Adobe's VP of Hosted and Consumer Services refers to Photoshop Express as "the on-ramp to the Adobe digital-imaging franchise." Next exit Photoshop Elements? Construction delays? Slippery pavement ahead? The mind reels with metaphorical possibilities. With its familiar-looking organizational tools, slick Flash-based interface and robust retouching algorithms, Express embodies Adobe at its potential finest--this is a newborn beta, after all, and we should expect bugs. (If it should reach senior betahood, like Gmail, we will cease to forgive.) But there are also a few potholes in this on-ramp to beware.
Photoshop Express is two things: a photo-sharing site targeting the millions of snapshot photographers who think software such as Photoshop Elements is too difficult, too disconnected or just too much, and a platform from which Adobe will serve partner sites with editing tools. At beta launch, Facebook, Photobucket and Picasa comprise the short list of partners; Flickr will be next in line, though a date has not been announced.
As a sharing site it's simultaneously pretty and functional. And it succeeds as a proof-of-concept that Flash and Flex allow you to create robust online applications that look and feel like local ones. For sharing, the feature set is pretty typical: it lets you upload photos into albums (up to 2GB), organize them, make them public for sharing or share them privately via email links, and generate and email nice-looking self-contained Flash slideshows. There's lots of dragging and dropping to organize, and a free vanity URL.
For editing, it delivers a better-than-average experience. In addition to a more-than-sufficient set of tools for adjusting exposure, color and sharpness and touching up artifacts like red-eye and fixing blemishes, it also supplies a basic set of specifial effects that let you turn bad or boring pictures into something a bit more interesting. The application also displays a snapshot history of your edits, which is a nice touch missing even from Adobe's desktop products. Most of the tools operate relatively quickly; only Distort left me singing the not-so-realtime blues. (For a discussion of the interface, click through the slide show.)