Thursday, January 12, 2006

Lightroom, Photoshop and Adobe

Posted by Phil Aaronson at 11:05 PM

If you haven't read the Shadowland/Lightroom Development Story by Jeff Schewe yet, you should. There are a couple key passages in there I want to highlight. The first one is the opening paragraph:
The development of Adobe Lightroom, code named Shadowland, was not something Adobe started after Apple announced Aperture. The Shadowland project has been going on for years.
The emphasis here reads: Apple didn't think of this first. We both thought of it independently. I'm fine with that, because he's right, applications don't spring into being like Athena, from Zeus' head, fully grown, armed and armored. But what's been troubling me is a different question, that is, if it hadn't been for Apple's Aperture, would anyone have ever seen Lightroom outside of a few pro photographer pre-alpha users?

Jeff hinted at this same question in his article:
However their contention-that an application designed for pros could be a reality-was proven. In many respects, Aperture actually helped save Lightroom. It gave the dev team and all of Adobe a target to shoot at-and the engineers at Adobe are nothing if not competitive (as well as being pretty darn talented).
Lets also tick off some curious list items.

1. Lightroom was written in Cocoa, NeXT turned Mac OS X's development environment. Which is really to say, it's not a Windows application. David Young had to say in his Dissecting Lightroom article.
On the whole I'm very excited to see a big company like Adobe going with Cocoa for the implementation of what surely will be a major product in their portfolio. To me, Lightroom shows the rest of the world (read: not Cocoa programmers) a couple of things, such as that a) big companies can use Cocoa too! It's not just for one-man shops anymore and b) one can use Cocoa to make an interface be whatever you want to be, for better or for worse.
Or read another way, no other major software player outside of Apple ships Cocoa applications. Major software players, with very few exceptions either build for Windows, or they build with an eye for cross-platform Unix development or both. Correct me if I'm wrong here.

2. Then there's the use of the Lua scripting language. Which up until a week or so ago, I'm ashamed to admit, I had never even heard of. Gus Mueller of Flying Meat fame had this to say:
Holy Crap. 40% [Lua scripts]? Wow. That's nuts. I had heard it described as a Cocoa app, so I needed to download it to check it out.
Exactly. Holy Crap. That's nuts!

3. Finally I'm just going to come out and say it: Photoshop. Photoshop is Adobe's golden goose. Their cash cow. Precious few companies have the sheer hutzpah to so much as scratch their cash cow. And frankly Adobe doesn't have the hutzpah. We are talking about a company that still charges an arm and a leg for fonts they've had in their vaults since Adobe became Adobe. I know Guy Kawasaki seems to think all good intrapreneurs should kill their cash cows. But how often does this really happen? It's rare. Rare enough to make you stop and think.

And don't tell me Lightroom doesn't compete with Photoshop. Just like Aperture doesn't compete with Photoshop. Right.

Here's my guess at the story behind the story of the development of Lightroom. Originally it was Lightroom the research project. The prototype. And because it was a prototype Adobe management were fine with the OS X only Cocoa code base, the Lua scripting language and the dinner parties and research trips with photographers. These things play well with the cash cow, because nearly everyone at Adobe outside of the small development group probably saw Lightroom as a testbed for a few new features destined for another reason to upgrade to Photoshop XXIX SC.

But then came CoreImage and Aperture. And if I'm reading the tea leaves right, it scared a few people. And a Cocoa based, Lua scripting, cash cow threatening, free beta from Adobe no less was born. Fun, fun times. First Apple builds an Intel box, and now Adobe bends a few rules. Who would have thought?

[Update: 1/24/2007] since1968 has a nice interview with Mark Hamberg that validates a lot of the things I said above. I especially liked this quote,
And so we would go through discussions internally about “Well how many people are there like this? How big is this market? Maybe what we want to do is just add something on to Photoshop.” A variety of things like that.
Bingo. Exactly what I was saying.

  1. Shadowland/Lightroom Development Story by Jeff Schewe.
  2. Lua scripting language by Gus Mueller.
  3. Dissecting Lightroom by David Young.
  4. The Art of Intrapreneurship, by Guy Kawasaki via RSS.
  5. Lightroom, A First Look and Primer by Michael Reichmann
  6. Lightroom Beta download, Adobe/Macromedia.
  7. Panic On CoreImage.
  8. CoreImage, my original impression.
  9. Mark Hamberg Interview: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom,


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