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For Free Photo Editing on the Desktop, It's Paint.Net

Today's best Web-based photo editors excel at quick, simple fixes. But for advanced image processing, desktop applications still offer more power, flexibility, and speed--and some of them even do it for free.

Google Picasa 2 is easy to use but short on features. GIMP packs Photoshop-like power but sports a user interface that appears to have been designed by Martians. And then there's the best free image editor, Paint.Net.

With an interface modeled on Photoshop's, it takes time to master but offers a precision that online editors don't match. It opens multiple images at once, supports layers, and lets you apply any of its 30-plus effects to part of an image. It can handle images of almost any resolution, and offers full-blown printing options. You can add features via free third-party plug-ins.

Paint.Net doesn't include clip art or borders; it doesn't integrate with photo-sharing sites and has no organizing tools (such as those in Photoshop Elements). But this quietly competent freebie is awfully handy when you need more than a Web service can deliver.

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