March 07, 2011

A candid look at Photoshop CS5 development

From planning to chaos (“We’re screwed”) to literal tears of joy, Photoshop team members talk about the single toughest cycle in the app’s long history. Just watching it is an emotional roller coaster for me, bringing back first heartburn & then the great pride and gratitude I have to have been associated with this team. I think you’ll find it time well spent.

My own minor footnotes:

  • Having our names on the splash screen is a big deal to the team, going way back. After my name first appeared there, my mom carried a printout for years until it finally disintegrated in the depths of her purse.
  • Many of the engineers in the video have long associations with Apple, some having worked there. Russell Williams, who talks about Carbon vs. Cocoa, was a Mac OS system architect before joining Adobe.
  • At one point during conversion, the splash screen was literally drawing upside down. You can’t make these things up.
  • Designer Neven Mrgan got after Photoshop for its disparate range of UI sliders. That’s one of the things we intended to rectify via the too-ambitious “AHOD” process described in the video. Such controls include a great deal of subtle, custom behavior upon which customers depend, and it just wasn’t feasible to swap them all out in one release.
  • In case you’re wondering, AHOD wasn’t a rewrite effort that would make Photoshop magically twice as fast, etc. Rather, it was aimed at architectural changes that would make the codebase more efficient to develop. Such work remains underway, just not in a do-or-die, one-cycle shot.
  • Posted by John Nack at 3:27 PM on March 07, 2011


  • Jeff Bernstein — 3:44 PM on March 07, 2011

    Yes, you guys really did rock the house on the conversion and I want to thank you. With that behind you, I am hoping we’ll see the return of many of the things that had to be left out like…

    • Bring back the plug-ins such as Video Capture and Contact Sheet
    • Make all of the built-in functions work with > 8-bit mode.
    • Accelerate Open/Save of PSD/PSB files.

    Is that so wrong?

    [*Believe me*, no one is hungrier to get out of the boiler room & back to customer-facing improvements than the Photoshop team. I can’t speak on their behalf about any specific improvements planned, but I can say that it’s not all that helpful to say “make everything work in 16-bit,” etc. I mean, do you really care about a 16-bit Plastic Wrap, and if so, why? It’s much more helpful to be specific about what you need. –J.]

    • Jeff Bernstein — 10:07 AM on March 11, 2011

      Given how sparse the support for >8-bit is in the app, can we at least agree, it has a long way to go? If you would like, I can create a poll to ask all our clients which functions need >8-bit in order to make it so they can flawlessly move to those modes.

      [Sure, Jeff–that would be helpful. The point is, we don’t want to do work just for appearance’s sake. We need to spend time working on features people would actually use, and the Venn diagram overlap between “people who care about working in 16-bit” and “people who care about applying Plastic Wrap et al.” is likely pretty tiny. –J.]

  • Ken — 4:01 PM on March 07, 2011


    I wanted thank you and the “team” for the visual and verbal transparency about PhotoshopCS5.

    Refreshing I say. As a friend said to me, “Ken, the best we get is human, but offer no sacrifice for excellence”.

    Ken in Kentucky

  • Patrick :aMontagne — 4:35 PM on March 07, 2011

    Without all of you, I couldn’t do what I do, and I LOVE my work. Thanks for all of your hard work. It is appreciated.

  • Tom Rohde — 5:10 PM on March 07, 2011

    Uhm, John, I LURVE Photoshop (still on CS3 cause can’t afford higher), but tell me: For how long now has Apple propagated Cocoa and deprecated Carbon? Ten years?

    [No doubt, but our strategy was to tackle work based on its benefit to customers. Migrating from old APIs like QuickDraw to something modern like Quartz has clear, direct benefits for customers, so we put that work ahead of transitioning to Cocoa. Cocoa itself doesn’t make your app faster, more beautiful, etc. I’ve kind of talked this one to death in the comments on our original “no 64-bit Mac CS4” news, and for a third-party perspective, you can read what John Gruber has written explaining how Cocoa is “not magic pixie dust.” Finder was Carbon until Snow Leopard, and iTunes remains a Carbon app.

