BitDepth 622 - April 08

Photoshop, not chicks for free.
Photoshop for free

Editing in Photoshop Express feels professional but is limited to basics.

There are a few ways to get Adobe’s flagship image editing product, Photoshop, without paying for it. Some high-end scanners ship with a limited edition of the product and of course, there is piracy, simply stealing a copy either off the Internet or from a friend.
Now, noble padawan, there is another way, one that will align you with the force.
Joining the ranks of the incredibly expensive, vertical market focused Photoshop Extended (US$999), the merely expensive Photoshop (US$649), the photographer specific cousin, Photoshop Lightroom (US$299) and the prosumer focused Photoshop Elements (US$99) is the newest member of the new square iconed Photoshop family, Photoshop Express, a free online version of the product.
The notion of a web based photo editor isn’t new or exclusive to Adobe. The cleverly named Picnik is also free, with an option to purchase a premium plan for US$24.95 per year that eliminates advertising, beefs up the editing tools and promises additional content in the future.
Photoshop Express, currently in beta testing, is free and what you get is a bare bones image editor with the ability to create galleries and post images to your accounts, if you have them, on Flickr, Picasa and Photobucket.

What you get for nothing
Adobe generously offers 2GB of space for photos, but limits the size of images uploaded to 4000 pixels on the longest dimension and a file size on disk of no more than 10MB. Unsurprisingly, the upload dialog completely ignores TIFF and RAW files, which are unlikely to meet either requirement.
Uploads are fairly quick, even on my modest broadband connection and the online application is responsive, if simplistic.
On import, the images appear in a browser pane that mimics the interface used by the company’s professional Bridge and Lightroom products. Curiously, ratings that I applied in Lightroom to my images showed up in the Express interface, but captions disappeared.
Clearly focused on the photo editing novice, Photoshop Express offers only a few basic editing tools (no levels and curves here, pros) that are designed to tweak images into better shape.
The editing pane offers multiple thumbnail options which preview common changes and you can adjust the range of each effect, such as hue changes, sharpening and black and white transformations.
Using the online service, you have the sense that the engineers built a lot of smarts into the transforms, keeping changes within “reason,” and making it difficult, if not impossible to absolutely butcher an image.

Alternatives and rationales
Picnik, by comparison, is more mature and feature rich, even if it sports an interface that’s fun to the point of childish. There are more effects available in Picnik, including whimsical, if only marginally accurate Holga-ish and Lomo-ish filters and more photosharing and social networking sites are supported.
Adobe has more in the pot with Photoshop Express than some unexpected generosity with its famed image editing engine.
The product is built with their new Flex web software, which leverages their purchase of Macromedia’s Flash, so you’ll need to have the Flash plug-in installed to even see the Photoshop Express home page.
Like Buzzword, these websites also demonstrate the capabilities of Adobe’s newly acquired software when applied to creating web based software. If developers see that you can build not just games, but a word processor and an image editor in Flash based software, then it’s all upside for Adobe.
From that point of view, it isn’t surprising that Photoshop Express pales in comparison to its best of breed competition. Despite its noble lineage, the web version of Photoshop isn’t a better online image editor than Picnik, and the useful galleries that you can build on the Adobe site are a far cry from the utility of the popular Flickr.
Some unfortunate and legally possessive language in the contract boilerplate has also aroused concerns about the legal ramifications of uploading files to Photoshop Express.
It is slick looking, tough, and that attention to style will inevitably filter back to the scrappier looking market leaders, and then everyone gets better software in their browsers.

Photoshop Express
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