The Knowledge panel arrives in Photoshop CS5

Sometime in the last 48 hours, your copy of Photoshop CS5 quietly sprouted some new functionality. We hope you like it, and we’d love to get your feedback.

Adobe is now delivering the Knowledge panel for Photoshop (see screenshots). This tool delivers interactive step-by-step guidance, walking you through some 70 tutorials written by expert authors. Unlike other tutorials, these can drive Photoshop: clicking links executes commands in PS (e.g. clicking “File->New” brings up the New Document dialog box).

To try out the new panel, make sure you’ve logged in using your Adobe ID and password (click the little “CS Live” icon in the upper right corner), then look for Knowledge under Window->Extensions. You may need to quit & relaunch PS after logging in. (Details below.)

So, why is this important?

In brief, it lets the community make Photoshop smarter & easier to use, leveraging the Web inside the app.

I’ve long been frustrated that Adobe applications–like most large, powerful apps–simply throw the user into the deep end of the functionality pool. Very little in the interface suggests how pieces can or should be used in sequence to achieve a goal. The apps are highly flexible & very general, but users tend to suffer from “the paradox of choice.” They know the app is capable of X, but they don’t know how to do it, and they may feel foolish & resentful.

I’ve long thought we could do better, and last year I presented some ideas for a more task-based Photoshop UI. As I wrote then, we had two goals:

  • Present a more streamlined interface (“everything you need, nothing you don’t”), showing only the tools and commands that are relevant to the task at hand
  • Present best-practice guidance on how to accomplish specific tasks (“not just yet another way to do something, but the *right* way”)

The Knowledge panel delivers on the second of these. Our plan was to deliver it together with a complimentary Toolbox panel (screenshot), tying the contents of both to workspaces. That way, when you’d click “3D,” Photoshop would not only rearrange your existing panels; it would also present just the tools needed for 3D work (plus contextual information), as well as step-by-step guidance on completing common 3D tasks. The same would go for painting, Web design, etc.

Unfortunately we ran out of time to deliver everything in the box. Thus we’re delivering the Knowledge panel as an update, and if you’d like to check out the (somewhat unpolished) Toolbox panel, you can download it here. The Knowledge panel auto-installs in English only, so if you’re using another language version of PS but would still like to use the panel, please grab it and install it. Relaunch Photoshop after installation, and then look under Window->Extensions for each panel.

Both panels were built in Configurator, so you’re welcome to grab the source files to see how they were made. I plan to post details soon on how to drive Photoshop from HTML. I hope to see many authors enhancing Photoshop in this way.

Because of the way the CS5 dev cycle played out, this release offers us a chance to test drive these enhancements without making them a marquee feature. We’re eager to hear what you think. Is this stuff useful? Should we take it further? Please let us know. [Update: here’s a very quick poll.]


PS–I’m incredibly grateful to the many authors (too many to list here) who contributed content, to the Adobe Learning Resources folks, and to Victor Gavenda and the excellent, patient folks at Peachpit who really tied the room together.

25 thoughts on “The Knowledge panel arrives in Photoshop CS5

  1. Thank you! I have long wanted and waited for someone in the industry to really make help a real part of the user experience. I also wanted not to have to buy an expensive book just to learn PS 101 stuff; sure for advanced ok. All to often Help was simply “thats a hammer, thats a nail, now go figure out how to hit the nail” I gave up hoping for functional manuals not descriptive ones. Now, will this work with the trial versions? I want to start learning while waiting for my CS5 to roll in. P.S. I am hoping this tech is going to find its way into QA and support too!
    [Thanks for the feedback. I see no reason this wouldn’t work with in tryout mode. You just need to make sure to log in via the app or the installer, then relaunch if necessary. –J.]

  2. The knowledge palette works in my German trial; the toolbox doesn’t appear, even though the installation via Extension Manager CS5 seemed smooth.
    Btw, i don’t like applications hiding functions, especially so if the application claims to know “intelligently” what i need and not need. Photoshop CS4 had menue items disappearing even when they shouldn’t, it is fortunately better in CS5.