    Oh, and one last thing: Photoshop, After Effects, and Premiere Pro have all beaten Final Cut Pro in migrating from Carbon to Cocoa & to 64-bit by nearly a year now. (Yes, but it’s always “Adobe is dragging its feet…”) –J.]

  • Philipp — 5:13 PM on March 07, 2011

    Hey John,

    Awesome video! Quick question: towards the end of the video you’ve got a quick splash to white to transition between two segments with the same person. It’s not just a quick fade in and out though. It’s more of a “beaming” reveal. How did you guys do that? ;)

    [I’m afraid I have no idea. Maybe someone from the production team will read this & chime in. –J.]

    • Jeff Kosmicki — 8:10 AM on March 09, 2011

      I was the editor on the video. The transition was a way to cover a “jump cut” and it happens two or three times in the video. The effect was done very simply by dissolving to a pale yellow solid then back out. I used an “add” blending mode (know as “linear dodge” in Photoshop) on the solid. The whole transition takes 12 frames or a half-second (the video is 23.976fps). I edited the video using 32bpc color, so there is a subtle glowish look in the transition that can’t be achieved in standard 8bpc.
      The video was edited using Production Studio CS5.

      [Thanks, Jeff! And thanks for the really nice production. –J.]

  • Mark — 5:14 PM on March 07, 2011

    >custom behavior upon which customers depend

    That’s cool, to keep a focus on your customers. But, just to be contrary, I’ll point out that you’ve got to keep an eye on technology and design, too.

    [Absolutely, but “God is in the details,” and I’m talking about things like being able to put focus on a text field, then use the up arrow to nudge values upwards, use Shift-arrow to go up in increments of 10, use scrubby sliders (with or without modifiers) to move values at various rates, etc. All that little stuff is incredibly important when people use it all day. Even a seemingly simple case like the Export JPEG dialog box involves a slider, a text box, and a popup menu having their behaviors linked together. The last thing customers want is to upgrade & lose polish. Even improvements like the changes to adjustments can cause a lot of waves. –J.]

    At one time Wang Laboratories had a VAST customer base and absolutely owned their market. But Wang focused on their ESTABLISHED design and their ESTABLISHED customers and, soon enough, the world passed them by and then they had nothing. It’s a weird dynamic and I don’t want to endorse a Steve Jobs perspective, but, somehow, you can’t just stay in the game, you have to stay ahead of the game. Somehow.

  • Trevor Morris — 5:29 PM on March 07, 2011

    What a great video! A refreshingly honest and candid glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes. So great to put faces (and personalities) to the names in the splash screen. I already thought CS5 was one of the most ambitious releases ever, but this makes me appreciate the effort even more. Congrats.

  • Andrew Meit — 6:35 PM on March 07, 2011

    Thanks for the inside scoop video; thanks PS team for the grueling effort. My only pet peeve: You gotta give credit to the in-house alpha testers. I know they went through hell too! ;-) Testers are not monkeys they are just as creative and tech savvy as the coders. :-) I would love to see a follow up video for testers too!!

    [Yes, quite right! I actually was a beta, then alpha, tester for Adobe prior to working here. I guess my detailed bellyaching proved too much for the team, so I was sentenced to come aboard & watch the sausage-making close-up. :-) –J.]

  • Eric — 7:10 PM on March 07, 2011

    That’s a great video. And CS5 is by far my favorite version of Photoshop. There’s one bug that’s driving me nuts, but I push through it and smile because it’s so good in every other way.

    And thanks for keeping Applescript support. It’s saved me hundreds if not thousands of hours of mind-numbing image conversions in the past year. I would have massive RSI if I’d had to do it manually!

  • Matt Dial — 7:40 PM on March 07, 2011

    Thanks for linking this up. Really cool to “meet” the folks behind those names. For any of you reading this — you are rock stars in my book!

    Being a Photoshop user from the early 90’s, it is a product that I would be proud to give my heart and soul to. Photoshop CS5 is the greatest version of the product in its history.

