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By Dr. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, Student Computing Services Manager
I've been using full-blown Photoshop for my creative work and my job-related work since 1991 which makes me pretty much a 'from the start user' (Photoshop was released in 1989) and there are two things that have especially marked my progress through the at least 10 upgrades of the product: 1. The application is incredibly expensive and 2. The application is incredibly large in size. I recall when I got version 3.0 for my Mac SE (yeah - Photoshop in black and white....) which came on 12 floppy disks and cost $500. Ah - the days!
So you can imagine my skepticism when I read in the business pages that Adobe was offering a 'free online version of Photoshop.' I just had to investigate and I have got to say from the start, while this (beta) application is certainly not for a digital artist or videographer like myself, it is a terrific deal for someone who simply wants to shape up the photos of their pets or kids, or family reunion with simple edits like crop, color/light balancing, red-eye removal and the like. In fact the Photoshop Express site (found at https://www.photohop.com/express) ought to really make the folks at Picasa and Flickr pretty nervous as it offers editing options (in addition to the standard album and shared gallery options) that put it head and shoulders above these other photo-sharing sites. For someone who would like an easy-to-use and powerful way to edit their digital camera pics that is free, Express is definitely your product.
An in-depth look at Photoshop Express
All gushing aside - let us get into 'the bowels of the product' (as one of my ACS colleagues likes to colorfully describe it) - and take Express for a beta-test-drive (The Fast and the Furious: Digital Drift):
Before you do ANYTHING - make sure that you have Adobe Flash 9 Player installed in your browser. Photoshop Express is a Flash 9 application. You can get Flash 9 at http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer. If you are using a Mac (like all the really cool people), installation is a snap - when you download and install, the player installs in Safari, Firefox, and Opera automatically and all your browsers are covered (because who uses IE on a Mac? Really you do? Please stop!). If you are on a PC, you need to install Flash 9 for Firefox and for Internet Explorer individually because, well, you are on a PC so you must suffer (it's the 'Microsoft Tax').
Note: all the screenshots for the article were done in the latest version of Firefox on a Windows XP machine (my Mac was busy chewing on some digital video rendering so it was unavailable - see... I am actually cool - someone tell my children!). I thoroughly tested all Express functionality on the latest Firefox and IE 7 on my PC and on the latest Safari and Firefox on my Mac (OS X 4.1) - got no glitches with any of the browsers or either operating system.
OMG - AMAZING! This application works in LINUX (so the 'ultra ultra cool folks' can use it too!) - latest version of Firefox with Flash 9 - tested it/works great!
Next - the site is 'https' instead of 'http'? I feel all warm and fuzzy and secure already. You can either take Photoshop Express for a 'test drive' without creating an account or you can go ahead and set up your account. This is nothing different than the Spam Generator process one finds on other sites like FaceBook, Flickr etc. - fill out your information and go:
The standard sign up Spam Generator screen
Please note that if you are someone who puts in a fake email address in order to mis-direct spam, this email address does become your login username so be sure you remember it. Also, the email address becomes the default for emailing your edited photos back to yourself. So you might want to resist the urge to type in your ex-boyfriend's email address as spam revenge in this text box instead of your actual preferred address. Also - see next paragraph for why you can't do this.
Next you have to confirm your account at your email address (ah - those smart Adobe people - they know that you are going to try to avoid that spam...but you CAN'T and use their product so 'nah nah NAH'!):
The confirmation screen - you just can't avoid that spam!
Here is the login screen:
Log in screen
The opening page allows you to go into the Photo Editing and Uploading area, check out your shared items, or browse others' shared items (why do people think the whole world wants to see their children? C'mon, often I don't even want to see my children - why would someone else?):
Your choices in Express
For this article, we are going into My Photos (though I will discuss the other areas briefly too) - Uploading Photos is easy - just click on the button and browse your computer for the photos you wish to edit. The Express FAQ page recommends that you do not upload more than 100 photos at one time. A few other limitations (from the Express FAQ) - Photos larger than 10M and 4000 pixels in height and width cannot be uploaded. Photos larger than 2880x 2880 pixels will be shrunk after editing.:
Upload up to 100 photos
The second upload screen
Once you have uploaded some photos (aren't my children cute?) click on a photo to edit it or to do some simple rotations and other moves:
The menu of options is accessed by clicking on the bottom of the photo
The edit choice gives you a variety of ways to fix your photos from cropping to removing red-eye and adjusting color balance and light levels. You can even use distort, touch up and auto correct to do things like make Aunt Martha lose 10 pounds (A recent Photoshop trainer called this The Slim-Fast Filter) or erase wrinkles and worry lines (he called this The Botox Filter). Yes - at last you can have the 'perfect American family'. Just look at how cute I made my kids!:
Lots of 'fix-its' for bad digital photographers! (or ugly subjects!)
From the FAQ's of Adobe Photoshop Express, here is a complete description of the tools they offer:
After you finish sprucing up your photos you can either save them in an album and post them publicly, email them to yourself, or email them to friends. It is pretty slick and certainly a lot better than any of the lame editing applications I've gotten with my various digital cameras. It is these pretty powerful basic editing tools that truly distinguishes the Photoshop Express site from others like Flickr and Picasa. Flickr doesn't offer these editing features and while Picasa has some editing capabilities, in my opinion, the cumbersome effort of transferring and moving files around your site and your computer is really a hindrance with Picasa plus their tools are not nearly as intuitive:
Look at all the folks who want you to see their photos!
Now - just so no one thinks that Adobe is paying me a bunch of money to promote their product - I am going to take you through all of the 'gotchas' , glitches, and 'oh dears' that I found in my testing. This site is a beta test so users can actually go to a section where they can offer suggestions and comments. My first comment was, "Where in the world is UNDO?" There is no undo button so save often if you are doing a bunch of edits. The only way you can undo a mistake is to get out of edit without saving. So - if you removed red-eye from the dog, adjusted light and color, cropped out that annoying cousin you always disliked and THEN you made Aunt Martha just a bit too unbelievably skinny with the Slim-Fast Filter so you need to undo the Aunt Martha stuff...well, you can't. You have to get out of edit without saving and thus you lose not only Aunt Martha's 50 unbelievable pounds but all the other good stuff too (unless you saved after each adjustment) and have to start again with Rover the Demon Dog's red eye removal.
The second thing that is annoying is: what if I only want to share an album with a selected few folks instead of the entire world? You can't do that - it is either have everyone see your lovely children on your site or have no one see your lovely children on your site. There should be some way that you could password protect your albums or limit them to a certain few email address accesses or something. The only way you can selectively distribute your photos is via email.
For persons with disabilities (specifically persons who need to use screen readers) - Adobe provides the following site: http://www.adobe.com/help/accessibility.html with full instructions on accessing Photoshop Express in HTML mode. However, I could not get this to work - I kept getting put back into Flash mode - so I would not count on this product being accessible at this time.
Finally - and for those of us at UNT, this does not apply - Photoshop Express is a beta site and it is not available outside of the United States. So don't go telling all your friends in Portugal about this great free product because those friends will go to the site and be quite disappointed.
But in the meantime, I encourage you to try out Photoshop Express. For the average digital snapshot taker, it is going to be quite a blessing. It seems to be a fully cross-platformed, easy-to-use way to organize, edit, spruce up and send all those digital photos languishing in your camera. For those of you who need the full-blown, big Adobe products you pay for - at least go check out the offerings at the UNT Bookstore. The bookstore has an agreement with Adobe that allows the UNT community to get these products at a significant discount which means that you may only have to eat Ramen for two weeks instead of four in order to afford them (good thing my children like Ramen)! Enjoy!