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Monday, 7 April 2008

First Look: Photoshop Express (Beta)

A growing audience of photo enthusiasts has recently emerged—one with little patience for the often painstaking, time-consuming craft of image editing. The social networking and photo-sharing crowd—Flickr and Facebook are their middle names—seek quick photo editing directly in the browser and on the go.

Users who want to bring images from their camera to the Web in as few steps as possible can turn to the new beta release of Photoshop Express, Adobe's online photo editing, hosting, storage, and showcase for snap shooters.

Online image editing is not a radical new concept—several well-received products in this genre have popped up in recent years. Express differentiates itself from most of these services by providing a complete end-to-end experience: uploading and editing your photos; storing and hosting them in albums and galleries, and sharing them through e-mail, slideshows, and via online services like Facebook, Photobucket, Picasa, and—soon, Adobe says—Flickr.

I took Photoshop Express for a spin on two different systems—a first-generation MacBook Pro and a Power Mac G5—and on two different browsers, Safari and Firefox. On the whole, I found its features fairly deep, its performance respectable, and its interface intriguing. I encountered a few glitches here and there, while pining for some features I wish Express would offer.

And perhaps some of those features will work their way into the final version of Photoshop Express. By releasing the service in beta form, Adobe is poised to take customer suggestions while also introducing a steady stream of updates and improvements to its new offering.


Photoshop Express launches to reveal a simple, chic-looking charcoal gray background. The color is designed to be easy on the eyes and provide a neutral backdrop for your photos, but it's too dark for my taste, and the tiny white menu lettering doesn't make it any more inviting. I think letting people choose a background color (as they can with iPhoto, Bridge CS3, or Aperture) makes sense, especially considering this app's mobile orientation.

You can view your album in grid view. An information panel on the right shows you EXIF data and other information about the selected image.

The opening screen sports four simple buttons: My Photos, My Gallery, Browse, and Upload Photos. The My Photos button leads you to your library of uploaded images. My Gallery leads to you the albums you created with those images. Browse takes you to the public galleries created by you and others. But you don't have to create elaborate albums or galleries.

Upload Photos will likely be your first stop. If you have photos on Facebook, Picasa, or Photobucket, you can link to them within your Express account and edit them in the Express canvas. More on that below.

You view all your photos in the Library. Click on All Photos to see everything, or Most Recent, to see the last batch you uploaded. Express gives you a choice of how to view your photos: single, grid, or table. You can sort your photos by date or rating, or view your photos by name, rating, date, or caption. A graphical slider lets you adjust thumbnail size.

Each view gives you a way to perform tasks like add a caption, view a photo's metadata, edit, e-mail, and remove a photo.

Be careful never to navigate with the Back button of your browser, because it will back you right out of the session, and you'll have to sign in again. That took a bit of getting used to, as did having to use the browser window slider bar to navigate through images, as opposed to rolling the mouse button to quickly cruise a page.

To create an album, just locate the Albums label in the left sidebar, click the Plus (+) button, and type the album name. A checkbox next to each album lets you make those pictures public; keep your album private by leaving that box unchecked. Click the X button to remove an album. Express has some limitations right now, but they shouldn't bother its target audience. Photo file formats are JPEG only, photos can't be more than 10MB, and you have 2GB of free server space to store everything.

Album colors—the border around your album or slideshow in your gallery—are set to one color, but I hope that will change soon. The search feature also is imperfect. There are no partial searches, and even an exact Album search did not locate my own album.

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Posted by: aroeltsm, Updated at: 5:07 am

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