  3. Hi John,
    That’s just a great tool! As an ACE and ACI this gave me the idea: will it be possible to create unique content to this toolbar?
    Then I could serve my custumers creating “how to do” with their specific needs – hence they have their guide just in hand. Also companies having special image styling could benefit having their style guide @ hand.

  4. Benny, via Configurator you can create unique content including text, Photoshop commands, graphics and video.

  5. This is brilliant! Now I just need to figure how to use Configurator Configurator to create, as Henrik says, “unique content including text, Photoshop commands, graphics and video” for my high school students.
    Lucky summer is just around the corner! πŸ™‚

  6. I gave it a quick spin, tried masking the cat image by following the steps (though I already knew the new Refine Edge stuff). I loved that the panel let me download the exact image used in the descriptions! It seems like this will grow to become hugely useful.
    I also love that you, John, in your text, talked about “the right way” to accomplish something! All the world’s Help manuals are just endless streams of descriptive text — what you *can* do. But what we really need is *normative* Help — what we *ought* to do: the smart steps which will save us time and energy in attaining a (hopefully) worthy goal.

  7. It’s really easy, Mike. I’m no geek, but it’s about self-explanatory.
    Make sure that what you give your students is an .mxp-file and nothing else (it’s generated after double-clicking on the .mxi-file that results from the final “File, Export” in Configurator). An .mxp-file (as opposed to other ways of handing over your own Photoshop panels) seems to have two main advantages:
    – very easy installation into Photoshop CS5 just by double clicking the file (no looking for prefs folders and such)
    – cannot be hanged and re-branded (i believe so, at least)
    [Very minor point: in CS5 the file extension for “ExMan”-made packages has changed to ZXP for whatever reason. –J.]

  8. Another thought…is this help tech going to show up in the other point apps (rest of suite)??? This help tech should be used company wide in all Adobe apps. Please help make it so.
    [I’d ask the same of you. πŸ™‚ Seriously, if this is important to you, the best thing you can do is to let your voice be heard by other teams (via blog posts, user-to-user forum comments, wish list submissions, etc.). The foundation is certainly there in all CS5 apps right now, and one could create tutorial content panels (minus the interactivity) with very little effort: just wrap a WebKit view in Flex. –J.]
    Is there help for this help tech I can get to make sure am installing and using it right?
    [I’d really hope that’s not necessary. If you run into anything odd, please let me know. –J.]

  9. This looks great and can’t wait to try it out. I don’t know if it something to do with me beta testing CS Live but now I that I’ve installed Web Premium CS5, I can’t access any of these services. Do you know of a fix or a cleanup for just CS Live services?

  10. John, I have concerns about Adobe products accessing the internet. After leaving my laptop to download a movie I used my desktop to do some photo editing. Unknown to me, an Akamai program installed by Adobe ate up all my network bandwidth. It’s infuriating that you installed software that I don’t really need that clogs my network connection and looks like some sort of trojan or virus. Really, it pisses me off. If I turn this feature on will it also spam my network connection and kill other processes?
    [I hear you, Chris. The Akamai thing (which has to do only with the delivery of Suite downloads, not with the functioning of Adobe software) was a shock to me, and I strongly hope that the right people are making progress in addressing the problem. As for the connectivity of Adobe apps, you can turn it off via Preferences. In Photoshop it’s under the “Plug-Ins” sub-area. –J.]

