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With the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements, Adobe's laying on the Web subscription message really thick. Take, for instance, the Welcome screen, which is your first encounter with either one of the applications. The standard Organize, Edit, Create, and Share options get relegated to a task bar that's relatively inconspicuous compared with the large, rotating slide show heralding the many benefits of the free and $49.99 Plus memberships for Photoshop.com (more project templates, remote backup, and 20GB-plus of storage space). Adobe might as well have sold the space as an ad; it's that annoying. And that's too bad, because Photoshop Elements remains a very nice midrange photo editor, but all of these bells and whistles--some pretty off-key--increasingly detract from its core strengths. The main advantage to the program is that it's less expensive than Photoshop and Lightroom, yet is powerful enough for most photo editing tasks. Consequently, the improved raw workflow is quite improved; basically you now can bypass it entirely if you want. For instance, in order to create a slide show of NEF files, the program will simply apply the default raw-processing settings and treat them like JPEGs. One new feature is the text search box in the organizer, which is a fast, easy way to filter by keywords or basic metadata. Be careful however as it searches for very basic metadata only; you can only search on time, data, camera, and caption text. But that should be sufficient for basic home users. Of course there is always one feature per version that is designed to blow your socks off; Elements 7 is no different and includes the Photomerge Scene Cleaner, basically an extension of Group Shot. Photomerge allows you to effortlessly combine variations of a photo to remove unwanted objects in the scene. Typically features like these never work for me without a great bit of work on my end; amazingly enough this one did, on two random photos (which met the similarity criteria). I haven't tried the other variations, Photomerge Faces, or Panorama--but those are derivative of existing Photoshop CS3 tools. Adobe has also updated adjustment operations through the use of Smart Brushes, which consolidate multi-operation adjustments, such as selecting then creating a new effects layer, into a single selection operation that automatically generates the layer and mask. Still, I can't get around how confusing the user interface remains; I think the main reason is that everything seems organized by technology, rather than by task. A hodgepodge of stuff lives on the


Guided palette, some of which you can't find elsewhere in the program, like the Photomerge tools, or which don't seem guiding at all, like the Saturated Slide Film effect or the Action Player. The latter runs scripts that request user input, which is why I suspect they're considered Guided, but in that respect they're no different than dialog boxes or Wizards. Before and after views are still only available in Quick Fix and Guided modes. I just can't remember where to find things a lot of the time. Unfortunately the things I want changed usually never change prior to the product shipping. Things that I am guessing will improve are the performance (the beta version is slow) and the selection of presets, actions, and templates (they're pretty thin). Believe me, when the product ships the end of September I will definitely be checking to see if there are any pleasant surprises. Price is expected to be in the range of $79.99 or $99.99, depending on if you buy it via the Adobe store and/or believe in mail-in rebates. Add $40 for the plus-membership option.

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