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Pretty Web journal tool Penzu goes pro

A new version of Penzu, one of the prettier online word processors around, includes a handful of useful features that build on the previous release.

Penzu, the stylish Web word processor we checked out about a year ago, is ready to make a business out of its hosted writing tools.

The company on Wednesday introduced a professional version of its service that costs $19 a year and fixes many of the gripes we originally had about its very pretty, but feature-light, offerings.

A pro membership now gets you all kinds of goodies, including a rich text editor, tags for organization, image hosting, 256-bit AES encryption on posts that you've locked, and themes that skin the entire interface to your liking. Pro users can also slurp in their posts from another blog service (currently Live Journal only), as well as export them as PDFs and raw text files.

Penzu can now be skinned in one of six themes for those who pay for the service's new pro membership. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn/CNET

New features are not limited to pro users. All users now have a way to share a read-only version of a post to others that does not require any special sign-up for the person who's viewing it. The tool can also now grab your photos from Flickr, not just your desktop.

This feature worked without issue when we tried it, albeit slowly. You first have to dig through all your Flickr albums, then cycle eight photos at a time to find the shots for which you're looking. After that, you have to wait while they're imported, which, in our case, took close to 2 minutes per photo, making the tool take too long to be usable.

It's worth noting that the service is still designed as a diary replacement, not as a collaborative document editor, the way Google Docs, Zoho Writer, Adobe's, and others operate.

Penzu's focus makes it difficult to make strong comparisons to those tools, but to be honest, I don't see much value in paying the $19 for some of the extra features it adds. Things like rich text editing, data exporting, and tagging should be standard features on just about any Web-based writing tool, if it hopes to compete for user attention and, in this case, dollars.