Free Photoshop Express Is a Mixed Picture

By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, April 3, 2008

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most complicated, expensive, intensive programs you'll never want to use. Adobe Photoshop Express has next to nothing in common with that $649 program, or even its $100, consumer-focused spinoff called Photoshop Elements.

Photoshop Express costs nothing, needs no manual and runs inside a Web browser.

Other companies, including most of the popular picture-sharing sites, have Web-based photo editors already. But for Adobe -- a company that made its fortune by selling software on discs -- getting into free Web applications is a major step.

It's as if Microsoft delivered a Web-based version of Microsoft Office, with a similar level of risk. Essentially, Adobe is inviting home users to forget about paying for its computer-bound releases. It's even throwing in two gigabytes of free photo storage (though you can expect to be invited to pay for more space, as well as for other upgrades beyond the basic service).

Photoshop Express ( runs on Adobe's Flash plug-in, which works in all modern browsers and across a variety of operating systems. The site looked and worked the same using Microsoft's Internet Explorer in Windows XP, Apple's Safari in Mac OS X and Mozilla Firefox in XP and Ubuntu Linux.

Photoshop Express offers a broad range of editing tools, including some absent from disc-based competitors -- most of which worked as quickly as in those older programs.

In addition to such standard fixes as a quick "auto correct," the ability to flip pictures from horizontal to vertical and back, red-eye removal and exposure and color adjustments, you can also straighten shots to level out the horizon, brighten or dim backgrounds and foregrounds, sharpen or soften the focus and tweak the "white balance" so snow doesn't look blue.

Photoshop Express also offers a few artistic effects. For example, a "pop color" tool lets you select one color to keep while turning everything else into shades of gray. A "sketch" command makes a photo resemble a pen-and-ink drawing.

Most of these features come with plenty of flexibility and guidance. The auto-correct option, for example, suggests five possible improvements for the picture, all illustrated in thumbnail previews.

You can also undo all of your changes, bringing you back to the picture as it was first taken.

But other factors hold back Photoshop Express, compared with desktop programs and other Web-based applications.

The big one can't be blamed on Adobe: the slow upload speeds of most consumer Internet services. While cable and phone companies like to brag about fast downloads, the other half of the connection typically runs much slower. A consumer DSL connection needed about an hour to ship 70 pictures -- taken with a year-old, mid-range camera -- to the Adobe site.

Photoshop Express's other issues, however, can be pinned only on its creators.

One: Even after you've beamed your shots up to the Adobe site, using this program can involve notable, distracting waits. Opening a photo for editing -- which you'll need to do just to zoom into it -- took five to seven seconds, even on a fast connection at the office. Saving edits to a photo took as long as 30 seconds.

Two: Photoshop Express provides only a few links to the photo-sharing sites that most people already use. By providing your user name and password, you can bring photos in and out of Facebook, Photobucket and Picasa -- but not such popular competitors as Flickr or Kodak Gallery, each of which has its own Web-based editing tools. Flickr's, in particular, exceeds Adobe's in simplicity and speed.

At the moment, Photoshop Express's greatest utility seems to be as a Facebook accessory.

Three: For now, you can't print anything, except by printing an entire browser window. That may not be a problem for users who have transcended paper, but many others would rather order 8-by-10 blowups of their best shots -- an option that Adobe says won't come for a few months.

Four: This site suffers from way too many glitches, even for something labeled a beta. Some hide in fine print: Photoshop Express's terms of service allow Adobe to reuse your photos at will, an excess of sloppy lawyering that the company says it will correct. Others are more obvious, such as the way it kept losing captions I'd added to some photos. After I shipped an album of pictures over to Facebook, the captions that did survive wound up on the wrong shots, while the pictures had been shuffled into a seemingly random order.

Adobe has the right idea in getting into the Web-applications game. But this initial entry doesn't offer enough to make people leave competing services. And without collaboration features that might let you and a friend cooperate online in labeling and editing pictures, it provides an incomplete answer to the question of why you'd want to edit photos in a Web browser at all.

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