April 20, 2009
Feedback, please: A Grand Unified Suite?
The Dear Adobe blog asks, “Why does Adobe have 14,000 different applications?,” then makes a modest proposal:
So here it is. The Worst Idea Ever. Combine ‘em all. All of them…. What I want is to open a .adobe file in my Adobe.app, click a “Mode” dropdown, select Photoshop, and get my photoshop windows. Edit all my layers with bitmappy precision. Then, when I need to edit something in vector, I don’t use the pathetic excuse for vector tools in Photoshop mode, I switch to Illustrator mode, and all my bitmappy layers suddenly work as Illustrator objects…
Outrageous! Impossible! And yet, maybe not crazy at all. Read on if interested.
The kind of document-centric computing these guys describe differs greatly from what we have today:
- In application-centric computing, you move your data from app to app. In the real world, this would be like schlepping a woodworking project from shop to shop to perform different tasks.
- In document-centric computing, you keep your data in front of you, and the computer interface pivots around the data. Using the woodworking metaphor, a document-centric approach would be like putting the project on a bench and moving tools to & from the work area as needed.
In the app-centric world, switching between work environments can be a slow and jarring process. Because people often prefer to stay in one app, they naturally ask for “just one more thing” in each tool. (How about improving vector editing in Photoshop? How about more color correction tools inside InDesign? etc.) Each app grows bigger & more ponderous by adding features you could probably already get in another tool. It’s a recipe for bloat and inconsistency.
Document-centric computing holds immediate, obvious appeal:
- We know that people lose time switching between apps. Even if a small amount each time, it adds up.
- Instead of taking time to move data around, let the tools come to you.
- The apps currently provide multiple, overlapping ways of moving content from place to place, each with its own pros and cons (i.e. there’s often no one Right Way). Worse, many people don’t even know about or remember to use powerful options (e.g. exporting PSDs from Illustrator).
- A document-centric approach should automatically pick that one Right Way–and if one doesn’t exist, the burden falls on Adobe to create one.
- Done right, a document-centric approach should force more interface consistency among the apps.
- It’s one thing to get away with different shortcuts, behaviors, etc. when moving among apps. When everything is meant to look and feel like one entity, however, the bar gets set much higher.
There are, of course, a million obstacles to getting there. Just offhand:
- People already complain about each app being overwhelming & “bloated” with functionality they don’t need. Oh yeah, you want something to cry about? Let’s slam all the apps into one giant Japanese-robot-Frankenstein. We can ship a smokestack & tank treads for the sides of your computer as it runs the behemoth.
- Okay, okay–that’s crazy, so let’s “just rewrite” everything as editing modules that come and go on demand. Sounds nice, but…
- Remember OpenDoc? (Oh yes, you knew it had to come up…) The mid-’90s were all about the document-centric dream. Developers were going to stop building monolithic apps & start building modules. Short story: it didn’t work, even for brand new apps.
- Even if we could now avoid all the technical roadblocks, it’s easy to question the concept. Did people really want to pop open a spreadsheet view inside of an image editor, or do sound editing in a page layout app? Yes, there are times when you want to link in an external library (e.g. an HTML rendering engine), but maybe the concept wasn’t as generally useful as once thought–at least, not enough to justify the overhead.
- Even getting multiple apps to read/write a single file format (e.g. the new FXG) is a major effort, involving huge amounts of testing as data gets mapped from one data/compositing model (e.g. PSD) to another (e.g. AI).
So… what, then? We just give up & leave things as they are? It’s not the worst possibility, and obviously people get their work done today–but don’t you think we can do better?
The CS4 applications feature “N-up” (2-up, 4-up, etc.) window management & application frames (details) that help manage documents & app interface. What if we leveraged these to provide the feel of being in one “CreativeSuite.app(.exe),” where each application is a module? Photoshop would be the image-editing mode of Illustrator; Illustrator would be the vector-editing mode of InDesign; etc. Here’s a little walk-through of how it might work.
How would this differ from what exists today?
- A single application frame would be shared among the apps, with application interface coming & going inside the frame as needed.
- While editing in one app, you’d retain a view of your document open in another app/window. This would help preserve context during editing. While working in Illustrator, for example, you could see the vectors in your PSD being updated. You could choose to edit a bitmap in Flash, see both your FLA and your PSD on screen, and see the changes made in Photoshop appear in Flash.
Would this offer a compelling difference relative to what exists today?
What if we went further, making the jump between apps feel more like editing a symbol in Flash or Illustrator (screenshot)? Let’s say you wanted to create some vectors inside a PSD file. By clicking on the appropriate tool, you could have your PSD remain on screen (but not directly editable) while Illustrator came forward and put you into vector drawing mode. Or you could double-click a bitmap in InDesign or Dreamweaver, then have the image remain on screen while Photoshop comes forward and continues to show the surrounding layout. Here’s another mockup.
What do you think? Would either of these approaches mean a big step forward in your work? Would you rather Adobe focused its attention elsewhere? Comments are most welcome, and I’ve created a quick 5-question survey to help gauge interest.
PS–To set expectations properly, I should note that I’m just gathering info & ideas, not offering a preview of what’s coming from Adobe. Also, I’m on the road today, so I apologize for any lag in approving comments.