Monthly Archives: January 2010

Kuler Killers? New color-picking/sharing panels for Photoshop

ColoRotate is a new color picker panel for Photoshop. The project comes from IDEA, a nonprofit organization that helps improve scientific and artistic literacy. Here’s a quick demo:

The plug-in costs $39. For $49/year, you can also link your plugin to your online account, sync palettes between multiple computers, and share palettes with colleagues, collaborators, or clients.

In a related vein, developer Anastasiy Safari has created MagicPicker, a $7 non-modal color picker/color wheel that builds on his free ColorPicker panel (see my earlier post for details). Here’s a screenshot:

And, of course, don’t forget about the excellent Adobe Kuler, integrated into Photoshop CS4 and other CS4 apps via its own panel (screenshot). Choose Window->Extensions->Kuler to try it out.

"Ask an Adobe Engineer": RetouchPRO LIVE with Chris Cox

Well known (infamous? :-)) Photoshop brainiac Chris Cox will be appearing on the RetouchPRO LIVE this Saturday:

Although Chris Cox posts regularly in the Adobe support forums, many of you probably have never heard of him. But every single one of you has a favorite Photoshop feature that he is largely responsible for. Sometimes it seems there’s not an area of Photoshop that Chris hasn’t either written from scratch or vastly improved.

On the next RetouchPRO LIVE, Chris will answer questions from the audience about Photoshop’s history, future, and innermost workings.

And we’ll be watching his desktop live, so he can show examples while he explains how Photoshop works.

Saturday, January 30, 4pm CST (see link for other time zones). See the site for details and ticket sales.

Sympathy for the Devil

In the last couple of years, it has become trendy to bash the Adobe Flash Player. I need to say a few things on that subject.

First, let’s be very clear: I’m not on the Flash team. I don’t speak for them. (I don’t speak for anyone but myself.) This post is just my personal take on things. Caveat lector.

I came to Adobe ten years ago to build an open standards (SVG)-based Web animation tool. I like standards, and I have some experience here. Both authoring for & competing with the Flash Player gave me some good perspective. Here’s a quick summary of my long piece below:

  • Flash is flawed, but it has moved the world forward.
  • Open standards are great, but they can be achingly slow to arrive.
  • Talk of “what’s good for standards is bad for Adobe” is misinformed nonsense.
  • Flash will innovate or die. I’m betting on innovation.

Let’s be clear: It’s fine to say that Flash is flawed; it is. (You know who’d agree? The Flash team.) It’s fine to hope for alternatives to take root. (Competition makes everyone better.) But let’s also be honest and say that Flash is the reason we all have fast, reliable, ubiquitous online video today. It’s the reason that YouTube took off & video consumption exploded four years ago. It’s the reason we have Hulu, Vimeo, and all the rest–and the reason that people now watch billions of videos per day (and nearly 10 hours apiece per month) online. Without it, we’d all still be bumbling along.

Macromedia was the only company that delivered truly ubiquitous (99% penetration) video playback. Apple didn’t*. Microsoft didn’t. Real didn’t. (Remember how you used to see sites offering multiple streams, making the user pick a player, because the content creator couldn’t rely on everyone being able to view one format? Good riddance to that crappy customer experience.) Content creators, whose income is proportional to their ability to reach customer eyeballs easily and reliably, have voted with their feet, moving to Flash. As a result, more than three quarters of online video now streams in Flash formats (up from 25% three years ago).

All these years later, we still don’t have a standard, browser-native alternative, much less one that’s achieved widespread viewership. (WebKit-based browsers remain in the single digits on the desktop. Firefox, which uses a different video format, is at 25%. Microsoft is off doing its own thing.) That sucks.

I don’t doubt that some video standard will eventually emerge & make its way into most if not all browsers. In the meantime, Adobe spends millions of dollars a year building & giving away software–for which content viewers & even content creators don’t have to pay a dime–to compensate for the rest of the world’s failure to get the job done.

