Who builds Photoshop, and the frequency of updates

Via Daring Fireball I caught this little blurb from Panic‘s Cabel Sasser:


A company like Adobe, which has hundreds of engineers working on
Photoshop, releases ONE version every two or three years, and maybe a
single bug fix release in the interim. For the most part, we’re all
cool with that, myself included! 🙂


I’m glad to hear the last bit, especially as I love Panic’s Transmit and Unison software–models of simplicity and refinement.  The rest is kind of funny, though: in reality we have only a couple dozen engineers working on Photoshop.  (If you added in every person who tests Photoshop and Bridge, localizes them, builds the installers, manages the process, etc., you could get to more than a hundred people–but only with some effort.)  Relative to our feature set and code base, the team runs very lean.


As for the shipping schedule, it’s been 18-24 months between major releases for quite some time.  I don’t mean to take a casual comment in a forum overly seriously.  It’s just that I’ve been thinking about the Photoshop (and Suite) shipping schedule, wondering whether it’s too long, too short, or both.


On the one hand, the richer Suite apps get and the more of them there are, the more time people would like to settle into using them.  It’s generally easier to absorb upgrading a number of applications at once, then living with them for a while, than it was to handle continual unsynchronized updates (the pre-Suites world).  Through this lens, 18 months looks short.


On the other hand, we’re increasingly living in a world where "software is a relationship, not an artifact" (as I think Tim O’Reilly put it).  An application like Google Maps or Photoshop Express could be updated seamlessly, simultaneously for all users, every hour if desired.  Through that lens, 18 months looks awfully long.


I’d like to get to a point where we can have it both ways.  I’d like the core team to be able to go off and spend several years retooling essential pieces of plumbing, making changes that won’t become visible for a few versions.  At the same time, I want to wake up in the morning and have Photoshop be smarter & more feature-rich than when I went to bed.  Some things should be updated every 5 years; others, every five minutes.


Obviously this isn’t the kind of change a team makes overnight, but we’re getting there.  Building on what we’ve got percolating, functionality like peer-to-peer help will become possible.  More on that foundation soon.


PS–Re: people banging on Panic for more frequent updates to their inexpensive tools, I’m reminded of an observation attributed to Edward Tufte: "The sense of entitlement increases as the price of the service or product decreases."

0 thoughts on “Who builds Photoshop, and the frequency of updates

  1. So where does enabling image stack functionality (see the comment thread in an earlier post of yours) for standard, i.e., non-Extended, CS3 users fall in the “smarter” versus “essential” scale?

  2. Amen to that last part. My boss writes a free little mac app called Moodblast that updates twitter and facebook statuses and ichat and skype etc. etc. all at once, and people will get upset when he’s not releasing every couple months, but simultaneously fail to realize that all totaled he’s gotten maybe $60 in donations since starting this software project, and as such, pretty much owes nothing to anyone.

  3. John – one thing I would like to see from Adobe is a promise to keep updating old editions Photoshop and Lightroom for new cameras and for security flaws – even if not for new features.
    [We do update older versions to deal with security problems, but that’s come up only once or so in my years on the team. –J.]
    At present, these programs cease to be useful once a new version is released, as Camera Raw (and the Lightroom equivalent) isn’t updated for the superseded edition of the program.
    [I disagree that we’re leaving older versions in the cold. You can convert your images to DNG, making them compatible with DNG-savvy software, not to mention smaller (and their settings more portable). The converter is free, and conversion takes ~1s per image on my 18-month-old laptop (less on desktops and newer systems). –J.]
    I can understand why Adobe doesn’t update Elements – but Photoshop and Lightroom are both expensive products.
    [It’s a zero-sum game: Time spent updating older versions of PS and LR for new cameras is time not spent making other enhancements. DNG offers a much more efficient solution, so we’re taking advantage of it. (Interestingly, so is Apple now, offering “baseline” support for all DNG files in Aperture. This effectively allows them to piggyback on our work, something I suggested they do back in early 2006. If they’d taken that advice sooner, they wouldn’t have gotten beaten up so much for not supporting all the cameras supported in Photoshop and Lightroom.) –J.]

  4. I wouldn’t mind longer periods between updates. A lot of people I know skip every other update to Photoshop anyway.
    But for me, I’d much rather see more free updates in-between as bug fixes happen, and maybe some minor updates are included just to be nice to us who have forked out so much money (Tufte didn’t get me right!) in the first place.
    I don’t think I’d want a Photoshop subscription model, unless it was something like $100 a year and there was alway some kind of big-time update each year. Then maybe I’d go for that. But how do you satisfy someone like me, and someone who runs a publishing house who wants to get things tweaked to perfection and then only updates when something breaks?
    You can’t make everyone happy no matter what!

