Photoshop 6.0: broadening the user base
By David Walker (Google profile)
Adobe Photoshop has until recently been a full-timer's tool. Like Oracle or Unix, you either lived in it and loved it, or you didn't use it at all.
But the Photoshop user base is changing. The Web has boosted the demand for bitmap graphics, and created a new breed of multimedia developers who use a huge range of tools for content creation and publication. And the rise of digital cameras and scanners has opened bitmap editing to consumers.
So Photoshop is changing from its traditional position as part of Adobe's imaging solution, a tool to be used alongside Illustrator and Web-aware tools like ImageReady and ImageStyler. Now it's eating features from the rest of Adobe's imaging line.
- Photoshop eats Illustrator: Photoshop 6.0 has sprouted serious text-editing tools. They end the old routine of importing Illustrator text to Photoshop. Decent control of letter spacing and justification appears for the first time. And Photoshop text is now editable on the page, a mere six years of so after the under-rated and now sadly wasted Corel Photo-Paint first performed this trick.
- Photoshop eats ImageStyler. ImageStyler 1.0's slightly gimmicky but sometimes useful "styles" appear in Photoshop 6.0 too, letting you create buttons and, um, more buttons. There's little chance of a separate ImageStyler 2. 0.
So Photoshop now does most of what a Web developer would want it to do. It has garnered mostly laudatory reviews, both for its continuing power and for implementing features that other programs already had. But there are prices to be paid. There's the money: at around $A1400 street or $A400 for the upgrade, Adobe gives the Mastercard a beating it won't soon forget. There's the speed; version 6.0 runs slower than any before it. And there's the famous Photoshop learning curve, which is becoming a problem as Adobe aims Photoshop at that wider audience.
The loyalists won't acknowledge it, but Adobe has an interface problem. The program works like Unix, letting power users into an exclusive club while alienating everyone else. It has added a new context-sensitive toolbar to version 6.0. Yet it still buries powerful features and eschews basic interface devices like a Save button in favour of memorable keyboard combinations like Control-Alt-Shift-S (that's the command for saving a Web-ready graphic, so Web developers should keep their fingers flexible). The new shape-creation tools have aspects that are obscure even by Adobe's standards. So an increasing number of mid-level Photoshop users - especially Web development shops and individual users - are paying for power they can't access. They've bought a BMW, but they can't get it out of second gear.
This interface problem, though, seems unlikely to end Photoshop's dominance. The program's new audience is following the high-end professionals' lead. They want industry-standard tools. And amongst bitmap graphics professionals, Photoshop remains the industry standard.
If you do Web development, own fast hardware and you're currently with version 5.0 or earlier - or if you create substantial amounts of bitmap text or simple button-like shapes - Photoshop 6.0 is an important upgrade. And if you're entering serious bitmap graphics, it's the one tool to have. As long as you can afford it, and as long as you're prepared for its sometimes unnecessary difficulties.