Maybe that sounds harsh, but I find the Flash-bashing tedious and hollow. Flash has all kinds of shortcomings; helping address them is why I joined Adobe, for God’s sake! But Flash, as Winston Churchill might say, is “the worst except for all the others ever tried.” It will improve, as will competing implementations. In the meantime, how about we give the devil (if that’s how you see it) his due, giving Flash credit for helping the world get this far?

— On Standards —

Stepping a bit beyond video, I’m personally delighted to see Web standards like HTML5 emerge. Adobe makes nearly all its money selling authoring tools that target great runtimes. (Conversely, as I’ve mentioned, Adobe loses money building runtimes (Flash Player, Adobe Reader) that it gives away in order to sell authoring tools.) More great runtimes to target means more opportunities to build content for them. Adobe will naturally follow the money, building authoring tools that produce what customers demand, and that includes HTML5-based work. Don’t believe me? Check out a demo of Illustrator, Flash, and Dreamweaver targeting the HTML Canvas tag.

Guess what, though? When I posted that story, almost no one paid attention. People want a certain “killer” narrative: Good guys vs. bad guys, open vs. proprietary, blah blah. That’s simpleminded and lame.

I keep seeing the video standards discussion phrased as “H.264 vs. Flash video**” (e.g. John Gruber writing about Apple “replacing” Flash video with H.264). Apparently people are unaware that Flash has been playing H.264 for years. It’s easily the most popular H.264 player in the world.

Adobe’s choice to embrace H.264 in Flash is what allows sites like Vimeo and YouTube to create HTML5/AVC (i.e., non-Flash) versions of their sites without gobbling up petabytes of storage and loads of CPU cycles creating and storing alternate versions of their videos. Instead of locking people into some proprietary solution it created, Adobe has spent millions of dollars to enable use of a more standard format.

The obvious problem with open standards, of course, is that they often take eons to implement, and developing for different implementations sucks up time and money. Does anyone else remember seeing really sexy “DHTML” demos that featured full-screen animation and more? I do. You know when that was? 1998. And today, more than 15 years after Netscape debuted, Flash remains the only way to, say, display a vector chart across browsers (i.e., such that you can count on every viewer seeing it). That’s sad–especially given that Adobe plowed a hell of a lot of time & money into trying to get the open SVG standardized & adopted.

SVG taught me some painful lessons: While we sat waiting on months (at least) of committee meetings, review periods, etc., Macromedia was free to innovate & iterate quickly with Flash. Their implementation was lean & ran circles around the Adobe player that dutifully tried to support a cumbersome spec. (Again, remember that all this is just my personal opinion.) Openness and standards and kumbayah don’t matter if someone is pantsing your big, ponderous committee.

And this gets to two key, interrelated questions: Why will Flash live on (i.e. what are its competitive advantages?), and Why isn’t Flash open-source/an open standard? Again, I do not speak for the Flash team, but my take is that Flash’s advantages are predictability & agility:

  • It doesn’t require you to target multiple runtimes (browsers, etc.) from multiple vendors. Instead, there’s effectively one Flash Player with a predictable set of capabilities. Fonts, pixels, etc. render consistently across OSes, browsers, and devices. You don’t need something like BrowserLab (a free Adobe service, by the way) for Flash.
  • If Adobe develops a new technology (e.g. the Text Layout Framework, leveraging InDesign tech and enabling beautiful Web typography), it can be deployed quickly & reliably to all systems. That is, we don’t have to say, “Yeah, we’d love to see better type on the Web, but first we have to convince these groups to add support, and then wait several years for updates to achieve broad adoption, and then hope it all works the same…” We can just do it, and support will hit critical mass quickly.

In a sense it’s a more Apple-like approach: Control things yourself, so design-by-committee doesn’t compromise your product. Open-sourcing Flash would lead to a fragmentation of the format & Flash runtimes, and that would destroy the predictability and agility that differentiate Flash from other standards.

If the Flash team continues to innovate–that is, if they deliver better features more quickly, more predictably, and with better authoring tools than other technologies–then Flash will endure. If they don’t, it won’t–nor should it. But I’m betting they will.

— On Mac vs. Windows performance —

Finally, let’s turn to a touchy subject.