  5. I’m a relative newcomer to Photoshop, having switched from Paint Shop Pro to CS2 in 2005, and then upgraded to CS3. From that perspective, I think the appropriate release interval is one that allows you to release new versions that are compelling to the user and ready for release. With a program as mature and feature-rich as Photoshop, it surely takes some effort and creativity to add genuine enhancements that will improve the user experience (rather than frills and bloat that meet the needs of marketeers). That takes time. During which we can always discover the numerous features already in Photoshop that we haven’t gotten around to using.
    I found the improvements to Camera Raw and Bridge sufficient to make the CS3 upgrade compelling, although the subtle user interface improvements in Photoshop have turned out to be more beneficial than I expected. But there’s always room for improvements, both large and small. (At the top of my “small improvement” list is a luminance-only check box for Unsharp Mask. Paint Shop Pro added that option several versions ago, and I immediately found it very helpful for optimizing the 240×360 reduced images on my Web site. Photoshop requires the extra step of going into Edit – Fade and selecting “Luminosity” from the bottom of a lengthy pull-down menu.)
    I mention Paint Shop Pro because it’s an example of how not to plan for new releases. Their marketeers apparently insist on shipping a new version each year, whether or not it adds anything useful and whether or not it’s ready for release. The release notes for the latest version identify 35 “known issues,” as well as 70 “improvements” that look like fixes for bugs in the previous version. My frustration with the second of those “annual betas” is what sold me Photoshop, and it’s definitely not a good way to do business. Taking 18-24 months to implement some genuine enhancements (other than that troublesome “printer code unification”) seems a much better approach. Remember that vintner who would sell no wine before its time? The same could apply to software.

  6. I’m OK with a two year major upgrade cycle. Right now it does feel like CS3 could benefit from more tweaks with the recent Vista and OS X Intel operating systems – and of course Adobe still has Macromedia transition to finish up (Dreamweaver UI anyone?).
    I saw some rumblings about CS4 coming soon on the internet – and if that’s true, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be harder to get folks to upgrade unless there is something as significant as the Intel compatibility issue.
    Take your time and roll out a polished release (hopefully with a more robust installer).

  7. Recognizing hyperbole as hyperbole – what features and functions would you put on the 5 minute end of your scale, and what on the 5 year end?
    [Exchange of ideas is certainly on the 5-minute end. Just up from there is creation/exchange of content (actions, brushes, workspaces). On the other end of the spectrum are core investments around the application architecture–generally thankless stuff that will enable lots of improvements in user experience & the efficiency of feature development. –J.]

  8. John, for whatever it’s worth to you, I found the two year wait between CS2 & CS3 to be too long — and I also know I’d find a one-year upgrade cycle a bit pushy. So I’m totally OK with your classic 18-month cycle. But some more frequent free point-updates for smaller woes would be nice.

  9. Hey John — certainly didn’t intend to single out Photoshop in my post. Insert “any application from perceptively large corporation” instead. 😉
    For the record, we actually really do love being able to do releases, even those totally free lots-of-new-feature 0.5’s we tend to do, frequently and “when we feel like it”. I’ve always felt it was one of the joys of being part of a smaller company. I’m really happy to hear that you’re thinking about Photoshop’s release schedule and adding back some of that flexibility into Adobe!
    I think my only point here is that the more frequently you release software and the more flexible you are, the potentially shorter the User Patience Rubber Band gets — but it’s a good problem to have, really. I’d rather that than nobody caring. 🙂

  10. Because Bridge is completely dead on my computer, I have begun to use Nikon View NX and Lightroom as an interface to CS3. It will be a long hard decision for me to upgrade to CS4 given the absolutely poor work done with Bridge.

  11. it’s a little off topic, but what’s the reason for the huge price difference for adobe software between the us and europe?
    The CS3 Master Collection costs 2500$ in the us store and in the austrian store it costs 3500EUR (= 5400$) – that means that it would actually be cheaper to fly to the us and buy it there… isn’t that a bit of a rip-off?

  12. I have to say that the 18-24 month release period is, from my opinion as a casual user of your software, stressful. As I do not derive my income from my use and knowledge of Photoshop, PS Lightroom and or any of the other Creative Suites apps, It can be difficult to keep up with the upgrade cycle or even justify the expense of those upgrades.
    To be honest, I have kind’ve been handcuffed into that cycle since Photoshop CS, as most of the advances that have been made in digital photography have been as major upgrades or with the release of lightroom. Just the fact that older versions of Camera Raw gets orphaned everytime there is a new release of PS has always left a bit of a bad feeling with me.It feels as though Adobe is using their position as the only real imaging game in town to monopolistic effect.
    I realize that you guys all work really hard to put out a top caliber product, and that you are entitled to profit from that effort, but the cost of upgrades and the decision that an enhancement warrants a major release, and therefore a version upgrade is a little hard for the hobbyist or casual user to swallow.
    I had upgraded pretty early on from CS to CS2, but then was trying to hold off on CS3, as I was finding it hard to justify the cost. I ended up relenting, in order to get the Lightroom integration, but know I already have to think about another upgrade to Lightroom 2 and CS4! It is daunting, especially considering I hardly feel like I have even had a chance to kick the tires on CS3. As I do not derive my income from Photoshop, as I stated before, I don’t get too much of a chance to use the product that often, and yet it seems that the technique that I want to use for my photographic hobby is only in the new release, so I have to wrestle with the decision of upgrading, knowing that in a year or less I may be faced with that costly decision again. Sometimes it makes me seriously think of giving up my photography hobby, which just feels sad….
    Thanks for all of the effort you put in to making this an interesting and informative blog, even if it is just to find out that “You Suck at Photoshop!” (what a riot!)

