April 22, 2009

Grand Unified clarification

Thanks for all the feedback on the CS interface ideas I posted Monday. I’m still on the road, so I haven’t yet been able to reply to most comments. I look forward to reviewing them in more depth.

One key point of clarification: I wasn’t suggesting that Adobe try to merge the applications into one behemoth. In fact, I specifically said that’s a total non-starter. Why a number of people wrote in to then say, “Oh my God, don’t merge the apps into a behemoth” is kind of puzzling.

Some other points:

  • I’m also not sure why a few folks said (paraphrasing), “You should only make the individual apps better, and then (when you’re done with that) worry about integration.” Of course, there’s no such thing as “being done” improving the individual tools, and there’s no excuse for putting integration improvements on hold.
  • Philip Kerman wrote, “Look at what software people really love… it’s the awesome fast apps that do one thing and do that one thing very well.” Wasn’t I just saying that instead of building further redundancy into various Adobe tools, we should focus on making each one great at what it does, and on making them all function as an integrated whole? That to me is is the antidote to bloat.
  • Adobe apps are being developed in more modular ways. The Flash panel extensibility that got wide adoption in CS4 hints at a future where modular features can be written once, then dropped into multiple apps.
  • The Adobe video applications (After Effects, Premiere Pro, Encore DVD, Soundbooth) can already share screen content via Dynamic Link. That is, you can do things like send an AE comp to Premiere (or a Premiere sequence to AE) without rendering, with the data changing live in one app as it’s updated in the other. Isn’t that better than stuffing lots of each app into the other (adding overhead and inconsistency)?
  • As you’d imagine, my ideas around app integration are closely tied to my ideas about Configurator & customizability. I believe that each Adobe app should present solutions via task-oriented workspaces, and I believe that each app should itself be a workspace of the greater Creative Suite. You’d effectively be able to pick the parts of the Suite app you’d want for any given project, and within each app you’d pull up just the components needed for the task at hand. (For example, Photoshop would be the pixel-editing workspace of the Suite, and within PS there’d be workspaces geared towards sub-tasks (e.g. color correction).) I’ll try to elaborate on this when time permits.
  • Aiming high doesn’t mean forgetting the small stuff. When I started on Photoshop, PS7 had just shipped. The two biggest applause grabbers were the Healing Brush (crazy Buck Rogers image science) and being able to rename a layer inline in the Layers palette (a completely humble change, one that saved literally zero clicks, but one that just felt totally right). Apps have to deliver both the sizzle and the steak, and we’re working harder than ever on both.

I don’t claim to have any magic bullets here, nor do I claim that any of this would be easy. I don’t accept, however, that “good enough is good enough.” How is developing the Creative Suite going to be interesting for the next 5 years, the next 10? Taking only little steps, going to work while muttering “time to make the donuts” ain’t gonna get it done–not for me, anyway. I believe Adobe can–and must–aim for more transformative changes.

Posted by John Nack at 10:29 AM on April 22, 2009


  • shoaf — 12:21 PM on April 22, 2009

    Most of my time is spent bouncing back-and forth between Photoshop and Illustrator, so my comment will be weighted accordingly.
    Here’s a typical example of what I’m thinking:
    Say I’m working on an illustration in Photoshop, but I need to do some vector work (be it for a part of the image, or for a mask, or just to make an accurate selection). I want to use Adobe Illustrator to do that. Not “making Photoshop’s vector tools just like Illustrator’s”. I mean the whole AI app.
    At the same time, I want to see how my path editing affects my PSD… in real time.
    Now, let’s say that same PSD is currently placed on a page in InDesign or Dreamweaver. I want to be able to see how my edits to the PSD are affecting things on the InD or DW page, even if I’ve made the jump to edit the PSD’s vectors via Illustrator.
    This is where having a single Suite window would be nice, but have each app come forward (all toolbars, panels, etc. intact). I also like the suggestion of dimming other content in the document while editing a specific portion. (Sort of like Illustrator’s Isolation Mode, but with an adjustable slider to control the dimmage.)
    Now that’s all cool and stuff, But what if I don’t have Illustrator, but I want/need to handle some vectors in my PSD? Does Adobe keep some rudimentary path tools in Ps, or just say, “Tough luck, bud. Cough up some cash for AI!” OTOH, could individual apps be reduced in price (as well as footprint and testing requirements), so it wouldn’t be so bad to purchase the additional apps?
    I really don’t know the answer, but for now, I’m thankful I have some great tools with which to do my work.

  • Jim Pogozelski — 1:06 PM on April 22, 2009

    For example, Photoshop would be the pixel-editing workspace of the Suite, and within PS there’d be workspaces geared towards sub-tasks (e.g. color correction)
    How would Adobe know what I like to do for a color-correction method? (you knew I would say that). Even now I find myself actively avoiding Hue and Saturation because I don’t like it in the Slidey Panel system (your Open Curves in it’s Own Window Configurator is a life-saver though).
    But of course, if the modules are higher leveled, fine, whatever. Open the PS app or open the PS module. Aren’t you already going that way (I can simply ignore the Color and Tone “workspace” in CS4. Or do you mean Color and Tone would cost an extra $25 on top of the PS shell?).

