Photoshop's Little Online Brother

With Adobe's new Web 2.0 offering, you can easily smarten up pictures for Internet display

If you are in newspapers, magazines, movies, or the software business, creating Web-based versions of your products may be central to your mission. It's true for Adobe (ADBE), whose graphics and presentation software is used to prepare much of the content on the Web. Now Adobe is offering a free online version of its popular Photoshop.

The new service, Photoshop Express, doesn't try to replicate desktop Photoshop, with its hundreds of tools, filters, and effects. Instead, Express is designed simply to improve the looks of photos intended for online display. It competes mostly with fairly primitive tools offered by photo-sharing sites as well as online editing services such as Picnik and FotoFlexer. Officially, Express is still a beta, or test, program and has some rough edges to show for it. But it offers useful, exclusive features that draw on the heritage of its big brother Photoshop.

Express works entirely within a browser—no download is required—and all you need to run it is the latest version of Adobe Flash. I was able to use Express in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari on Windows (MSFT), Mac (AAPL), and Linux systems.

How It Works

You start by uploading photos you want to work with, either directly from your computer or by linking to your online account at Facebook, Photo­bucket, or Picasa (GOOG). (Support for Flickr (YHOO) is expected soon, and links to other photo-­sharing sites are in the works.) You can use up to 2 gigabytes of storage, but if you are uploading high-­resolution pictures, you may be reminded of how painfully slow uploads are on most Internet connections.

Opening one of your photos for editing also can take a surprisingly long time, but once the picture is ready, work zips along. A basic set of tools performs such functions as cropping, rotating, or straightening the image, removing red-eye, and adjusting the exposure. The niftiest feature is Touch­up, a version of the "healing" tool in desktop Photoshop. It cleverly blends a region with its surroundings to make blemishes disappear. With careful use, you can get rid of anything from a pimple to a distracting ceiling light.

A set of more advanced tools lets you change white balance to get rid of off-color tinges, adjust the lighting, and sharpen or soften the focus. And there's an assortment of special effects, including black-and-white conversion, tinting, and the ability to distort parts of the picture. Most of these functions work by presenting you with eight thumbnails showing suggested changes. Hovering over a thumbnail with your cursor temporarily applies the change to the full picture. It's almost impossible to mess up, because you can move back step by step and revert instantly to any previous edit just by picking it from a strip of thumbnails.

For Online Use Only

For now, at least, the only thing you can do with pictures you have edited right on the Photoshop Express site—other than e-mail them—is share them in galleries or slide shows the software sets up for you. There's no direct way to send them off for printing, although that capability will doubtless arrive as Adobe strikes deals with other services. I believe you are generally better off linking to a Picasa or Photobucket account and taking advantage of those sites' sharing, printing, and download features. You simply give Express your user name and password, and your pictures appear as an Express album.

The serious amateur photographer looking for a digital darkroom will want one of the more capable desktop products, either the professional $649 Photoshop CS3 or the consumer-oriented Photoshop Elements 5.0, a great value at $100. Photoshop Express is an excellent promotional tool for those products, and it also demonstrates that Adobe really understands how to build Web-based applications.

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