Adobe has done what it has mooted for some time – stuck a free version of Photoshop online for basic photo editing from anywhere. We’ve had a go too – and it’s so good you simply won’t believe it’s free.

Ok, so the functionality over and above what you get in, say, Windows Vista is marginal – some effects, touch up and tuning tools – but Adobe has used its superb range of web development tools to devastating effect.

The launch is a Rich Internet Application (RIA) in the same vein as Adobe’s Buzzword online word processor that it acquired last year. Like that service, Photoshop Express is a beta at present and is supposedly for US residents only, though it will work from anywhere.

Adobe does warn that performance could be slow outside of the US, but on relatively fast connections you’ll have little bother. You will need to register to use it though.

Photoshop Express was built with Flex, Adobe’s free, open source framework for creating RIAs. Crucially Flex apps mean that, providing you have Flash Player 9, all major browsers can be supported.

How it all works

You begin by uploading pictures into your Library that you want to edit – there’s a storage allowance of 2GB. You can then instantly rotate them or double-click them to edit them. They’re then loaded into a Photoshop Elements-style editing interface where you can carry out auto-corrections, cropping, red-eye removal and the like.

There are significant lighting and colouring tools available too. Finally, you can add some effects such as distortion that, while fairly run-of-the mill now, are pretty incredible when you consider that you’re simply accessing them from ‘the cloud’.

There are also some other tricks like Pop Colour, which selects an object in an image, mutes the background colour of the photo and allows the user to swap the object’s colour. Sketch effects help photos look like drawings.

Upload and download pics from Facebook

Crucially for such a web service, Adobe enables you to share your pictures with other online services. You can download and upload photos from Facebook (and so edit them on the fly) as well as Picasa and Photobucket. Surely it is only a matter of time before Flickr is supported too? Albums can also be shared online. Our colleagues at MacFormat have put together a gallery slideshow of screenshots.

You can also share images via email and crucially the original image is always preserved so you can roll back just as you can on your own machine.

Adobe says it will ‘solicit’ Photoshop Express user feedback on product features and functionality, “which will continue to evolve over time”.

“Photoshop is trusted technology that has changed the visual landscape of our world.  Now, Photoshop Express allows anyone who snaps a digital photo to easily achieve the high-impact results for which Adobe is known,” enthused Doug Mack, vice president of Consumer and Hosted Solutions at Adobe. 

“Photoshop Express is a convenient, single destination where you can store, edit and share photos whether you’re at home, school or on the road.”

Adobe announced an Express version of Premiere for partner sites last year.