  • donebylee — 1:10 PM on April 22, 2009

    I don’t know if this is possible or not, but I wish there were single libraries for brushes, patterns, textures, etc. that were shared between Adobe apps.
    While not the document oriented approach that you originally proposed, it would be a step in the direction of more interoperability between Adobe apps.

  • Dan Link — 3:50 PM on April 22, 2009

    Quote: “The Adobe video applications (After Effects, Premiere Pro, Encore DVD, Soundbooth) can already share screen content via Dynamic Link. That is, you can do things like send an AE comp to Premiere (or a Premiere sequence to AE) without rendering, with the data changing live in one app as it’s updated in the other.”
    Yes, but dynamic link only works if you buy the bundle – i have AE and PPro bought individually and dynamic link does NOT work and tells me it is only available as part of the bundle purchase. Because you want me to spend money to buy the bundle no doubt.

  • Dru Kepple — 4:26 PM on April 22, 2009

    Why a number of people wrote in to then say, “Oh my God, don’t merge the apps into a behemoth” is kind of puzzling.
    It’s not puzzling at all. People don’t actually read blog posts in their entirety. The longer it is, the less of it they read. They read the first paragraph, jumped to conclusions, and hit the “panic” button.
    [Yeah, I know. I thought about making the post shorter, then said, “Screw it, it’s worth discussing the details.” I consciously put the mockups & survey links towards the end, figuring that would lead to fewer but better responses. –J.]
    FWIW, I think the idea of dynamic link could be expanded (and improved upon), perhaps merged with Smart Objects. I’m a Flash developer (and, again FWIW, yours is my favorite Adobe blog…and it’s not about Flash!), and something that would be pretty cool would be something like Smart Objects for Flash. I don’t know how that would work out…video might be a bit of a no-brainer…but with PSDs and AIs we often want to control the layer setup. Maybe something like the current PSD importer that Flash has, but “live,” or “smart” or “dynamic,” so you could go back in and change that text back to actual font glyphs, or update the PSD and see the changes reflected automatically in Flash.
    [That’s something I’ve long encouraged the Flash team to support. The FXG interchange format could hold the ticket here. –J.]
    I don’t want to actually edit bitmaps in Flash, or video or sound, but I get tired of exporting, importing, needing to make change, and re-exporting and re-importing.
    I also second the notion of sharable libraries for brushes, color palettes, etc. That would save a lot of time.
    Maybe the grand unified app will be a reality someday, but I don’t think that’s going to happen for another 10 years, so in meantime, I think there are more and simpler ways to integrate the apps. “Baby steps, Elle.”
    [Nice reference. :-) –J.]
    Oh, and one more thing…I would love love love love it if all apps had the same color picker, type panel, paragraph panel…etc. For example, it drives me nuts that in Photoshop you click once in the color wells to bring up the color picker. But in Illustrator you double-click. Weird. Unified behavior and capabilities in these little aspects that most programs have would work wonders, I think.

  • Mark Thomas — 10:01 PM on April 22, 2009

    being able to rename a layer inline in the Layers palette (a completely humble change, one that saved literally zero clicks, but one that just felt totally right).
    What makes this feature feel right is that it’s more direct which is what good GUIs are all about.

  • Mark Thomas — 10:43 PM on April 22, 2009

    Nobody wants a behemoth, but what would be useful is:
    • A new app called Adobe Studio
    • A new, unified document format called .adobe
    The .adobe document format would really be a container for existing Adobe document formats such as .pdf and .psd as well as .png, .tif, .mov, .flv etc. Documents in Adobe Studio would reside in layers (so you could, for instance, multiply a .psd over a .pdf and vice versa). It would be sort of like Lightroom, but nice looking and with the ability to combine and composite files, and to edit them in place by calling up tools from the CS apps. There would be a single-row tool panel flush against the left edge of the screen (and clickable at the very screen edge), plus a layers panel against the right edge of the screen. Along the bottom of the screen you’d have thumbnails representing your files, each one inherently a layer but not active as a layer until double-clicked (at which point it would add itself to the layers panel).
    Individual CS apps would still function as they do now as standalone apps, but would also present their tools in the Studio whenever a relevant layer was selected for editing.
    Studio would not be a big bloated super app. It would be a small, fast compositor and file browser with its own document type. To extract a layer from Studio, you could drag and drop it to the Desktop. Drag and drop a vector layer to the desktop, and it becomes a .ai file. Drag and drop an image layer, and it becomes a .psd.
    Easy! ;)

  • Mark Thomas — 10:50 PM on April 22, 2009

    In fact, I bet it would be possible to create a working mockup of Adobe Studio using AIR in a week.
    [Oh, one can mock up anything. People always suspected that Copland was an elaborate Director piece! –J.]
    And I say this being no fan of AIR for the way it disrespects and bastardizes its host OS.
    [AIR doesn’t disrespect or bastardize anything. It simply doesn’t force you to make your app look & behave a particular way. Whether you attach more value to consistency between platforms or to consistency between apps on one platform is up to you. (Personally I feel both are important, and one needs to make the call case-by-case.) –J.]
    Nevertheless, I’d like to see somebody do it. If done well, it could actually win me over to AIR and that’s saying something.

