May 12, 2008

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."

Posted by John Nack at 7:56 AM on May 12, 2008
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