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New Photoshop targets clutter

Adobe is pushing a new consumer version of Photoshop that focuses on organizing the glut of photos that can quickly swamp the hard drive on a digital camera owner's PC.

Shoe boxes are for shoes.

That's Adobe Systems' message as the publishing software giant pushes a new consumer version of Photoshop, its flagship image-editing software. Photoshop Album, scheduled to be announced Monday for delivery next month, is focused on organizing the glut of photos that can quickly swamp the hard drive on a digital camera owner's PC.

Most digital camera owners resort to the storage equivalent of the old snapshot-stuffed shoebox, cramming photos into folders loosely organized by theme or time, said Tapan Bhat, group product manager for Adobe. Photoshop Album instead catalogs every image the PC grabs from a digital camera and allows people to add "tags" to the photo that describe who's in the shot, where it was taken and other themes. The Windows-only software displays thumbnail images of all the shots it catalogs, organized by time or any combination of tags.

"People come up with these elaborate workarounds to find their photos," Bhat said. "They create these elaborate directory structures and spend all sorts of time coming up with descriptive names...The whole concept with this software is to hide that complexity."

Photoshop Album includes basic tools for retouching photos, with one-click fixes for common problems such as bad exposure or color saturation. The software simplifies sharing of images by automatically resizing photos for e-mail use and putting together slideshows using Adobe's PDF document format. The program also addresses security, with tools for backing up photos online or to removable media.

Bhat said the idea was to cover the gaps between high-end photo software and the basic programs that come bundled with cameras. "For the vast majority of camera users, there really isn't one product that addresses all their needs," he said.

Andrew Johnson, an analyst for research firm Gartner, said that approach may well work with consumers. The software that comes bundled with a camera or scanner is enough for the majority of consumers, he said, citing a Gartner survey that showed only about 18 percent of people who bought a camera or scanner bought extra software for it within a year.

For those who do decide to upgrade, however, organization--not the editing tools many photo programs focus on--is the key. "I think most of the software that comes bundled with the camera and scanners has just enough retouching capability for the mass market," Johnson said. "For the people likely to buy extra software, most of what they said they wanted was file management--they were inundated with JPG files and needed a way to organize them."

The backup tools in Photoshop Album address another key need most camera owners haven't thought about yet, Johnson added. "What's the liability of having all these images on the hard drive, and what do you do when that hard drive fails or you move to a new PC?"

Photoshop Album is set to go on sale in February for $50, a price that should make it attractive as an impulse buy, Johnson said. "Fifty dollars is right in the ballpark of an unconsidered purchase," he said. "Someone buying an extra memory card or a camera case will see this and think, 'Maybe that will help, too.'"