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Adobe Photoshop celebrates big 2-0

What a long, layered trip it's been

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Into The Abyss

The Knoll brothers brought different skills to Photoshop's development, and John's day job greatly influenced its early direction - and success. Tom, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was the coder and John, working at Industrial Light and Magic in Marin County, California, was what Biedny called "the primary user."

The development process was - as was true with much software development in those far-away days - remarkably straightforward. "John was giving Tom a bunch of feedback on things that he wanted in order to make [Photoshop] a useful tool for his work at Industrial Light and Magic," the pioneering film-effects studio founded by George Lucas in 1975.

"If you look at Photoshop carefully with this historical perspective," Biedny suggests, "you start to understand things like the origins of the Calculations commands...which really came to Photoshop from its use in motion-picture productions."

John Knoll was using Photoshop at ILM to create composites. "And it was really all through the Calculations menu," explained Biedny. "Remember, this was when Photoshop had no Layers, which came out in version 3 and changed the way people used Photoshop for compositing."

Photoshop, by the way, wasn't the first graphics application that provided layers. "The groundbreaking software that did layers were ComicWorks and GraphicsWorks, which were developed by Macromedia and published by MindScape," Biedny reminded us.

"The Calculations stuff was really about using Photoshop to do blue screen, matte extraction, spill suppression, and compositing," he said. Photoshop's pre-Adobe movie-making chops were first demonstrated in James Cameron's 1989 The Abyss, and helped that movie win an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Since its movie-making debut, Photoshop went on to take over the still-image world, crushing the competition as it added features from version to version. "By the virtue of the fact that it's been around for 20 years, Photoshop has simply outlived everything else," says Biedny.

Even a partial list of Photoshop's victims - some of which never even made it out of the development stage - is impressive: Macromedia xRes, Quark Exposure, Silicon Beach Digital Darkroom, Live Picture LivePix, Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith's Altamira Composer. And on. And on.

And what old-timey Mac fanatic can forget the absurdly named Draw It Again, Sam?

And although Photoshop has its critics - and deserves some of their criticism for its at-times unwieldy UI, memory hunger, and type handling - Adobe isn't done with it yet. Take a peek, for example, at some leaked details available on YouTube of two new feature sets planned for the next version, Adobe Photoshop CS5: the PatchMatch and Spot Healing and Fill tools.

As it enters its third decade, Photoshop is Adobe's crown jewel - although some InDesign and Dreamweaver devotees might argue that point. Photoshop defines Adobe. "There was a time that when people thought of Adobe they thought of PostScript," Biedny told The Reg "Those days are long gone. I think when people think of Adobe now, they think of Photoshop. They think of Flash, too, especially in certain contexts, like 'Eh, goddamn Flash!'" ®

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