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Photoshop at Twenty ... and Beyond!

This past Friday the 19th, Adobe Photoshop turned twenty years old. In the world of computer software, that's a long time, but Photoshop is still going strong, with the release of the upcoming Photoshop CS5 due out in the second quarter this year.

Way back in 1987, a University of Michigan PhD named Thomas Knoll had an idea for a program to display grayscale images on his Macintosh Plus. As the work progressed on the program, his brother John found out about it. John worked at Industrial Light & Magic which had gained fame by creating the special effects for George Lucas's epic Star Wars saga a decade before. By the late eighties, ILM was deeply into computer generated animation so it can be assumed John knew at least something about the potential of computer graphics. John convinced Thomas that Display, as his program was known at the time, could be expanded to become a complete image editing program. After taking six months off from school, ImagePro was born.

One thing led to another, and on a trip to Silicon Valley John shopped the program, now renamed Photoshop, to both Adobe and Apple. As we know now, Adobe bought the rights to the nascent Photoshop, and in 1990 Photoshop 1.0 was released to the world. Well, the portion of the world that used Apple Macintosh computers that is. Back then, the PC landscape was ruled by DOS and heavily tied to the business world rather than the creative and artistic scene. Windows 3.0 was released shortly after Photoshop was, but Microsoft would lag behind Apple in terms of graphic support for at least several more years. Way back then, I used PC's where I worked but had a Commodore Amiga at home. The Amiga was a great machine, but that's a subject for another day I suppose.

It took Adobe just five days after the release of Photoshop 1.0 to release an updated version as Photoshop 1.07, fixing bugs reported by users. Over the years, there have of course been any number of patches and fixes, but overall Photoshop has been a remarkably stable application for being such a complex piece of softare.

My first version of Photoshop was version 4.0 in 1996. While shopping for a flatbed scanner, I specifically chose a Microtek ScanMaker III since it was available bundled with Photoshop. As is still true today, buying Photoshop outright is expensive so I did what lots of you probably did to get a copy. The two common routes were and still are getting a bundled copy as I did, and qualifying for an academic version by taking a class somewhere. I had sold my Amiga and gone with Windows in order to have the same platform I was then using at work. At the time, it just seemed to make sense. I'm glad Microsoft has finally realized computer graphics and now digital photography are big business since while I like OS X, I've been using Windows for so long now it's just more comfortable.

Although Layers were introduced in Photoshop 3, it wasn't until Photoshop 4 that Adobe added adjustment layers. Since this was the first version I owned, it may in part explain my own love for adjustment layers, but I'd like to think it's because of their ability to non-destructively optimize an image. It's nice to know that I can change my mind later. If you're relatively new to Photoshop you may not realize the History palette didn't get added until Photoshop 5.

Photoshop 5 was also the first version to have support for color management. By more than just coincidence, Photoshop 5 was released the same year that Adobe came up with Adobe RGB 1998. For those following along at home, that would be the year 1998. Especially back then, many thought of Color management as useless voodoo, but time has proven them wrong. Well, there are still at least some holdouts, but trust me, color management really is key to getting results that print the way you see them on your monitor.

It's interesting that Thomas Knoll named his masterpiece Photoshop since it started out more as a paint program than a photo editing one. Back in 1990, few dreamed that digital photography would become what it is now. Around 1992 Jasc Software (purchased in 2004 by Corel) did release a program called Paint Shop which was later renamed Paint Shop Pro, but it has never enjoyed the market acceptance that Photoshop enjoys. In the end the Knoll brothers and Adobe proved to have had great foresight in choosing the name they did since today digital photography rules, and much of the digital photo editing market is ruled by Photoshop. In the last few years, Corel has tried rebranding Paint Shop Pro as Paint Shop Photo Pro, but I suspect it's too late to make much of a play for Adobe's share of the market.

Adobe sells plenty of programs other than Photoshop, some of them they wrote, and others they bought or acquired in takeovers of other companies. Over the years, Adobe has tried to integrate all their graphics programs both to benefit their users as well as to sell more software. OK, primarily the latter. After Photoshop 7 Adobe surprised everyone by coming out with their Creative Suite and Photoshop CS rather than version 8. Since then, we've had CS2, CS3 and now CS4, each released a year to a year and a half after the last. As computers keep getting faster, Adobe keeps coming up with things to do with all that computing power.

That brings us up to where we are now, February 2010 and the twentieth anniversary of the original release of Photoshop. Happy birthday, Photoshop! Adobe celebrated the occasion in style and made the event available to the world as a live video feed. They recorded it, so if you have the bandwidth, you can watch the entire event online at the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) website. Be forewarned that the whole thing is 830 MB. They also released a "limited edition" iPhone application that's an exact replica of the original Photoshop 1.0 from back in 1990. Supposedly, it was made available only to those who attended the live event in person, but it's amazing to realize that a high-end computer program from twenty years ago can run on your cell phone today. Progress, indeed.

Adobe is rumored to be readying Photoshop CS5 for release around the end of April this year. If it seems like CS4 just came out, it was actually back in October 2008 so they are due if they keep with their recent release history. Expected features include a revolutionary new brush system that models real three dimensional paint brushes and allows for simulating paint mixing and drying over time. Photoshop CS5 is also suspected to include a new Adobe Labs technology for intelligently warping images based on content. The spot healing brush is also expected to get a makeover in order to even more seamlessly blend fixes based on image content. Selection tools are expected to get a radical makeover too allowing for much better edge detection without investing in third-party filters. Photoshop CS5 will also be the first 64-bit version released for the Macintosh. We on the Windows side have had 64-bit Photoshop since CS4. Although Adobe started out supporting Apple only, in recent years they've actually been coming out with a number of features for Windows first.

As usual though, the best features are often kept a closely guarded secret until Adobe is ready to actually announce a new version. I for one am eager to find out just what they come up with.

Date posted: February 21, 2010


Copyright © 2010 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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