    — Matt Dial

  • ahoeben — 12:57 AM on March 08, 2011

    Congratulations on getting this story out. CS5 is an awesome release indeed.

    I have got to say that the (animated) PS CS5 splash at the start of the video is badass (all said and done about the CS5 branding)

  • Shangara — 5:38 AM on March 08, 2011

    It’s great to put faces to names. The features I personally find most useful are:

    1. Content-aware Fill (Shift+F5 is now an auto reflex!)

    2. Lens Profiles. Correcting chromatic aberration used to waste an enormous amount of time, not anymore

    3. Double-click to set a slider to zero (default)

    4. Convert to 8-bits and save as JPEG

    Little refinements do add up during a session.

  • Greg Geisler — 12:57 PM on March 08, 2011

    Intense and moving! Thanks for this. Photoshop rocked my world like an earthquake in 1989 and flung me onto an entirely different life path that I would not have otherwise traveled. I am sure it has had the same impact on millions of other people. Kudos to the team!

  • Rosyna — 5:24 AM on March 09, 2011

    First, Going 64-bit native does *not* allow you to work with larger files on Mac OS X.

    [Perhaps not exactly, but it allows them to fit into app RAM, and that makes working with them faster. –J.]

    Second, I remember that moment at WWDC so well. Everyone in that room freaked the hell out. Seriously, our collective hearts stopped beating at once. There was no one in the room to direct the anger, the hurt, the feeling of betrayal to.

    They should have hooked everyone up to an Ativan drip at the beginning of that WWDC session.

    • alex kent — 5:39 AM on March 09, 2011

      hey Rosyna (of Unsanity ?),

      would you mind elaborating on why 64-bit doesn’t allow you to work on bigger files?
      it certainly appears to allow Ps to use more RAM and I can work radically faster on bigger files. are you just being pedantic and saying that 64-bitness doesn’t change the size of file you can access in terms of read/write to the disk ?

      • Rosyna — 7:12 AM on March 09, 2011

        Because Mac OS X has been able to work with 64-bit file sizes and more than 4GB ram for a very long time. (It does however apply to Windows).

        Second, it’s hard to determine if the speed up is due to memory access or the larger amount of registers.

        [Here’s more info on the subject of Photoshop & registers. –J.]

        But PS uses its own virtual memory system (or did, I think it was changed?) so any Mac OS X specific unrelateds are lost.

  • Rosyna — 5:35 AM on March 09, 2011

    Ok, it seems I am familiar with a lot of people in that video. It also seems like the comments here can’t adequately show the sense of connection I had/have with everyone in that video on a personal level due to that WWDC event.

    (In reply to Tom Rohde) But, I’m sorry, Adobe may be at fault for some bad technology decisions or timing decisions in other areas, but the Carbon->Cocoa switch was not one of them. Carbon was not deprecated then and is not deprecated now which is what made it so impossible to find someone to scream at during the end of that WWDC session.

    On an mostly-unrelated note, how do I get some “sit-down” time with someone from Adobe?

    • Chris Cox — 11:13 AM on March 09, 2011

      Rosyna – depends on what you want to talk about (ie: do we need an NDA?). You could contact John or other product managers for marketing related stuff, or just email any of us engineers if you want to talk low level stuff that doesn’t need an NDA.

  • Julia — 1:48 PM on March 09, 2011

    Chris and/or John,

    Can someone answer some questions about DNG for me and my agency? Here are a list of topics:

    -File transmission capabilities using FTP and FFT
    -File size reduction ratio and examples
    -SDK update
    -JPEG to DNG improvements/development

    Please email offline of this blog, if possible. Thank you.


  • Hendrik — 12:55 AM on March 11, 2011

    Great video. Wow, that sounds pretty stressful!

    I realize that this video focuses on the core Photoshop team only, but I think it still would have been nice to give explicit shout outs to the individual researchers inside and outside Adobe who actually came up with those killer features (like the content aware fill or the brush simulation). Because it certainly sounds like they too played a pretty significant role in saving the day.

    [That’s a great idea, and your suggestion has gotten a couple of folks talking. –J.]

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