Adobe Systems opened up Photoshop Express on Thursday, its long-anticipated Web-based image editor aimed at the millions of consumers that want a simple way to touch up, share, and store photos.
Photoshop Express, available for free with 2 gigabytes of storage at www.photoshop.com/express, is a significant departure from Adobe's desktop software business and a big bet that it can make money offering Web services directly to consumers.
The application, which needs Flash Player 9 to run, pushes the limits of browser-based applications and will likely ratchet up the competition on the dozens of free and online photo-editing products available now (see our full review of Photoshop Express and gallery of screen shots of the application).
Since then, Adobe has expanded the scope of the project, one reason why the product launch has taken longer than expected, according to executives. Rather than only an image editor, Photoshop Express also has ties to social networking sites like Facebook and other image-sharing sites.
Also, Adobe needed to build the back-end infrastructure needed to offer the service directly to consumers, rather than partner with another photo-sharing site, as it did with its online video editor, Premiere Express.
"We've seen a convergence of trends where the everyday consumer is becoming overwhelmed with the number of images and they have the desire to share images in new and interesting ways," said Doug Mack, the vice president of consumer and hosted solutions at Adobe.
"We're at the point now with bandwidth that most consumers can use really rich Internet applications and also have a relationship with a service where they store and upload images," he said.
The service will go live in beta test mode on Thursday. Mack said that the company intends to use the test period as a way garner feedback from customers.
Adobe intends to offer more features to consumers who pay a yearly fee. Some planned features include a printing service, more storage, support for audio and other media, and the ability to read additional image file types (the service works with .JPGs now.)
Adobe also plans to build an offline client using AIR (the Adobe Integrated Runtime) so that people can edit photos offline, executives said.
Under the hood
Adobe already has a few other Photoshop-branded products--Photoshop Creative Suite 3 and Photoshop Lightroom are aimed at professional and serious amateur photographers, while $99 Photoshop Elements is a consumer-oriented product.
Photoshop Express is designed to be used essentially by anyone who uses a point and click digital camera, said Mack.
People can organize photos by dragging them into albums or create a gallery to share images. The service also lets people email links images stored online, embed them in a Web page, or download them.
When people hover a mouse over an image, a menu appears that lets people do tasks, such as rotating an image. The editing tools are designed for speed, with an autocorrect option, redeye removal, and a touch-up tool.
Adobe has sought to make Photoshop Express intuitive enough for people to use without any training but still have features that appeal to more sophisticated photographers, said Geoff Baum, director of Adobe's Express products.
For example, the touch-up tool will automatically choose a color from a surrounding item to, say, remove a blemish on a face. Or, a person can choose where to sample a color to replace the blemish.
Photoshop Express also includes several ways to tweak photos just for fun. There are a number of effects to change the color of one item in a photo, like a hat on someone's head, or blur parts of an image.
While editing, the application displays thumbnail images that let people view how effects will change a photo before saving it and people can revert back to an original. The connections to Facebook and other social networking sites let people edit and update images from within Photoshop Express.
"We had some of the top Photoshop engineers who understand the technology and science behind Photoshop rewrite some of the algorithms in ActionScript 3," Baum explained.
Having used Photoshop Express for a short time, I can say that it is simple to use. It's attractive, too. The use of Flash animation makes for a dynamic page and smooth transitions between operations.
Adobe is hoping that people who use Picasa, Google's free downloadable application, will be tempted by Photoshop Express.
As someone who uses Picasa for both work and personal photo editing, I'd say that Photoshop Express is indeed tempting because it's slick yet easy to use. You can get edits done quickly, particularly using the thumbnail preview feature.
However, launching the editor and actually saving changes is far slower than Picasa. That's not surprising, given that Photoshop Express has to download photos and upload changes, while Picasa doesn't. By design, Photoshop Express also has a broader range of options for sharing photos on other sites.
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