Friday, April 06, 2007

Adobe. Welcome to the monopoly club

I don't hate a lot of things in life but once thing I despise is stagnation in computing. Over the years I've seen graphic editing and image creation tools stagnate. Sure Adobe has grown and prospered and delivered some good upgrades. I cannot really fault Adobe for their success. It was hard earned. I remember a time when there was a bit of excitement about a thing called Desktop Publishing and photo darkroom style editing on the computer. Both Apple and Adobe made their ascension to power in this era. Apple was constantly fighting it out with the X86 PCs running Windows and Adobe was facing challenges from Macromind/Macromedia and Live Picture.

Live Picture was truly high end software back in the days. It excelled at working with large files with speed that Photoshop couldn't match. It was around $5000 dollars back in the day but it had visions of usurping the King at that time which was Adobe Photoshop. Live Picture corp lowered their pricing and sales picked up. It quickly became clear though that while Live Picture was great for some files it couldn't match the flexibility of tools that Photoshop offered overall. I knew things were over when Live Picture dropped the price to $395 for the image editor and started flogging web graphic tools.

Macromedia was also making moves as well. They had a product called xRes that also worked on large files. xRes had an interface that was more like Photoshop and many thought they'd be able to mount an effective challenge but Macromedia and the team developing xRes seem to have differing opinions about the project. It was scuttled around version 3.

After these two valiant competitors were vanquished Adobe's might grew. The challengers of during that era were small. You had Linux based Gimp and NeXT based TIFFany that showed promise but didn't have the momentum and platform potential to mount a serious challenge.

Today Photoshop is still one of Adobe's crown jewels. They expend millions in resources to improve it and with the acquisition of longtime nemesis Macromedia who else is really there to fight? Therein is the problem in my humble opinion. I love an Adobe that has a competitor on their tale. This company can tend to be lazy sometimes without the right motivation (Adobe was rumored to be ambivalent about upgrading their video editing program on the Mac back in the day. They also are rumored to have turned down a request by Steve Jobs to create an iLife type of app). I do worry that now they are the 1600lb Gorilla of Graphics we will see innovation slow down. CS3 looks like a winner but it's mighty expensive. You can utilize Stone Works for some graphic apps but you won't find the breadth of applications that Adobe has at its disposal. Andrew Stone is but one talented programmer against hundreds.

My hope is that the only company that can afford to deliver a product solid enough to gain traction decides to hop into the ring. Apple Inc. I know what you're saying, "why would Apple want to compete with Adobe?". I don't look at it as Apple competing with Adobe but rather Apple providing a image editor/creation application that gives us a different perspective on the task as Live Picture/xRes did in the past. One could say that Apple is sneaking their way into this arena with Aperture. There was much discussion concerning if Apple was positioning Aperture to be a Photoshop replacement. I think today the answer is pretty clear. Aperture is an outstanding tool for enthusiast photog. At it's core it forms a test bed for graphic technologies that could indeed be purposed for image editing/creation. As a video production fan I realize the power that Adobe has with Photoshop. It can be easily and powerfully used in a video editing workflow to edit frames of video. Apple not having a video editing tool that is close is a limiting factor. My hope is that Apple does not try to duplicate the breadth of applications Adobe controls but rather deliver a nice Photoshop competitor that is Mac only so that all modern API are used. Even if Apple crafted out a %10 market-share in image editing/creation they'd be little more than a small nuisance to Adobe.

I find it distinctly odd that Microsoft has an Expressions Studio line of graphic software which is truthfully a bit beyond their core competency over the years. If Microsoft can deliver a small suite of Applications ..I feel Apple is well within their right and duty to do the same. Especially given they have forgotten more about graphic apps and needs than Microsoft knows. What I'd like to see of course is a nice lean application that really focuses on the bread and butter tasks. Photoshop is like Microsoft Word. It does everything. Some of us don't need everything. We need speed and efficiency and of course quality. I'd love to see a very compact and speedy engine. I'd like to see Core Image at the "core". All edits should be non-destructive unless you deem otherwise. I want a nice plugin architecture and robust Automator/Applescript support. Allow it to work with still images and video with equal prowess. Apple has the core technologies to make this happen. Core Image, Core Video, OpenGL 2.x (in Leopard) Quicktime. They could really develop something fantastic. The thing that worries me is that there seems to be no "thought provoking " product in the pipeline. We are all learning the Adobe way to graphics but that leaves little room for thinking outside of Adobe's parameters. Once you close your mind to other opportunities innovation shrinks or at least the potential does. Apple or someone please realize this and develop the next Killer product. Many of us...enough of us will support you.


Damon said...

I agree, but stop saying 'back in the day' so much. Three times in one article?

Anonymous said...

you seem to have forgotten to mention Corel, a company that happens to be the last large graphics software developer that directly competes with Adobe. Corel holds DRAW, Photo-Paint, Paintshop Pro and the venerable Painter software. unfortunately their Mac support is limited to a few applications.

Bryan Hauer said...

[QUOTE]i would really love to see a photoshop competitor. Especially from the creators of aperture and final cut... it only makes sense.[/QUOTE]

Not sure how much of a true competitor it is at the pro level... (probably not much), but Pixelmator ($39) is definitely a competitor of Photoshop Elements. It's made just for the Mac and is easily sufficient for the person who's just getting into graphic design and doesn't see a need to shell out $600 or risk a trojan horse pirating a copy.

ps said...

i have been using illustrator and photoshop for over 10 years now as a graphic designer. and, i am just realizing, they are just becoming bloating apps whose core functions have not actually improved over the years, but have perhaps become less usable then before. i am dreaming of some design saavy mac developer who can make a native app that can match the CORE functions of photoshop and illustrator. i tested all the illustrator competitors currently available, and they still arent quite there - but, i think that is mainly because of adobe's type tools. if some mac vector editor developer included a type tool that could do what the current illustrator type palette does, i might be sold and switch. all those adobe upgrades almost always add nothing i need - except bug fixes!

(ps - why is there no edit button for blogger comments? :-(

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