It’s hard to believe, but the little program we all know as Photoshop is 24 years old. The newest version, Adobe Photoshop CS6, is the 13th release of the program, and although you can see the heritage from the very first version, so much has evolved inside and outside that to some long-time users, the program may have changed too drastically or has gotten too big for its own good.
The Verge has one of the best editorial pieces on Photoshop that I have read in a while called “Photoshop is a city for everyone: how Adobe endlessly rebuilds its classic app.
And in a way, that’s Photoshop. It’s like a world-class city — New York or London or Paris — centuries-old and layered thick with the past. They serve people, and people serve them, today’s denizens merely building upon what came before them. Cities grow and change organically as people find new uses for them. Sometimes they sprawl like kudzu (Houston, Los Angeles); sometimes they wither and shrink (Detroit).
It’s a great analogy on how the growth of Photoshop is similar to large, historic cities like New York. Everything that is needed to run a large metropolitan is there, but because certain aspects of the city like the subway system are built from the archaic infrastructure of the past, the city never seems like it’s running efficiently. The new doesn’t necessarily replace the old; it only improves or builds over the old.
According to the article, Photoshop is the same way. There is still strong ties to its past, back when it was first created by Thomas Knoll as an imaging software called Display for the Mac in 1987, and when it was released in its first iteration as Adobe Photoshop 1.0 in 1989.
And just like how New York grew from its humble beginning to the bustling metropolitan that it is today, Photoshop grew in terms of features, hardware requirements, and complexity. Just like a huge city, it has to serve the needs of a broad spectrum of users from photographers to graphic designers. That is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to slim the software down.
“People say ‘Take out all of the stuff I don’t use, and put all of the stuff I do use right on top in the user interface.’” And the problem with that? “Everybody has a different idea of what should be on top.”
People are always discovering ways to use Photoshop that Adobe never envisioned. “People take an artist toolbox and use the tools in totally bizarre ways,” [Adobe Principal Scientist Russell Williams] says. Adobe can’t simply decree how people use its product; as with a city, users find their own way through it. That makes it hard to establish just what Photoshop is — it has to be something for everybody.
So why not start over? Why not write a new software that looks and functions like Photoshop, but with new innards? Can there be a neo-Photoshop with eschews the coal power plants of the past and run cleanly and efficiently on the nuclear and solar power plants of the modern era?
For a long time, I’ve wondered why Adobe doesn’t just rewrite Photoshop. Even without knowledge of the deep inner workings of the app, it just feels old… Maybe a fresh start would make Photoshop feel a little less 1990 and a little more 2013?… An all-new Photoshop wouldn’t be… Photoshop.
Look at Apple’s recent rewrites. Final Cut X, an all-new take on the revered Final Cut Pro, outraged video editing professionals — many of whom are now jumping ship to rival products. It wasn’t just about what the app could do, either. It was how it did so — how it looked and felt. Users appreciate the familiar. Just look at the hatred of the newest iTunes revamp. Or, really, any Facebook redesign, ever. It’s not that these new designs aren’t nice, or possibly even better. It’s just that they’re different, and different turns into a mortal sin among professionals whose livelihoods depend on using your product the same way they learned a decade ago.
So you can’t make Photoshop new again. But could you rewrite it?
“We essentially have,” answers Thomas Knoll, referring to his own Lightroom, “but it comes out very differently.” It seems unfair that one man should get two Photoshops in one lifetime, but he earns it by being an incredible nerd about all this stuff.
So it’s clear that Photoshop will continue to grow as the image editing program, with practically no equal. As a behemoth that serves so many users and then some, it seems that it would be impossible to completely “master” Photoshop. You can’t use it the way every other individual is using it, and how you are using it right now, there is probably 2-3 different ways to do what you are doing with it.
From day one as a Photoshop developer, it’s made clear that you’re making the app for a crowd, not an individual. They have a rule in the hiring process: if someone claims to be a Photoshop “expert,” they terminate the interview. Photoshop is too big for experts. Only a specialist can thrive inside it.
Photoshop may never be able to let go of its old root, and it will continue to introduce amazing new features like Content Aware Fill. And that’s why I like it. The new is wrapped in a familiar old wrapping. It may be a little more polished graphically, as it is with CS6, but it is still as familiar as the Photoshop of the old. And there is always something new to learn. What I know now as a photographer and retoucher compared to what I knew back when I opened Photoshop for the very first time as Photoshop 5.5 is astounding.
Twenty-four years and still the industry standard. Not bad, Mr. Knoll.
Be sure to read the entire excellent opinion editorial on The Verge: Photoshop is a city for everyone: how Adobe endlessly rebuilds its classic app
So what are your thoughts on the modern Photoshop?