If Flash runs faster on Windows than on Mac, that must be proof of Adobe’s incompetence and/or anti-Mac malice, right? Of course, if Flash ran faster on Mac than on Windows, that would be taken as proof of OS X’s modern awesomeness. Heads they win, tails we lose. (Come on, tell me I’m wrong.)

Despite the Flash Player team investing disproportionate resources in the Mac player (where the Mac has ~5% market share to 90+% for Windows), and despite them making big strides on the Mac, it’s true that Flash performance on OS X has lagged behind Flash on Windows. That needs to change.

My understanding is that there’s work that both Adobe & Apple could do to improve matters. Mac users*** complain about high CPU usage when playing video. The latest Flash Player uses many fewer CPU cycles for video, but the needed hardware decoding support isn’t available on the Mac right now. I don’t have any inside info here, but I’ve heard that the Safari team is a great group of folks, and I hope they’re able to work with the Flash Player team to added the desired support.

— In Conclusion —

I’m very optimistic about Flash, Web standards, and what Adobe can to help customers. In particular:

  • The Flash Player team has been very hard at work leveraging the GPU to deliver great performance on mobile devices. I expect those optimizations to make their way into the desktop Flash Player.
  • Developers are pushing standards like CSS 3D, WebGL, and Canvas to deliver interesting results. It’s about time Web browsers got good at this stuff, for everyone’s sake, and those enhancements roll right into Adobe AIR and the Creative Suite (both of which use WebKit).
  • Adobe sells tools that can adapt to fit customers’ needs. As new technologies open new possibilities, Adobe will deliver great authoring apps.


* I just checked, and the download for QuickTime is more than ten times the size that of Flash Player. If you want ubiquity, size still matters.

** Incidentally, FLV (Flash Video) is a publicly documented format, as are RTMP and SWF.

*** I’ve been a fervent one since 1984.

The creators of Photoshop, After Effects, and Flash speak

Did you know that Photoshop might have been marketed as a file-format conversion utility, or that Flash started life as a drawing tool for tablet computers of the early 90’s?
By coincidence, the following interviews with the creators of Photoshop, After Effects, and Flash have popped up in the last week:

  1. First, Robert Scoble traveled to Industrial Light and Magic to chat with visual effects supervisor John Knoll–who, with his brother Thomas, created Photoshop:
  2. At a meeting of SFMOGRAPH, two of the original CoSA After Effects team members, David Simons and Dan Wilk, sat down with current AE engineering manager Chris Prosser to chat about the past, present, and future:
  3. In How Flash Brought The Internet To Life, NPR interviewed Flash creator Jonathan Gay about that technology’s incredible metamorphoses.

Behind the scenes of the Bird book

I just picked up a copy of Andrew Zuckerman’s gorgeous Bird book, mentioned here a couple of months ago. It would be a great deal at the cover price of $60, but I found it locally for 50% off, and it seems Amazon & others are matching that price. I was reminded to mention the book when I spotted this short behind-the-scenes video shot during production. [Via] Next up: I’d like to check out his Creature book.

Haiti earthquake: 360° video

CNN is documenting the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake by offering 360° video clips. As the site says,

Use your mouse to click and drag around the video to change the view. You can also zoom in and out. Pause and explore at any time by pressing the play/pause button under the video to stop and look around.

Note the arrows at upper right that lead to additional videos. I find the second one most interesting in that it was shot via a person’s backpack, enabling a view that’s pedestrian in both senses. That feels to me like an interesting counterpoint to most photojournalism (e.g. the heartbreaking images on The Big Picture) which emphasizes some amount of technical excellence (composition, focus, lighting, etc.). The 360° videos are inherently more raw.

