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    Adobe offering free online photo services

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver April 15-21, 2008; issue 964

    High Tech Office column 

    Software developer Adobe is best known for high-powered (and high-priced) graphics applications like Photoshop and for the widely used (and free) Flash plug-in that powers Web animations and video. Recently it premiered a combination of the two: Photoshop Express, an online photo editing and storage service built using Flash technologies and available (in beta) for free.

    Like long-available online services Flickr (originally, but no longer Vancouver-based, now owned by Yahoo), PicasaWeb (owned by Google) and others, Photoshop Express ( lets users upload and store digital photos, arrange them into albums, and share them. Adobe is offering users two gigabytes of photo storage. Picasa offers half that, while Flickr limits users with free accounts to 100 megabytes of uploads per month (but unlimited uploads and storage to users for $25 per year). If you’re desperate for unlimited free online photo storage, check out

    Those other online photo-hosting services typically include bare-bones photo-editing features. Even in beta, Photoshop Express photo-editing power stands out. Adobe, after all, makes Photoshop, the standard for graphics professionals. This free online service doesn’t offer anywhere near the range of tools included with Photoshop or even with its $99 sibling Photoshop Elements. On the other hand, it features a much easier to use, jargon-free interface and enough editing power to satisfy most users.

    Tools, which are organized into basics, tuning and effects, include cropping, red-eye correction, auto-correct and sharpening. There are a set of features like distortion or converting a photo into a sketch that are either fun or silly depending on your age or point of view. Editing is non-destructive. You can always turn edits and effects off and get back to your original image.

    A nice feature allows you to access images you’ve uploaded to other online services such as Facebook or Picasa, and edit them within Photoshop Express. Afterwards, pop them back to the external site. Flickr is not supported, but that’s apparently in the works. Users have more power over who can access their photos than in most similar services.

    Photoshop Express works on any platform with any Web browser that supports Flash 9.0. I’ve tested it on Windows, Mac and Linux systems. Its reliance on Flash means it doesn’t work on an iPhone or iPod Touch, however. There is a 4,000-pixel limit on uploaded images, which will create problems for users with 12-megapixel cameras. Images need to be in JPEG format and no more than 10 megabytes each. And the current beta version is officially only available to U.S. residents. If the rest of us want to give it a try, we would have to lie. Non-U.S. countries will be officially supported further down the road.

    As a beta, not surprisingly it’s a bit of a work in progress, and lacks some of the features of more established services. Both Flickr and Picasa, for instance, offer tools to simplify photo uploading. Add-ins to Apple’s iPhoto let me export photos directly from that widely-used Mac application right to my accounts on those services. Similarly, there are currently no printing services available. I expect Adobe’s programmers are hard at work at providing these sorts of capabilities, but they’re not there yet. A feedback button on every page lets users tell developers what isn’t working or what features they’d like to see added.

    Adobe has announced that Photoshop Express will remain a free service even after official release (sometime later in 2008). The company is expected to announce paid options for users wanting more sophisticated editing and presentation features and additional online storage.

    It remains to be seen whether Adobe’s photo-editing prowess will draw users and whether Adobe can turn a free online service into a viable business model. If you’re prepared to claim to be in the U.S., check it out. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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