Photoshop History

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Why bother with the history of PS? Why bother with the history of anything for that matter?

Consider bricklaying and architecture. Bricklaying is done (roughly) the same way now as it has always been done, but architecture is constantly changing. That is because it is a cultural phenomena: shaped by the context that it is current to. It makes sense for the architect to know something about the currents of change within this context so he can place his own work in the large picture of that change.

Photoshop is also a cultural phenomena. It has the potential to have as much effect upon the artist as photography did. It (and a handful of other graphics apps) has already changed the way our high streets look, making fancy graphics effects not only available to the graphic designer but easily and cheaply available to everyone.

This monumental program did not spontaneously generate, it evolved in the complex and sometimes whimsical ecosystem of software development.

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This was the man who started it all: Thomas Knoll. The son of a university lecturer with whom he shared an interest in photography and computers.

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As a student he was frustrated by his computer’s lack of ability to display grey scale images (it could only do plain black and white) so he started work on writing some code that could help him. Apparently he did this whilst lying on his sofa with his cats sitting on his chest.

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His brother John was of a similar cast (without the cats). He was keen on photography and technology but he also had an abiding interest in movie special effects, having become hooked on them after seeing Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

As a boy he sought out a job at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM: George Lucas's special effects house) where he still works. He even managed, years later, to sneak a guest appearance in ‘Revenge of the Sith’ (on which he worked as visual effects supervisor). Whilst on vacation he visited his brother and quickly became interested in his work.

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Together they tidied up the code and pulled from it a little program they called ‘Display’. It’s one and only job was to display several varieties of file types.

However, all file types came with different ideas of how the tones and colors of an image should be displayed and it was whilst looking at such a file that John thought that it needed a bit of a tone (Gamma) adjustment. The changes to the program that this necessitated brought about it’s first change in nature: it had moved from just viewing an image into being able to edit it.

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This necessitated a name change. Display was now ‘ImagePro’. However the discovery that ImagePro was already taken as a trademark meant that they had to come up with another name. It was whilst they were demonstrating it’s capabilities to a group of people that someone (no one remembers who) suggested PhotoShop (notice the upper case ‘S’).

Showing it to several companies inside silicon valley they eventually got a scanner firm called BarneyScan interested. Through them they licensed the software for distribution3 as something called Barneyscan XP and sold about 200 copies.

But the brothers were still showing it to people hoping for a better deal. They left a copy behind at Apple (who loved it) and the engineers there promptly copied the program and sent it to their friends who sent it to their friends who (etc). This copy can now be found on the web easily enough.

Eventually they got round to showing it to Adobe (or Adobe Systems as it then was). Adobe at the time was big in the font world. In those days the idea that you could print something in a way that it would appear the same as how it looked on the screen was nothing short of a miracle, and Adobe was the miracle house. They were blown away by the program and shook hands on a distribution deal.

Adobe promptly set about looking for a better name for the thing but, after much trying, gave up (the best they could do was to lowercase the ‘s’).

Being a license deal and not an outright sale the brothers continued to own PS and worked on it constantly. However, they were now working as part of a larger team whose ideas didn’t always gel with their own. Adobe (never exactly a whimsical company) saw the thing as a serious program whereas John wanted to have some fun with it. It is to serve this need that the plugin architecture was born. A playground for some of John’s more whacky ideas it remains the easy favorite of many a PS beginner.

Thomas’s desire was to perfect the code, and he would have much preferred to have consolidated what was already there than accommodate Adobe engineers feature requests. John was one of the few people who could persuade him to expand the code base.

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Finally, in Feb 1990, Photoshop 1 was released. But 1990 is a long time ago in software years and a lot has happened since then. As a piece of software it has been under constant development not only by it’s team of developers but it’s beta testers, the public who use it (and are always calling for particular new features) and the industries who depend upon it. No longer the product of one man and his cat it’s feature set tries hard to please everyone. These were the major milestones:

Photoshop timeline

Major features added
2 1991 Vectors of any kind were not a feature of the first PS. In version 2 paths made their first appearance. This addition marked the beginning of a slow integration of the bitmap with the Vector.
3 1994 A major upgrade. For the first time PS had the ability to separate documents onto different layers. This move changed PS from being a simple photo correction tool into a compositor, and all that that implied. However, PS was not the first app to have this ability. That accolade almost certainly goes to LivePicture: an early competitor in the picture editing field.

Tabbed pallets also made their first appearance. Adobe were not the first to use tabs either, but that didn’t stop them from suing Macromedia when they tried to implement them.

4 1996 Non destructive editing was growing to be one of the primary philosophies underpinning PS development. To support this Adjustment Layers were introduced.
5 1998 More non destructive editing with multiple undo (previously you could only undo one step). More vector integration with editable type (previous to that the type tool converted type to bitmap format). The integration of Color Management was a big hit for those in the publishing world.
5.5 1999 Though Photoshops only ‘point’ release it was quite a major upgrade. ImageReady was now bundled with (and integrated with) PS. This was a big hit for web designers. Vector Shapes added as was the extract tool (an attractive but not often useful masking tool).
6 2000 Liquify Filter (fun) and the contextual menu bar (useful). Also Print With Preview.
PSE1 2001 Adobe Elements was first introduced. Previous to that there was something called Photoshop Learning Edition (LE) which was just PS with a bunch of things removed. Despite this PS is still used by novices barely touching one hundredth of it’s power.
7 2002 Via an optional plug in Camera RAW was now supported. Digital photographers (and traditional photographers who had just converted) loved this upgrade. The paintbrush engine was overhauled. Previous to this the brushes were very primative. To help them they brought over the guy that did the brushes for Corel’s Painter.
CS 2003 It’s name change (CS short for creative suite) signified a strategy on Adobe’s part to unify the whole of their family of applications. To accompany this they went about selling them a lot cheaper than their rivals (Macromedia in the web world and Quark in the publishing world). Also, the Shadow Highlight command. A sometimes very useful tool for repairing photos.
CS2 2005 Support for HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging. HDR is a technology that supports the capture of as high a range of tones and colors as exist in the real (human) world. Has made a big impact in the 3d world where people use it for supplying light to a scene.

Also added: a range of other new things, some useful (the warp tool) some consumer led (red eye correction tool). Significantly, PS has just been made scriptable. many industries will love this, also it might mean the emergence of third party programs.

CS3 2007 The Quick Select tool added. This is an improved version of the Magic Wand selection tool and works in a semi-intelligent and adaptive manner. Other stuff added but here is where the glory starts to fade.
CS4 2008 Yawn.
CS5 2010 Some stuff that sounds cool (e.g. Mixer Brush, Content Aware Scaling etc) but you can easily live without. Plus some stuff that actually is cool (e.g. the Puppet Warp)