Rollin' on the River

Having grown up by the Mississippi, I often make fun of the feeble Guadalupe River (aka “The Mighty Guat”) that trickles past Adobe HQ. Then there are the days (like today) when I see why the city lavished money on a huge flood-control channel:
The image comes courtesy of the Lightroom team’s Kelly Castro. See more of his great B&W’s on Flickr, and check out more info on his Lightroom-Photoshop technique.
— J. (who’s feeling marginally better about being forced to carry flood insurance)

Fun iPhone photo/illustration apps

Just a couple of recent finds that manipulate your images in interesting ways:

  • “Digital photography never looked so analog,” proclaim the makers of Hipstamatic. The interface is more than a little (deliberately?) wonky, but it produces some fun stuff. It even makes Photoshop PM meetings look interesting:

    [Via Geoff Badner]

  • PhotoTropedelic “draw[s] upon the colors and symbols of 60’s Pop Art to produce boldly unique art.” Far out. [Via Matthew Richmond] [Update: Apparently the app was created by Adobe’s own Larry Weinberg.]
  • Le Petit Dummy “lets you position a mouth on any photo and play back audio files as the mouth moves in sync.”
  • And, in case you missed it earlier, the LEGO iPhone app (App Store link) will render you in vibrant lo-fi.

Type-n-Walk ('n Not Die)

It’s sobering, though unsurprising, to hear that “distracted walking” due to cellphones now routinely lands people in the emergency room. Being a nervous parent who yet can’t help getting bored while his toddler relocates the umpteenth pile of wood chips at the park, I’m always afraid of becoming a cautionary tale: The Guy Whose Kid Fell Down A Well While Dad Tweeted or something.

Now Type-n-Walk proposes a novel (if only partial) solution–a video feed of the real world that runs underneath your text:

[Via Michael Coleman]

Batch-creating PNGs or CMYK JPEGs from Photoshop

If you’ve ever wishes that Photoshop’s Image Processor script offered the ability to create PNG and/or CMYK JPEG files, you’re in luck: scripter Mike Hale has modified the script to add these options. Thanks, Mike. [Via Jeff Tranberry]
For what it’s worth, we’re trying to implement more features via scripting for exactly this reason: if you want something to work differently, you don’t have to wait on Adobe to change it. Instead, if you’re willing to learn a little JavaScript (or bribe someone who knows it), you can get what you want more quickly.

Learn Lightroom next week in NYC

My fellow PM Bryan O’Neil Hughes mentioned that he’ll be teaching Lightroom 2 and 3 next week at Foto Care in New York:

Thursday, January 21st: Learn Adobe Lightroom 2 from Adobe specialist Bryan O’Neil Hughes, as well as see what’s new in Lightroom 3. Please RSVP by calling 212-741-2990 or email

Session 1: 9:00am – 11:00am

Session 2: 12:00pm – 2:00pm

Speaking of Bryan, remember that he’s speaking at the SJ Photoshop User Group meeting tonight.

Adobe HQ installs 20 new wind turbines

The Adobe building & maintenance staff sure keeps busy during company breaks: in the fall they installed more efficient HVAC systems, and over the holiday break they installed 20 Windspire wind turbines at the San José HQ:

Adobe estimates that it can get about 2,500 kWh per year per turbine. Comparatively speaking, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a typical U.S. home consumes ~11,000 kWh per year. So these turbines, in the aggregate, provide enough electricity to power about 5 typical U.S. homes.

Considering that wind has always made opening & closing the doors leading to the patio/basketball court inordinately difficult*, I predict good things. Here’s more info on the effort.
* Wind strength & the attendant humiliation always correlate to the hotness of whoever is walking by. Too bad we can’t harness that.
[Update: Here’s a rather cool time-lapse video of a wind turbine being assembled. [Via]]

How Adobe (and others) got everything wrong initially


Pyra was started to build a project-management app, not Blogger. Flickr’s company was building a game. eBay was going to sell auction software. Initial assumptions are almost always wrong.

From Ten Rules For Web Startups. [Via]

I’ve heard Drs. Warnock & Geschke talk about how they started Adobe with the intention of selling printing hardware, and how they shopped this idea around and around until they finally agreed to do what customers wanted: just sell them the software. They depict it as something of a forehead-slapping moment that changed everything.

Tangentially related: I’ve mentioned it previously, but I always like this anecdote:

The hands-on nature of the startup was communicated to everyone the company brought onboard. For years, Warnock and Geschke hand-delivered a bottle of champagne or cognac and a dozen roses to a new hire’s house. The employee arrived at work to find hammer, ruler, and screwdriver on a desk, which were to be used for hanging up shelves, pictures, and so on.

