Adobe's Free Photo Editor

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Adobe Photoshop Express.

A new website for editing, organizing and sharing your digital photos hails from a most unlikely creator — Adobe Systems, which is to digital imaging software what Microsoft is to word processors. And while Photoshop Express is arguably the most full-featured free photo program on the Web, the real surprise is that Adobe is willing to risk cannibalizing its own paid image-management products, which include the $100 Photoshop Elements and the $649 Photoshop CS3, in order to win over new users. "Express is for the casual user," says Adobe vice president Doug Mack. "It's an incremental market for us."

That's quite an understatement for an already hyper-competitive market with tens of millions of users. Rivals Flickr, Slide, Picasa and Photobucket all offer some of the same features as the new Photoshop Express. Still, Adobe is wise to tap into Web users' growing appetite for simple programs they don't have to buy — unlike Microsoft, which is so far missing out on the free software wave by failing to offer webware similar to Google Docs or Zoho.

The best reason to try Photoshop Express is for its image-editing features, which surpass those of any free program currently available. Beyond the standard red-eye removal and cropping features, Express lets you dabble with more advanced options like altering a single color on your image (while leaving the rest of the picture unchanged) or using the touch-up brush to fix multiple problems at once. On the downside, Express ran a little slowly in my tests and was not quite as intuitive to use as another competitor, Facebook, Picasa and Photobucket so users can drag and drop edited pictures into those applications without having to open a separate browser window. The generous 2 gigabytes of free storage (which is significantly more than the 100 MB per month allotted to Flickr users, for example) and personal URL assigned to each user for their online photo gallery make storing and sharing your pictures a breeze.

As a final bonus, the beta version of Express is both ad-free and free to use. (A subscription version may become available later on, according to Mack.) Combined with its broader set of editing tools, that definitely makes Express worth a shot.