  13. I agree entirely with the pricing comment. PS CS3 is $650 in American English and English pounds 1110 for what I see as an idenical item. If the VAT is removed this means it costs about 50% more to buy PS CS3 in England. Why?

  14. > … At the same time, I want to wake up in the morning and have Photoshop be smarter & more feature-rich than when I went to bed.
    I agree. But… currently PS is not updated between releases 🙁

  15. John,
    not sure it will matter if you can’t activate the d@mn thing… on my second day of unbelievable hold times (last night had to give up after 65 minutes because we were running into my daughter’s bedtime). Today, I’m at 55 minutes and counting… I have to think $1200 (CS3 Design Standard suite) a pop, Adobe can afford to hire a few more operators to take these calls. I’m only trying to activate the 2nd box (my understanding is you get ‘TWO’)… why such horrible service for arguably, the most expensive (don’t misunderstand here, I LOVE PHOTOSHOP) set of commercially available graphic software on the planet? So, if you’ve got any pull at all, will you use it to get this fixed? You guys are making my city owned water company look great.
    Rich Gibson

  16. More on the pricing issue.In France before tax PS CS3 is the today equivalent of $1389 and in Switzerland the French version is the equivalent of $1081 before tax. In England before tax it is the equivalent of $942 and in the US it is only $650. I can understand that if you have to translate all the interfaces there could be a justification on your side for charging for that, but when the version are identical then only the tax should make a difference. Why not price all the products in US dollars plus a bit for the freight and then it will be all equal (and probably slow down the piratage as well).

  17. I’m sort of in the same situation as Alessandro Rosa above. I use CS2 all the time for my own photography. Even went to a week long workshop to learn more….but I don’t envision upgrading until I upgrade my computer and my camera. It may be a while for a new camera, and I’d really like my next computer to be 64 bit linux.

  18. The thing is I wouldn’t even want a german version and I’d prefer digital download over a box. So in principle I’m Adobe’s dream foreign customer, no translation costs, no packaging, no shipping, just a bit of tax. So why do I have to pay twice as much?
    Is there anything that would legaly keep me from having a friend in the US buy it for me there and send it over?

  19. John
    I’m not sure my original comment was clear. I share the concern of Alessandro – the changes to digital cameras and the fact that Adobe doesn’t support new cameras on old products makes Lightroom and PhotoShop extremely expensive. I don’t think we’re asking for extra features – just the ability to ‘read’ RAW files from newer cameras. Surely the File Format Plugin is a relatively simple piece of work that is being done anyway? I still think you’d have happier customers if you offered updates to deal with cameras for the current and previous versions without offering extra functionality to Camera Raw.

  20. I guess the thing about updates is what the change is and how is that going to effect your workflow.
    A CS upgrade for me brings to mind more integration, more inter-linking between programmes and alterations to UI and alterations to what feature sets there are. So something major that is going to alter my workflow, enhance what how I do things and take some time to learn.
    Adding support to new cameras in CS3 and CS2 should be standard as that doesn’t require a major redesign or over hall. The same should be said of things that “fix” things that are obviously wrong like the point upgrades in Lightroom and the need of Indesign to be more stable in Leopard.
    But should I expect Adobe to support my new camera when it didn’t have the support originally? No but it would be nice like getting AVCD (Sony’s codec?) support in Premier Pro.
    So I guess I won’t big things in big updates and improvement s and little adjustment by smaller point ones.

  21. Re release cycles, the feedback I get from my clients (mid-size design/agency/publishers) is that they believe the 18-24 mo. cycle is there to generate shareholder-friendly, periodic revenues for Adobe, and only secondarily for the benefit of Adobe software users. FWIW.
    Also, they particularly resent current versions of the software being taken off the shelves the day new versions are released. They struggle with equipping new hires/new acquisitions with the same versions of software that everyone else in the company is using. So, it’s not just that Adobe comes out with new Suite versions every 1.5-2 years, but they feel forced to move. They have no choice. (It’s not such a big deal with Photoshop, where a TIFF is a TIFF regardless of version, but with InDesign it most definitely is an issue.)
    As a trainer/consultant with long-term support contracts with my clients, I usually get the brunt of their frustration. 😉

  22. i agree with Joe Color and others about the ridiculous non us-pricing!
    i would understand, if the adobe-prices here were a moderate percentage higher that in the us, like with most $-related stuff. but here in germany any adobe software costs about double the us-price (even english version isnt much cheaper).
    due to this i skipped cs3 (design/web-suite), although i am a professional designer.
    and unless the pricing changes (or i find a decent import-solution) i plan to stick to my 36-48 month schedule.

  23. It’s the small things that make software great. Somewhat disappointed with the “small things” of the Mac CS3 Design Suite.
    For example, mouse scrolling does not work in the palettes. Dreamweaver is much less intuitive than Go Live. Version Cue is a joke. For the amount of $$$ charged, I expect a lot better from Adobe. Not sure what it takes to “get it right”, however, the present level of customer support rates right down there with the Airlines.

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