“From the start we wanted them to have the mentality that everyone sweeps the floor around here,” says Geschke, adding that while the hand tools may be gone, the ethic persists today.

From Inside the Publishing Revolution.

"FedEx days"

Here’s kind of an interesting take on feature development:

Mr. PINK*: Human beings have a natural urge for autonomy. […] There’s an Australian software company called Atlassian, and they do something once a quarter where they say to their software developers: You can work on anything you want, any way you want, with whomever you want, you just have to show the results to the rest of the company at the end of 24 hours.

They call these things “FedEx days,” because you have to deliver something overnight. That one day of intense autonomy has produced a whole array of software fixes, a whole array of ideas for new products, a whole array of upgrades for existing products.

Building on the After Effects team’s approach, the Photoshop team has introduced “JDI days” this cycle, and we’ll have some great results to share with you. There’s always an ocean of “wouldn’t it be great if…”/”just one more thing…” ideas, and obviously we have to balance addressing those with big, sustained efforts (e.g. Carbon->Cocoa, 64-bit). Still, we’ve found that codifying the JDI process has worked quite well so far.

*Note: Played by Daniel Pink, author of Drive, not by Steve Buscemi.

Feedback, please: The "Replace Files" dialog in Save for Web

Moving Photoshop from Apple’s Carbon to Cocoa technologies is an enormously long endeavor with many subtleties. The process makes us consider certain functional changes, and for technical reasons not worth elaborating on here, we’re thinking of dropping the Save for Web sub-dialog that lets one choose which files on disk to replace. (Here’s a screenshot.)
We’re not taking about dropping all of Save for Web, obviously–just about making a file replacement operation all-or-nothing. If you chose to export a sliced PSD, selected “Images And HTML,” and replaced the HTML file Photoshop generates, all the images would be automatically replaced.
If that would be a problem for you (i.e. if you’re slicing up images, then saving & electing to replace only some of the files), please speak up. Otherwise, it’s done.

San José Photoshop User Group meets Tuesday night

The next Photoshop User Group meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday evening. According to the event page,

  • Jim Tierney from Digital Anarchy will demo a range of their products, such as Primatte Chromakey, Knoll Light Factory, Backdrop Designer, Texture Anarchy, 3D Invigorator and more.
  • Photoshop PM Bryan O’Neil Hughes will show an in-depth presentation of the new Lightroom 3 Beta.
  • We’ll have pizza and drinks at 6:30, and the meeting will start at 7:00, in the Park Conference Room of Adobe Systems’ East Tower, 321 Park Avenue, San Jose. To park underneath the Adobe building, use the Almaden Avenue entrance, under the East Tower. If the security guard at the parking entrance asks for an Adobe contact, use Bryan O’Neil Hughes’s name. He’s our contact there (as well as a Photoshop PM).

    Please feel free to forward this email to anyone you know who might be interested. If they would like to be on our email list, have them respond to

Call for Entries: Adobe Design Achievement Awards

The Adobe Design Achievement Awards celebrate student achievement in both individual and group projects. As the awards site says, “Higher education students can submit entries created with Adobe software to earn a chance at winning recognition, travel, Adobe software, and winners receive cash prizes.”

Individuals and groups may win in one of a dozen categories from three media areas:

  • Interactive Media: Browser-Based Design, Non-Browser Based Design, Application Development, Mobile Design, Installation Design
  • Motion and Video: Animation, Live Action, Motion Graphics
  • Traditional Media: Illustration, Packaging, Photography, Print Communications

Individual category winners receive:

  • US$3,000 cash, a winner’s certificate, and a 3D award
  • Adobe® Creative Suite® 4 Master Collection education version
  • Complimentary round-trip economy class airfare to Los Angeles and two nights’ accommodation in lodgings.
  • Access to Adobe MAX for the duration of the ADAA ceremony and related ADAA events in Los Angeles, California.
  • A one-year mentorship with a design leader.
  • Be appointed to an Icograda Youth Advisory Panel.

