The maker of the popular photo-editing software Photoshop on March 27 launched a basic version of the program available free of charge online.

San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc. says it hopes to boost its name recognition among a new generation of consumers who edit, store, and share photos online.

While Photoshop is designed for trained professionals, Adobe says Photoshop Express, which it launched in a “beta” test version, is easier to learn. User comments will be taken into account for future upgrades.

Photoshop Express will be completely web-based, so consumers can use it with any type of computer, operating system, and browser. And, once they register, users can get to their accounts from different computers.

After signing up for the free service, users can upload their photos and then edit them with Adobe’s simplified set of point-and-click controls for removing “red eye,” cropping, adjusting the brightness and color saturation, and other functions. Users can group photos into online albums and can post them to popular social-networking sites, all from within the web-based program.

Web-based software is increasingly popular, and Adobe knows it’s got to get on that train, said Kathleen Maher, an analyst at Jon Peddie Research.

Many kinds of software are available for use online in a trend known as “software as a service,” or “cloud computing.” The earliest were eMail programs, but they now include services to create and manage content and even whole operating systems. And they don’t require time-consuming upgrades, because they’re maintained by the service provider.

Google Inc. provides a host of such services, as do Microsoft Corp. and others.

“This is the battlefield where Adobe and Microsoft and Google are going to fight some pretty big battles,” Maher said.

Photoshop enters the online photo-management arena many years after such services first appeared. Some companies have already made a big name for themselves, like 9-year-old storage solution Shutterfly Inc., photo-editing service Picnik, or image-sharing site Photobucket Inc.

Adobe says providing Photoshop Express for free is part marketing and part a strategy to create up-sell opportunities. It hopes some customers will move from its free Express program to boxed software like its $99 Photoshop Elements or to a subscription-based version of Express that is in the works.

Ron Glaz, a research analyst at IDC, says the move was necessary for Adobe to keep pace. Users are less likely to switch to a software program they aren’t familiar with, he said.

“They have a whole market that they are missing out on, and they need to make sure that the market is aware there is a Photoshop solution for them. As that market grows and becomes more sophisticated, hopefully it will generate money,” Glaz said.

“It’s one of those things [where], if you can’t beat them, join them. If [Adobe doesn’t] join them, the long run could be really painful.”

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Photoshop Express

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