple of years. Now Adobe is jumping into the fray with its new online photo-editing software called Photoshop Express. The service opened a test version to the public, which offers simple editing tools, syncs with Facebook, Picassa, and Photobucket, and provides two gigabytes of free storage.

Picture perfect: Adobe’s Photoshop Express is an online editing service that offers basic editing tools, shown here in the panel. When a person makes a change to a photo, a check mark appears next to the tool used. To remove the edit, the user simply clicks on the check mark.

Photoshop Express requires Flash Player 9 to run and works with all major browsers, including Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. A user first uploads pictures from a hard drive to Adobe’s servers, a process that takes a couple of minutes, depending on the speed of the Internet connection and the size and number of photos. Once uploaded, the photos can be edited with a simplistic editing toolbar that lets the user crop, adjust exposure, touch up blemishes, remove red eye, and change the color saturation. As well as these basics, Photoshop Express lets users fine-tune the color and lighting with controls such as white balance and a tool that sharpens blurry edges. In addition, a user can add more creative elements to a picture with a sketch tool and a distort feature.

In terms of editing, Adobe’s offer isn’t impressive. It lacks editing tools available in other online editors, including Picnik (used by the photo-sharing site Flickr), FotoFlexer, and Rsizr. Rsizr, for instance, offers an innovative tool that can compress and expand images without distorting them. Moreover, this initial version of Photoshop Express comes up short in terms of storage. Sites like Flickr and Photobucket offer unlimited storage, albeit for a price. (Express shouldn’t be compared with Adobe Photoshop C3, the professional editing suite that can cost nearly $1,000, or Photoshop Elements, desktop editing software for under $100, because it’s free and vying for a different audience.)

These are just the early days for Photoshop Express, notes Geoff Baum, director of express solutions at Adobe, who pitched the idea of Web-based products about two years ago. “It’s not quite there yet,” he says. In the coming months, the company will offer more features, depending on user feedback, as well as more storage and the ability to synchronize photo libraries with additional websites. One particular feature that will be available soon, he notes, will be access to a printing service.

Library of photos: Photoshop Express allows users to store up to two gigabytes of photos on its servers. As shown above, a library of photos can be edited, displayed publicly in galleries, and transferred to other sites such as Facebook, Picassa, and Photobucket.

As it is, Express has a number of appealing characteristics. The interface is easy to use and intuitive. It’s exceedingly simple to update photo libraries and edit pre-existing photos on sites such as Facebook. The service includes thumbnails that give the user an instant glimpse at how a specific editing decision will change the picture. And importantly, it’s easy to see the changes you’ve made to the picture and retract any of them individually using the toolbar on the side of the screen. For instance, if you’ve cropped and rotated a picture, changed the white balance, and converted it to black and white, a check mark appears next to these editing options in the toolbar. To retract an edit, simply click the check mark.

One drawback to Express is that it’s impossible to edit pictures while waiting for others to upload to Adobe’s server. Baum says that future versions might address this problem, especially if they incorporate Air, Adobe’s forthcoming software that allows online applications to run without an Internet connection. “We’re planning on taking certain components of Photoshop Express and putting them on Air so you can use them in a connected or unconnected environment,” he says. For instance, in the future, you might be able to edit pictures offline, and Air would automatically update your photo library when you connect to the Internet.

Baum says that Adobe has a few plans on how to make money from Express, even though the company is giving it away for free. For instance, while the two gigabytes of storage will remain free, Adobe will likely charge for certain advanced editing tools and more storage. Additionally, the company could license Air-enabled desktop components for Photoshop Express to computer manufacturers when they include the software on new machines. But another part of the plan, says Baum, is to give a younger generation a glimpse at Adobe’s capabilities and hopefully interest them in more advanced (and expensive) Adobe products. “It’s about connecting with an audience we hadn’t had a lot of sway with,” he says.

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