Check out the prizes page for more info. You can also access ADAA Live! to view previous entries and currently submitted student projects in real-time. [Via]

The price of memory vs. the price of gold

Photoshop engineer John Peterson (creator of Photomerge, among other things) made an interesting observation today:

In the CES hype, I noticed that 64GB SD Cards are now available, for $600 a pop.

For comparison:

A SD Card weighs about 2 grams. Gold is currently about $36/gram, so the 64GB cards cost eight times their weight in gold.

The card has a volume of about 1.5 cc. Gold has a density of 19.32 g/cc, so a solid gold SD card would take almost 29g of gold, or about $1,000 worth. Of course, the gold card would probably hold its value better over time.

Why I must never take vacation

Having returned to work after nearly two weeks off, I walked by a new Greek place yesterday with my friend Hughes and his wife Alex. We each took a sample bit of shoe leather (er, gyro) on a toothpick. Maybe 60 seconds later, we’d walked into a difference restaurant, and I noticed that I was idly picking my teeth. When I saw that Alex also had a toothpick, I started to freak out a little. Where the hell did I get this toothpick, I thought, and how come she has one, too??

Cripes. I was very much in the Office Space “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it…” zone. I’m on the mend, but remind me not to make any big personal/product decisions for a while.

Instant love: Cinch & SizeUp

Man, I can’t tell you the last time I parted with $20 so quickly: Irradiated Software’s Cinch and SizeUp are companion Mac utilities that facilitate common window-resizing tasks:

  • Cinch ($7) lets you “drag any standard window to the left or right edge of a screen to resize it to fill that half of the screen, or drag to the top of the screen to zoom it full-screen.” [Via]
  • SizeUp ($13) lets you perform similar operations via the keyboard.

Done and done. Just yesterday I was playing with CSS Edit, experimenting with some new kid-blog tweaks (a work in progress, but coming right along) and wished I had an easy way to tile the windows. Bingo; cash on the barrel.

Mostly unrelated note: I can’t begin to imagine how or why people use Macs without Default Folder installed. Also, yes, I realize that Windows 7 offers built-in functionality like what Cinch provides. Good for everybody.

San José CS User Group meeting tonight

The San Jose Creative Suite User Group is meeting this evening at Adobe HQ starting at 6pm. Group organizer Sally Cox writes,

Park in the Adobe Garage on the Park Avenue side and tell the security guard you are there for the Creative Suite User Group meeting. Our Adobe contact is Sarah Fiedor, if they ask. Our meeting is in the same room as last month, “Park”.

We are having a HUGE turnout, so the guest list was submitted yesterday to make it easier on Adobe Security. We are providing a sandwich bar and of course, baked goods.

Photos to sound & back again

  • A technology called Photosounder can treat images as audio (demo). “Sounds, once turned into images,” they say, “can be powerfully modified to achieve effects and results that couldn’t be obtained in any other way, while images of all sorts reveal the infinite kinds of otherworldly sounds they contain.” [Via]
  • In a related vein, scientists have turned dolphin calls into kaleidoscopic patterns. (Note the image gallery navigation controls on the right.) [Via]

Upgrading Photoshop doesn't require a previous installation

There’s an eternal misconception that if you buy an upgrade to Photoshop (or other Adobe software) and get a new computer, you must first install your older version(s) before installing the new upgrade. That’s not necessary. The upgrade will look for a valid previous installation, but that’s just a convenience feature meant to spare you having to type in your old serial number alongside your new one.
One other tip, as long as I’m boring you with minutiae: You can paste your serial number into the installer. That might not be obvious as the serial number field is comprised of several small text fields, but the installer is smart enough to spread digits across the fields when pasted. Therefore when getting a new version, I take a moment to type the serial first into a text document, after which I copy it & paste it into the installer. The extra steps may be worthwhile later in case you need to re-install, etc.

Happy New Year

I wish you could see the moon as it appears overhead here at this moment. I’ve never seen anything like it. Pictures (mine, anyway) can’t begin to capture its vivid beauty, and I laid a long while on the driveway gazing up. And then, being the suburban dad I am, I rose & towed in the trash cans. I’m feeling very blessed.
I wish you great peace, happiness, and success in “oh-Ten” (as I’m sure to stumble and call it more than once). Thanks for reading.