Google is acquiring Seattle's Picnik, creators of a Web-based photo editor. Picnik lets you edit photos directly from a Web browser, rather than requiring software you install on a computer. It's a perfect companion for Google's other series of Web applications, like Gmail and Google Docs. Picnik has free and for-fee flavors, with more advanced tools appearing in the fee-based version.

The utility of Web-based photo editing is that a relatively underpowered computer or handheld device can use a fast Internet connection and powerful servers on the other end to achieve effects that might take far too long when relying on the local processor.

Oddly, Google's own photo-handling software, Picasa, has most of its smarts in desktop software; the Web is used for galleries and a few specific features like facial recognition. Picnik works with Picasa galleries, but Google could more directly integrate Picnik, and add its features across all kinds of Google applications.

Picnik can also be accessed by selecting a photo to edit directly within Flickr, Facebook, Yahoo Mail, and other Google competitors. These firms may be feeling a little frisson at the acquisition, as if Google makes changes that the companies don't like, they will need to find an alternative that's as good.

Picnik more than Picasa competes directly with Adobe's Photoshop.com, an extension of the long-running Photoshop brand to the Web. Adobe also has iPhone and Android versions of Photoshop.

Adobe and Google have offices near each other (and near my office) in Fremont. The Picnik blog says that its staff will move into Google offices, and they could be working cheek-and-jowl mere feet from their fiercest competition.

I've noticed that Adobe, Google, and other nearby tech employees tend to blow their mouths off at lunch; they'll need to be a bit more cautious.

iPad users need not apply to either service, as both rely on Adobe Flash to handle interaction. Apple doesn't support Flash in any iPhone OS device.