Columns for OSOpinion.com

Photoshop: Only competition
can move Adobe's 500-pound gorilla
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The Macintosh became a powerful tool for graphics professionals shortly after its birth, and one of Apple's most faithful companions in this role has been Adobe. Yet Apple continues to struggle getting key players like Adobe to produce native software for the new operating system. At the MacWorld Expo in New York, Apple showcased ten software titles for Mac OS X, hoping the peer pressure would compel developers to start making their software run natively on the new OS.

Adobe was the first and most prominent player on stage, demonstrating versions of GoLive, Illustrator, and InDesign running under Mac OS X. While it is encouraging to see Adobe making an effort, it is disappointing that the software giant has no release dates for its forthcoming software. Even more troubling is the absence of Adobe's most popular program, Photoshop—the cornerstone of graphic design software.

The Race is On

Many developers, Adobe in particular, seem only to have started working on software for Mac OS X. This is likely because for years Mac OS X was nothing more than an occasional demonstration Apple gave with the promise that it would be released within six months. Now that it has been on the shelves since March, developers have to take Apple's new OS seriously.

As developers begin working to "carbonize" their software for Mac OS X, those who lag behind are beginning to feel the competitive heat. The time is ripe for speedy developers to snatch marketshare away from their slower adversaries by putting native software on the shelves first. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said it best at the worldwide developer conference in May. "The impatience for Mac OS X will surpass brand loyalty," he said. "The person who gets the native apps out first will win."

Heated Competition

This competitive heat is the reason Adobe is now cooking up native versions of Illustrator, GoLive, and InDesign while leaving Photoshop on the back burner.

Illustrator, for example, has fallen behind its fiercest competitor, Macromedia Freehand. Macromedia introduced a native version of its vector graphics program back in April, forcing Adobe to play catch-up to release a native version of Illustrator before loyal users jump ship. Matching tit for tat, Adobe expects a carbon version of GoLive will loosen the grip Macromedia Dreamweaver has on the web development market, reported to be around 70% in the year 2000.

Adobe also seeks to pull the rug out from under QuarkXPress with a native version of InDesign. Quark's crown jewel continues to be the page layout program of choice—InDesign was not the "Quark-killer" Adobe had hoped for. Naturally, Quark is working on a carbon version of QuarkXPress, but the publishing titan has been even slower than Adobe. Now seems the ideal time for Adobe to take a bite out of Quark's marketshare.

Holding Apple Back

But where does a 500-pound gorilla like Photoshop sit? Anywhere it wants, of course. Adobe feels safe leaving Photoshop on the Classic shelf while working on Illustrator, GoLive, and InDesign because Photoshop faces no significant competition from other developers. Even if Adobe never makes Photoshop run natively on Mac OS X, few would abandon the program altogether because few graphics professionals can do without it.

This is hurting the migration effort to Mac OS X because users who rely on Photoshop will continue to use Mac OS 9 until the overbearing beast goes native. Jerry Jenner, a freelance graphic designer quoted in Wired, echoed the sentiment of many when he said, "I'd love to play with this OS X puppy, but I'm going to stick with the old dog until Adobe releases an OS X version of Photoshop."

Meet Photozilla

Apple's new operating system will not succeed without a choice selection of native software, and in order for Mac OS X to appeal to graphics professionals, Photoshop must be one of these.

Or does it? Adobe is wagering that native versions of GoLive and InDesign will lure users away from Dreamweaver and QuarkXPress. Why then couldn't a graphics program running natively on Mac OS X overtake the mighty Photoshop?

Now is the perfect time for an aspiring developer to create an alternative to Photoshop that can both run on Mac OS X and meet the needs of graphics professionals. There are many viable candidates—a beefed up version of GraphicConverter, a properly ported version of The GIMP, or even a carbonized version of Macromedia's long-forgotten xRes could do the job.

The stage is set for a new challenger enter the spotlight—a Godzilla to topple Adobe's King Kong. Only such a threat will compel Adobe to heave Photoshop back onto its feet and get it moving once again.


Author's background: Matt Johnson is a fine arts student at Wayne State College in Nebraska who plans to graduate in December and enter the job market. He has been a Mac user for 17 years and enjoys creative writing, drawing cartoons, and adding content to his web site, Cornstalker.com.