Adobe Photoshop inventor Thomas Knoll spoke to the press on the 25th anniversary of the pic-mangling programme, which dominates the market for professional image processing.
The word "Photoshop" has passed into the English language, a fact which causes its creator some justifiable pride.
"When you are watching a TV or a movie, and they use Photoshop as a verb, I know Adobe legal doesn’t like that because of trademarks but it gives me a little thrill every time I hear it," he said.
There is a dark side to Photoshop, though, which is its capability for manipulating reality. Knoll said it is a "major concern".
Photoshop is a tool and like any tool it can be abused. A lot of stuff I’m not really happy with ... especially the body image issues that it creates for a lot of women. I would appreciate it if people back off on that. Another area of major concern on unethical uses of Photoshop is in the news business where you are actually deceiving people.
However in a lot of areas of photography those exact same things are very useful and creative, and add to the beauty in the world. It is a tool it can be abused, it can be used very well. It is largely on the ethics of the person doing it to make those choices.
Photoshop began as a personal project. Knoll's first effort, made with his brother John in 1988, was called Display, since that was all it did. Various image processing features were added, then its name became Photoshop, and the brothers sold the product to Adobe, who released it in February 1990.
At the time, getting images digitised was a challenge in itself, and getting them out was even harder. Doing a first print cost $2,000, explained Knoll. The initial market was not photographers, but graphic artists and pre-press professionals.
Knoll was also asked about Adobe’s move to subscription licensing. The latest version of Photoshop is now only available by subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, though an older version (Creative Suite 6) can still be bought outright.
“I was originally quite concerned about the pricing model, in particular for photographers using Photoshop,” he says. “When Photoshop came out in Creative Cloud, I don’t think enough attention was paid to the pricing model for a product aimed at photographers. I pushed pretty hard within Adobe to get the photography programme created which I’m actually very happy with now. You get Photoshop, Lightroom and Lightroom mobile all for a very low price. In the US it’s $10 a month."
Knoll says that the subscription model has beneficial side-effects. "It changes the incentive structure for the engineering team and the marketing team. Under the old model, where you would sell upgrades every two years, a lot of effort had to be gone into getting 'top five' features that would demo well.”
“Now it changes the incentive from creating flashy features that demo well but may not be all that useful, to trying to keep our existing subscribers happy,” he added. “We have an incentive to provide new features very quickly, to ship them as they are ready."
Future users of Photoshop are likely to make increasing use of cloud technology, for example to enable processor-intensive operations even on low-spec mobile devices, and such things only make sense with subscriptions that pay for the ongoing usage costs. So, like it or not, subscription is here to stay.
What about Knoll's appeal for people to "back off" on unethical use of the product? Don't hold your breath. ®