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Be careful with Microsoft's photo editing options, they compress and degrade images heavily. Turn off "auto-save" options and be sure to ALWAYS work on a COPY of your images, not the originals, or you will regret it. I publish a digital photography magazine and we have tried anything and everything imaginable.
Photoshop is great, obviously, but too expensive. The best version of PaintShop Pro was Jasc's version 9.x (prior to Corel acquiring and butchering the GUI). Serif PhotoPlus is great and inexpensive. I'd recommend it for something affordable. Gimp is gimpy, for lack of a better term, and is only popular because it's free. Most digital cameras come with some sort of image editing software that works fine for this task.
The secret of man's creative power is imagination.