  11. All this emphasis on making PS easier to use is quite wonderful. I have always used PS as an excellent example of “ease of use” vs “ease of learning” (which are always at war with one another).
    My main concern is that the tools Adobe provides us for making PS (et al) easier to use and easier to teach (and easier to document) are themselves simple and long-lived. Plug-ins and Configurator panels and other API-access approaches have been coming and going over the last few years, and I found myself hesitating after a few initial experiments.
    But the direction is absolutely vital to the future of powerful apps — think of PS in 5-10 years. There’s no need to rein in new features, but the scale of the app eventually overshadows any single rational approach to structuring an interface. Legacy features often (usually) deserve to be preserved, and with several ways to do essentially the same thing there soon are too many things to teach/learn in the old “discovery” way of doing things. (I think most of the 3D modeling apps are great examples of this — hundreds of items on dozens of menus, and barely two levels of organizational hierarchy.)
    So yes — emphatically — give us some fun tools that remain usable for several versions, and we’ll come up with wonderful ways to approach the “productivity playground” that PS (et al) represent. It’s not all task-oriented, either — users still need ways to explore that satisfy the right side of the brainpan. And they also need ways to assess the capabilities with some realistic taxonomy of all features & functions.
    Just as OOP provided a way to manage much greater complexity in software development, perhaps there is an anlogous “class diagram” which can provide a sensible, if encyclopedic, main structure for the documentation and training. (And speaking of OOP, perhaps alternatively the right-brain approach can be applied to the Flex framework documentation.)
    I find this area of development almost more exciting than actually using PS to do graphics. It’s a close race…

  12. With Adobe now delivering knowledge in a box, can courage and heart be far behind? I’d love to create my own (and now have the skill), but lack the gumption and conviction.
    Humor aside, I’ve built a couple of custom panels for myself and it couldn’t be easier. The added dimension of educational implementations is even more impressive than the concept of Configurator itself. I think this will be bigger over time than most people would assume, taken at face value. This is great for those looking to start out or add new skills. Russel Brown’s painting panel is well done as well.

  13. It’s good that somebody is thinking and to new consumers. These things must be made more long but it’s never too late. When you launch a product should be thinking very well explained to consumers. That encounter any claim and your customers are satisfied.

  14. Oh, yes, now that you say it – i remember that palette. It was basically what we see now coming to Photoshop, if i remember right. Only the Elements version had more colors, and photos inside, right?

  15. Trying to find the knowlegde panel. Can’t find Knowledge under Window->Extensions, can’t find extensions to begin with.
    [1) Are you running PS in English? 2) Did you log into the app and restart? 3) Have you tried downloading and installing the panel manually? –J.]

  16. Although I do think this feature might help many users to find their way in Photoshop, it does pose another problem: where to find (and activate) these Help systems and how do they work !?!
    Spotlight on the Mac, the Photoshop Help menu, Adobe Help application and the referred Help manual, Community Help, Getting Started and Tutorials, the new Knowledge panel (only available through cryptic “Extensions” panels, signing in, quitting and restarting) and a myriad of other official Adobe Help resources on the web. Each with their own -sometimes mysterious- interface. BTW: all these AIR-based panels and online apps are also very tricky. My browser crashed twice when I tried to explore a CS Live feature.
    I plea for making these veteran Adobe application(s) itself easier to use. There’s a lot of “legacy logic” in Photoshop, which is confusing if you don’t know the history behind it. For instance: Why behave layer adjustments, effects and filters completely different? Answer: because Rome wasn’t built in 1 day and Photoshop was built in 12 versions…
    Beautiful Brushes ? Beautiful Brooms might be more practical to clean up the accumulating features in apps like Photoshop and Illustrator. All technicalities aside, I think a good Spring Cleaning might prove a better method to let users get around these application environments.

  17. In Martin Evening’s new CS5 book, he mentions not only this Knowledge Panel, but also a Toolbox Panel. Is that (or will it be) available?

  18. Sorry for my previous post – I found your reference and downloaded it. However, it said that I don’t have authority to install it.

  19. You do good work πŸ™‚ I ran Extension Manager as Administrator and it was installed. Many thanks.

  20. Since the Knowledge panel requires CS Live login, does it stop working if you don’t keep paying for a CS Live subscription? And on a related note, does Adobe expect it to be continually updated with new content?

  21. But the question still remains.
    When is Adobe going to realise that their price limits their market.
    Professionals can afford to pay full price.
    Educational prices cover students, teachers and educational institutions.
    What about the rest of us?
    Unemployed, low income, hobbyists etc. Will we always have to resort to illegal copies just so we can play too?

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