Digital World: Giving away the store

The whole idea of putting a version of Photoshop on a Web site shows that Adobe has a sense of where the future is going, and that's to on-line applications.

photoshop 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
photoshop 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Much like the almost radical philanthropy shown recently by American investor Warren Buffet and Microsoft's Bill Gates, who between them are giving away many of the billions they have amassed over the years to worthy causes, large corporations have "seen the light," and in one particular case are literally "giving away the store" - providing over the Internet for free what for years they have been successfully selling for hundreds of dollars. Can it be? Would a multinational corporation voluntarily give away, for free, some of its most powerful programs and best-known brands - some of which have had a near monopoly in their particular specialties? The company in question is Adobe, which last week released on the Internet, for free, a Web version of its Photoshop software. Photoshop, of course, is Adobe's top-drawer, photo-editing software; after nearly 20 years, it is still the most used program for photo editing, selling like hotcakes every time a new version comes out. If you're a graphic artist, Web designer or photo editor, you use Photoshop on the job (and if you're one of the very few who don't use PS on the job, you still have to know how to use it). Now, if you want to use Photoshop, you don't have to pay the big bucks for PS CS3, the latest version; just surf to> , upload your photo, edit, save, download and you've saved yourself a pretty penny. The site says it's for US residents only, but I didn't have any trouble with it. And it's not just Photoshop that Adobe is "giving away." There's also an on-line version of Adobe Premiere, the company's high-end video-editing and -mixing tool. Surf to to check out the product, and follow the links to either the MTV or Photobucket site from that page. You upload your videos to your accounts on those sites, where you can make use of the Premiere Express software. You can even get free (albeit limited) access to some aspects of Adobe's PDF-making software, Acrobat. At, you can upload a file in a whole bunch of formats, like MS Word, Powepoint, plain text - even Pagemaker (!) - or insert a URL for a Web page and turn it into a downloadable or e-mailable PDF. You can convert five documents for each e-mail address you submit, but if you've used up your allotment, the site suggests you sign up with another address. Here's a chance to use up all those Gmail invitations you have; just invite yourself to open a new account and you've got virtually unlimited access to on-line PDF making. Sounds too good to be true - like, there has to be a catch, doesn't there? Well, that depends on what you're looking for. First of all, the PDF converter definitely works as advertised, and has helped me out in a couple of pinches where I had to send a document or Web page as a PDF to someone. True, there are plenty of third-party programs that you can download and use for this, but this is Adobe (the people who created the PDF, after all), so you can be sure that whatever you generate using their service will be a "real" PDF, readable by Adobe PDF reader, which is the standard program for reading these documents. Not that the documents generated by the others aren't 100 percent compatible as well, but why take a chance if the PDF's "mother ship" is giving it away for free, with no installation necessary? As for Premiere Express, it reminds me a lot of Apple's iMovie or Windows Movie Maker - simple, basic and very easy to use. Never having used the full version of Premiere, I don't know what I'm missing by using this clearly limited version (the on-line version can't be the same as the one And again, it's Adobe - so how can you go wrong? But Photoshop Express is a different story. Having had a lot of experience with PS, I can safely say, What were they thinking of? PS Express gives you a limited number of tools, similar to the ones you can get with Apple iPhoto, Google Picasa or a whole host of on-line photo-editing software. It's basic, with almost none of the sophisticated tools the "real" Photoshop is famous for. That's not to say it isn't very good at what it does; for each of the 17 actions you can use on your photos - red-eye removal, touch-up, sharpen, hue - there are six or seven preset changes you can select (there are no variations). On the other hand, you can't make a selection in the photo (changes are made to the whole thing at once). It's a nice, elegant, basic photo-editing site, but it's not the Photoshop you grew up with. My question is, Why would Adobe attach the Photoshop name to this Web site? It's not like the program needs more name recognition; "photoshopping" as a term to edit photographs is practically in the dictionary already ( Surely they could have come up with another name for it? I don't mean to be nitpicky, but it's not like there is even a continuum of "lite" (PS Express) to "medium" (Photoshop Elements, to grown-up Photoshop. Obviously it's aimed at casual users, such as those uploading photos to Flickr or Facebook (to which you can directly link from your PS account). On the other hand, the whole idea of putting a version of Photoshop on a Web site shows that Adobe has a sense of where the future is going, and that's to on-line applications. It could be that the company also has a master plan to add more Photoshop-like features to the site (after all, it's in beta and barely two weeks old). There was a bit of a flap over the digital rights Adobe claimed for photos uploaded to the site, but that seems to have been resolved ( Photoshop Express is by no means the only on-line option for photo editing; there are a couple out there. If you can live without the cachet of a major brand like Photoshop, you might find Fotoflexer ( more versatile, with more sophisticated tools (many of which were found in earlier versions of the "real" Photoshop), but still easy to use. Fotoflexer offers more than 75 tools, as well as the ability to work in layers, add text, animations, distortions and lots of other fun items; it's also free, and with links to all the sites where you would save photos (Myspace, Picasa, etc.). As Adobe invented most of the tools on the Fotoflexer site anyway, I am looking forward to a beefed-up (and still free) Photoshop Express site real soon.