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Adobe's Roadmap to Heftier Photoshop Bypasses Mac Land

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 4, 2008 3:43 PM PT

In a heads-up effort that has resulted in a storm of blame, frustration and sometimes outright anger, Adobe's Senior Product Manager for Photoshop John Nack revealed this week on an official Adobe blog that the next version of the product, Photoshop Creative Suite 4 (CS4), will be available in a 64-bit version only for Windows. Mac OS X users will likely have to wait for CS5 -- or longer -- to have the chance to move beyond a 32-bit version.

Adobe's Roadmap to Heftier Photoshop Bypasses Mac Land

Die-hard Mac users, of course, were less than thrilled, and Nack's explanations were met with a mixture of understanding and disdain. At the heart of the matter are millions of lines of code that must be converted in a mammoth project -- and the issue of whether Adobe wasn't paying attention to Apple ... or was simply dragging its feet.

64 Bits? Who Cares?

So what does 64-bit computing really mean to users, anyway?

"In a nutshell, it lets an application address very large amounts of memory -- specifically, more than 4 gigabytes. This is great for pro photographers with large collections of high-res images," Nack noted on his blog.

What it doesn't do, he added, is make applications run twice as fast as 32-bit applications -- the shift from 32-bit to 64-bit, Nack said, only tends to speed up general application performance in the range of 8 to 12 percent.

Adobe's Lightroom 2.0 beta already runs in 64-bit-native mode on Macs with Intel processors on OS X 10.5.x -- but Lightroom isn't nearly as complex as Adobe's Photoshop.

While Adobe will ship the next version of Photoshop as a 64-bit-native for Windows (only for 64-bit OS versions), the real difference will come only when manipulating extremely large files. "For example, opening a 3.75 gigapixel image on a 4-core machine with 32GB RAM (random access memory) is about 10x faster," Nack noted.

The Blame Game

The details get really hairy here, and it's difficult to sort out all the levels of gray, but the gist of the issue is whether Apple provided enough time and clarity in its supported development platforms for Adobe to make the necessary code conversions. Adobe is basically saying that Apple does what Apple needs to do, and by shifting direction from Carbon to Cocoa, Adobe got left holding the bag on Carbon-focused development when what it really needs to be working on is Cocoa-based development. Carbon and Cocoa, by the way, are application programming interfaces (APIs) and frameworks designed to let developers build applications so that they will run on Mac OS X.

On one hand, Apple was saying it would support Carbon, and on the other hand, it was saying the Cocoa was the future. The clarity of Apple's message is up in the air. To some developers, it was clear that Carbon was a stop-gap. Adobe, they say, should have noticed that well before the Apple developer conference in June of last year -- which is when Nack noted that Adobe got the news Carbon was ditched from Apple's 64-bit roadmap.

Still others realize that several years ago -- when Adobe perhaps should have been working on its 64-bit conversion for the Mac -- the future of Apple wasn't particularly clear, despite the large number of Apple-using creative professionals who use Photoshop. Adobe would have had to have been willing to embark on a lengthy and difficult process in the midst of a great level of doubt as to Apple's future.

Fast forward to the the present, and the Apple world is wildly successful. Apple Macs are quickly gaining on PCs in market share, so the rocky road surrounding Apple several years ago has been largely forgotten.

One User's Opinion

Adobe didn't respond to requests for additional detail, but Nack's blog post is packed with information, including responses to many user comments. For die-hard Photoshop users, frankly, it's a must-read post. For most everyone else, here's some real-world perspective from a professional photographer and graphic artist David Dugan.

"Obviously, the biggest advantage to going 64-bit is being able to address a much larger memory space without having to resort to virtual memory. As John Nack has suggested, a single image needing more than 4 GB of RAM would have to be in the gigapixel range, and most mortal human beings are not working with images of that size," Dugan told MacNewsWorld.

It's unclear, he noted, how much performance boost a 64-bit version would give to the many Photoshop users who often work with 10 or 20 large -- though not extremely large -- images at the same time.

Despite not being able to get a 64-bit version Photoshop for Mac any time soon, Dugan said it's "not bloody likely" he'll switch to a PC. "And I do not believe any of the kooky theories that this is somehow Adobe's plan to move people off the Mac. Adobe probably would have loved the idea of a Windows-only development cycle in 1997, but those days are long behind us," he added.

Megapixels and Gigapixels

"The people out there who are dealing with gigapixel images are mostly in the scientific and medical imaging community, I would imagine, which is traditionally a very strong market for Apple. For that type of work, 64-bit will be a crucial and significant improvement to their workflow, so yes, they will have no choice but to seriously consider moving to Windows for some percentage of their work," Dugan explained.

"When you're working with scientific and medical images, you're going to jump on whatever tools you need, and the cost of buying new hardware is inconsequential," he added, noting that while medical imaging is a fairly small community of users, Photoshop could be a tool that starts a slow trickle back to Windows.

There is also some worry that it may be a long time before Adobe offers a 64-bit Mac version.

"I do fear that Adobe will not have a 64-bit version of Photoshop for Mac by CS5. Not only did John Nack feel it was necessary to throw that little qualification into his forward-looking statement -- 'Our goal is to ship a 64-bit Mac version with Photoshop CS5, but we'll be better able to assess that goal as we get farther along in the development process' -- but if Adobe has felt no impetus until now to think about migrating their ancient code base from Carbon to Cocoa, what's to keep them from continuing to put it off further?" Dugan said.

Take It on the Chin

The Mac community at large seems to be taking this news on the chin, Dugan said, or even rushing to Adobe's defense. Apple, of course, has a reputation for being a closed and secretive company, so Adobe's rationalizations tend to seem reasonable enough.

"If the Mac community isn't going to pound on the gates and demand cross-platform parity, Adobe's not going to feel any pressure to do the difficult work that needs to be done -- and should have been in the works for years," Dugan noted.

"Personally, I am not going to switch to Windows, and I am not going to stop using the Adobe Creative Suite, and I will upgrade to CS4. But this is one more little thing from Adobe that makes me like them less and less with each passing year ... and look to alternative solutions wherever they arise. ... The love I used to have for Adobe and their products has dwindled to a dull ache."

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