Adobe Tools Overview
Adobe makes nearly $1.3B annually, about 1/30th of what Microsoft makes in annual revenues. Yet Adobe's impact on the PC market is proportionately much greater than its revenues show. Adobe has provided the Postscript high quality print drivers and font technology that has been essential for PC GUI interfaces, with their multiple, sizable fonts. Adobe's Acrobat and PDF file format has become both the leading delivery vehicle for finished documents on the desktop and across the Web. Adobe is also the leading provider of both bitmap and vector graphics software with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator having commanding positions in both design studios and print shops. In fact, for digital darkroom work, Photoshop has become a part of the language. "We are going to photoshop this image" usually means that some extensive grooming and gardening of a photo image is to be done ... uhh touchups and removal of offending elements and objects plus addition of a few discreet things or people and such to the photo. John Stewart of TV's The Daily Show almost daily praises the wonders of Photoshop in providing "incriminating photographic evidence" for its daily satires.
Print and Color Standard
But Adobe was not the pioneers in either graphics field. Corel Draw led the way with Vector Graphics and along with Aldus Pagemaker ensured the survival of the badly faltering Windows 2 operating system. On the bitmap graphics side Mac Paint programs lead the way but it wasn't until a Mac program called Digital Darkroom for black and white photos and then Micrografx Picture Publisher for color images really unleashed some of the key features of bitmap graphics as not just paint programs but also photo finishing tools with their ability to adjust brightness contrast and hue/saturation for starters.
Adobe's leadership in the graphics editing market was initially with Illustrator
on the vector graphics side. Illustrator was able to handle
plus offer more and finer print control with Postscript as well as standard output
options. Photoshop's entry into the bitmap paint market was marked by its ability
to deliver more popoular color standards and output linked to Adobe's utilties
for high quality color separations and print plate enabling software. Adobe
tools won favor in design and art shops as much for their ability to deliver
color standards and post-processing professional printing features as for their
on the desktop image manipulation features.
In fact in the late 1990's, Photoshop became the leading graphics program in the Adobe stable. This was helped in no small part by the emergence of the Web where to everyones surprise bitmap graphics, despite their inability to scale with fidelity and compactness to any size, beat out vector graphics. And unlike Illustrator, the Photoshop people delivered a constant stream of substantial feature improvements to go with their dominance of color processing and printing standards. Photoshop set the standards for color input through scanning and calibration of color display. Photoshop's use of layers, channels, and blending masks has consistently lead the bimap graphics fields.
In other areas Photoshop has copied others innovations or had the benefit of 3rd party plugins. In developing the open Adobe plugins standard, which allowed 3rd parties to add command extensions to Photoshop, Adobe delivered the equivalent of Microsoft's Visual Basic VBX components. Developers did not have to develop a complete graphics program but could add a useful extension to Photoshop and the many other programs that adopted the Adobe pluins API.Examples are like Extensis Mask Pro which shored up Photoshop's comparatively weak selection and masking tools. Or Xaos Paint Alchemy that allowed darkroom designers to apply amazing painterly finishes to portions or all of an image. Plugins kept Photoshop close to competitors when it fell behind in such features as selections and masking or brush features and effects. True competitors made Adobe plugins work in their programs; but the advantage of Mask Pro for example was lost in Corel PhotoPaint which already did a superb job of selecting and masking. Even today, Adobe plugins and their sales are a good indicator of what major trends and features are important in graphics editing.
But the bottom line is that Photoshop leads because with every edition Adobe has added substantial and timely new features ranging from improved layering/blending and web output in 5.x to vector shapes, masks and styles plus docking interface improvements in 6.x to rewriting the paint engine and offering vastly improved brush creations and control features in 7.x(see our comprehensive review of Photoshop 7 here). A quick review of what's new in the latest Photoshop CS shows the competitive and innovative thrust of Photoshop.
But Adobe is far from a copy-cat shop. We have already seen that its pioneering and continued leadership in fonts, print control, layering/compositions and color standards have given it a consistent industry leading position. Here is a nother example, perspective size, photo-stitched panorama shots. This feature has weaved in and out of various graphics editing products including Adobes. But the large photo size, cumbersome printing requirements (obviated by the current crop of cheaper paper-roll printers) and sometimes ugly mismatches at the "stitched" borders - all of these issues are addressed in PhotoMerge of Photoshop CS.
This tool allows not only the blending to be done between photo blocks but also
can leave the blocks in separate layers for final perspective and stitching to
by the user. At last, a panorama tool I am not fighting with. In sum, as we shall
see in an upcoming review of Photoshop CS, Photoshop leads in the 2D graphics
editing world. But it still has vigourous competition and is not the only Adobe
game in town.