  • Mark Thomas — 1:14 AM on April 23, 2009

    “Baby steps, Elle.”
    [Nice reference. :-) –J.]

    Pretty sure it’s Small moves.
    [The line above is actually a mash-up of What About Bob and Contact–and the character in the latter was named “Ellie.” Still and all, I liked the reference. –J.]

  • Marky — 8:54 AM on April 23, 2009

    What frustrates me – people don’t realise how much of this implemented. “I want/need to handle some vectors in my PSD?” you can, vector capabilities in Photoshop are much more advanced than most people realise, and with a bit of layering, and grouping you can achieve similar things to those achievable in Illustrator – except the screen redraw is faster and to be completely honest, in some ways in terms of efficiency its better impemented. That’s why most web designers and illustrators use Photoshop as their first tool, NOT illustrator.
    Also Smart Objects, the simple pressing of command S in one application allows you to see those changes update in the other.
    On the subject of the much underused Smart Object functionality – As a suggestion, perhaps an ‘Update and switch’ key or interface button – This would update the Smart Object and switch to the other App, or document instantly. It would be an addition which would help people to understand whats going on.
    Perhaps Adobe should concentrate more on training existing users rather than ruining an already excellent and phenomenally powerful application, to make it more obvious to lazy folks.

  • Norbert — 8:58 AM on April 23, 2009

    Hi there,
    just a few thoughts, maybe double to some already mentioned.
    I like the idea of one small core application, carrying small modules (paint brush, text editor, effects …).
    But I can‘t image how this should work in reality and which real use I will get from this. How may it improve my work? Just by the applications starting faster?
    Right now I‘m able to Alt-Click an image in Indesign and it opens in Photoshop/Illustrator. Mostly PS is already open. I just have to wait for the FILE to open. This time will be (nearly) the same with a „Grand Unified Suite“- (beside faster computers). So there will be no time saving.
    But I would like to see changes I made in Photoshop immediatly in my open Indesign document. Not necesseraly in the closed ones. I need the chance to see maybe next week, if „someone“ – maybe not me – has changed something. So the „window sharing“ of the apps may be a good idea.
    And I very-very-very agree to Dru Kepple: „I would love love love love it if all apps had the same color picker, type panel, paragraph panel…etc.“ But they don‘t have to sit in only one application. They just have to greet me from all of them in the same way.
    What about a „Small Grand Unified Suite“: I‘m wondering in fact why there must be at least TWO image applications – one for pixel based pictures, one for vectors. Of course I know the technical difference between both, but for an artist there is none. In the end they are just pictures, aren‘t they? So in the first step just try „marrying“ Photoshop and Illustrator. Maybe with a layer, or better „container“ for each kind of image. The children of this marriage are PDF files. A great Step!
    Best wishes

  • JGarrido — 10:18 AM on April 23, 2009

    Haven’t read the comments, but I move to make ALL software modular, and tie that into the pricing, so you only order and pay for the features you use.
    If a particular application has a killer feature that I would hate to have to do without, but also has a ton of other features that I’ll just never use, it’s frustrating to not be able to justify the insanely high price tag for that *one* (or maybe two) killer feature(s). Between the high price, and the large footprint and performance strain, most times I have to decline.

  • Jake Hawkes — 10:30 PM on April 23, 2009

    When you say “Adobe already shares content in it’s video apps” by that you mean that Adobe intends on sharing working at some point down the road…Current XML linking via Dynamic Link from PP CS4 to AE almost lost me my whole movie. Dynamic linking and file bloat are huge concerns for me with Premier at the moment. I just finished a 45 min film that used everything Adobe had and so much more and it was single app/asset and then render as usual. Don’t get me wrong PP has come a long way as has Flash and AE but Dynamic Linking doesn’t work reliably! Also Adobe support blows!

  • Norbert — 12:49 AM on April 24, 2009

    I’d like to edit my last post:
    Always a PDF from Photoshop+Illustrator is a stupid idea. There would be too much overhead.
    But maybe the .ai format can “die”, then every image have to be opened by Photoshop.

  • Greg Law — 3:57 PM on April 24, 2009

    John – I like your attitude. A vision is necessary to create a road map of where you (and we) are going. It takes work to create a vision, and surely you are willing to do the work.
    [Thanks, Greg. I really appreciate the words of encouragement. –J.]

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