December 03, 2007

Adobe: The second quarter-century begins

On December 2, 1982, John Warnock and Chuck Geschke started Adobe Systems.  Today the once-tiny maker of printer software begins the next quarter-century of its existence.

In 1993, my freshman year in college, I attended a meeting of the Notre Dame MadMacs user group.  I can’t tell you a single other thing about that evening, but I remember that they played a video (on a computer! my God!!) from a company I’d never heard of.  On screen an animation depicted a hand opening up to reveal (as I remember) an eye on its palm.  “Imagine what you can create,” read an arcing line of text above the hand.  And below, “Create what you can imagine.  Adobe.” 

And then I realized…like I was shot…Like I was shot with a diamond…a diamond bullet right through my forehead…  Okay, perhaps that’s a bit much–but I thought, “I don’t know who these guys are, but I’ve got to find out.”  Photoshop was shortly to make one hell of an impression on me, and all these years later, I can’t believe–still cannot believe–that I work here.  (Some part of me still suspects that my car drifted off the road after they cancelled LiveMotion, and that all of this is playing out in ultra slow-mo, Owl Creek Bridge-style.)

If you’re interested in the history of Adobe, check out Pamela Pfiffner’s excellent Inside the Publishing Revolution, released to coincide with the company’s 20th anniversary.  Excerpts & some fun photos (David Hockney meeting Photoshop; young Steve Jobs) are on  I’d love to see an updated edition, one that includes the history of Macromedia (and the various companies that formed it) and more.

As for the future, one goal comes to my mind over and over: radically improving the user experience by radically democratizing how Photoshop* is developed, and by whom.  Instead of measuring the Photoshop team in the dozens, let’s measure it in the thousands–or the hundreds of thousands.  Let’s leverage the ol’ series of tubes, helping anyone with a good idea share it, opening the application skin to far more developers, even upending what a document can be.  Photoshop belongs to a whole lot more than one company or group of developers; it belongs to a global community of the visually expressive.  It’s this team’s job to keep anything from blocking the light.

Here’s to the future,

* I’d speak on behalf of other apps, but it’s already presumptuous enough for me to speak on behalf of Photoshop.

Posted by John Nack at 1:17 AM on December 03, 2007


  • Ben Clinkinbeard — 5:33 AM on December 03, 2007

    Hi John, apologies if you’ve already seen this but Grant Skinner had a really nice post last week that relates pretty closely to your call to action. Hopefully it comes to fruition.
    [That’s great, Ben–thanks for the heads-up. It’s funny: I recently put a developer in touch with Grant’s company in order for them to collaborate on extending Bridge. I also mentioned Grant’s experiments in one of my wild-ass manifestoes a couple of years ago. In a nutshell, I think he’s right on in this article. Ideally we’d be able to treat the apps as collections of lots of really useful little functions, each available via a common layer. –J.]

  • jimhere — 6:38 AM on December 03, 2007

    Starting off in 1993 or so, I first remember Adobe as the maker of all the fonts. (why can’t Bridge catalog fonts, I wonder?). Version 3 was my first pro use of Photoshop, plus Illustrator… um, I don’t remember it’s 1993 version number.
    Now Adobe has most of it’s UI’s matching up, which is great. The AI palettes were OK, but I’m glad the Photoshop way won.
    Now Adobe just has to get it’s so-called Print/Web and Production UI looks to match (what’s with After Efftects etc. and their mustard-yellow-highlighted panels?)
    But it’s all very usable and has helped me put imagination into pixels or paper.
    John N: “…radically improving the user experience”
    It really isn’t that hard to use. Let the “Express” kids deal with over-simplification.
    [Don’t worry about *over* simplification. –J.]

  • Eric — 2:15 PM on December 03, 2007

    Yeah, well I’m still a bit miffed about the disappearance of LiveMotion myself.
    I’m sure that one reason Adobe produces such great stuff has to do with people there who after all these years still get worked up about the possibility of turning digital bits into things worth contemplating.
    [Indeed. Of course, my boss likes to joke, “You know, we thought that whole LM experience would have crushed your spirit completely, but at the last minute we heard that you still had some life left in you. That’s why we brought you to Photoshop–to finish the job!” >;-P –J.]

  • Alex — 5:55 PM on December 03, 2007

    Thank you John for what you are doing and I hope will continue to do. You are correct in your hopes for the future. I hope that enough people share with you the same dreams. I know that you are one of those that give me the faith in the next generations to keep the peace. Merry Christmas to you. I hope to meet you in Orlando if you will be there. I have been very busy the last several months.
    [Thanks for the kind words, Alex. –J.]

  • Caspian — 8:48 AM on December 13, 2007

    Forgive me if I am posting in the rong thread, I’ve been looking for something I read a little while back about the future of Photoshop (versions/online offline etc) is this it:
    It looks like a 2nd cousin of the Adobe family!

  • snelling — 12:23 PM on December 13, 2007

    photoshop-When will there be an affordable Photoshop Elements that will work with Mac 10.5 (Leopard) ?

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