Acrobat 6.0 PDF file
The power of Acrobat PDF is that they are increasingly cross-platform and completely self-contained. In the first case, PDFs are not completely cross platform. For example free Acrobat readers to view PDF files are available for many leading OS platforms, but not all - BSD, VMS, and Qnx are some OS lacking any PDF support. And even among supported operating systems Win 95, Linux, OS/2, HP/UX, MacOS 9.x and others run not 6.x but 5.x versions of Acrobat or earlier. Finally, the versions working on Palm OS, Symbian OS and Pocket PC run with some features modified or disabled for the mobile platforms. Abobe, like Sun with Java, has discovered being uniformly cross platform is a daunting task.
But so far, PDF files are completely self-contained. All of the fonts, original documents, formating instructions, images, sound, video, animations, access permissions are self-contained in the one pdf file - and that file will look and work identically the same if displayed on Windows XP or MacOS 10 (yes, some of the latest features will not work in Win 95, Linux, etc until the latest Acrobat reader has been ported). But compare this document portability with other contenders. HTML and XML are highly portable document formats; but the portability of the look, layout and operation of either across platform are highly suspect. Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint file formats are largely cross platform between the latest versions of Mac and Windows; but after that all bets are off (in a delicious bit of irony,Open Office 1.1 is the best provider of Microsoft document readability to early Windows OS platforms). Finally, Flash .SWF has great cross platform portability and cosistent look and feel as delivered with FlashPaper. But FlashPaper does not contain the editability, acess permissions , and encrypting options of Acrobat PDF. However, the two technologies are bound to clash - and PhotoFinishers will be interested in the outcome because they are major supplier to both document formats/containers.
The next generation of PDF, called XDP, will be even more interesting because
review and editability features of PDF files will be carried to a new level
features are added to PDF along with an XML-based data excahne feature. Up
til now despite their editability features, PDF files have been used primarily
as read-only documents. XDP changes that. An XDP file is simply an XML file
that packages a PDF file in XML, along with XML form and template data. This
XML packaging allows PDF files to carry forma that can be filled out and by
several parties along the way with appropriate access and security controls.
Photo Finishers will be interested in this for two reasons. First, they will
now be able to deliver their images and content over the Internet or however,
with appropraite access permissions(a list of parties, numbers of viewings,
with or without copyright and other trademark stampings, valid until such date,
etc). Second, their images may be part of the documents , forms, animations
used by customers and other third parties - they will want to know how to best
prepare their output for the PDF and XDP formats.
Adobe and Emerging Technologies
As we have previously seen, Adobe has done well when crossing or merging together two or more technologies. Photoshop prospering because of its mastery of fonts, color, and printing. And more recently adapting vector graphics and now video formats into Photoshop. likewise, the success of PDF/XDP is how well Adobe merges Acrobat PDF functionality with forms and data exchange capabilities of XML based XDP.
But Adoibe is not a technology juggernaut. It has made various excursions into the 3D market with Atmosphere being the latest. But that technology must contend against Cycore, MindAvenue, Viewpoint and Virtual among others which all have very competent designers and robust free plugins. Corel Draw, Xara , and Mind Avenue have all done more moving from 2D to 31/2 and 3D then Adobe. Adobe still appears to be taking teeny tiny steps in a market that has alrady jumped to Mobile and PDA in games but also now some operational formats. Good software with some innovative approaches - but still not setting the pace in the field.
Ditto for animation and video. Adobe withdrew its very promising LiveMotion animation tool just when its built for desiners fetures would seem to be an appropriate antidote to the going for programming and devloper tool approach taken by Macromedia's Flash. Now the Toonz and 3D vendors have the most promising but also expensive animation features and functionality. Of course Photo Finishers are interested in animations because they are simply images on display 8 to 32 of them per second. Basically photo images and/or 3D models make up most animations at each keyframes - with automated transitions between those keyframes supplied by animation software.
But perhaps Adobe has rallied its wagons around Premiere its video editing tool (think animations going at a minimum speed of 24 images/second). Premiere is aided and abated by Adobe After Affects for making video transitions and special effects. Again, Adobe is a player but the emergence of Apple's Final Cut pro right from underneath Premiere on the Mac tells more of the story - Premiere has long been premium price but short on feature set available from the likes of discreet or NewTek or others in the video market. But like the new improvements in Illustrator, Adobe has started to ramp up their dvelopment for Premiere as well. This may become more important as digital camera and video camera converge. Already digital cameras have 1-2 minute movie taking capabilities and some video cameras can take stils at greater than 1MPixels and the new HDTV standards along with endlessly increasing Flash and micro-hardisk capacity allow for ever larger movie clips to be taken. After all in the sports photography business, bracketing at 24 frames per second is by definition taking a movie. So look to Adobe to continue its trend of adding video processing fetaures in Photoshop improving Premiere and including animation/video in more than Acrobat and Atmosphere.