It Can Always Be Better

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Photoshop's Fall: Deciphering the Adobe Code


I never thought it would happen. Not this soon. Yet, like all the great empires of yore, Photoshop—and it’s parent Adobe Systems Incorporated—is not immune to the irresistible intoxication of hubris.

With the release of Adobe Photoshop CS4, the backbone of Photoshop has been compromised. Specifically, the workflow for millions of users has been completely usurped with the removal and introduction of some new “features.”
I never thought it would happen. Not this soon. Yet, like all the great empires of yore, Photoshop—and it’s parent Adobe Systems Incorporated—is not immune to the irresistible intoxication of hubris.

With the release of Adobe Photoshop CS4, the backbone of Photoshop has been compromised. Specifically, the workflow for millions of users has been completely usurped with the removal and introduction of some new “features.”

The first and most tragic change to the program is the loss of Adjustment dialog boxes. Whether you use Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation, Selective Color, Black & White or the other handful of functions, you will be forced to use a tiny, fixed-size Adjustment Panel (essentially a palette).



I object to this Adjustments Panel firstly because it is at a fixed size, with very tiny sliders and smaller buttons. There are more strange symbols and glyphs which seem to have the same function as pre-CS4 dialog boxes. The Hue/Saturation version of this panel is worse.



Although you can still access Adjustment Layers through the menu and Layer Palette/Panel, the new Adjustment Panel contains a puzzling array of unlabeled icons. I call the icons “The Adobe Code,” as a nod to popular literature about ancient Egyptian and Mayan petroglyphs.

The replacement of cmd-keys for channel changing within Channels and the Adjustment Panel was the second most tragic alteration. After over a decade of use, Adobe changes the keyboard shortcuts to switch channels in the Channels Panel/Palette to make its use easier?

There’s also the unhelpful “Help” function (which is completely web-based). Try figuring out how to change certain preferences like the “Flick Panning”—if you can figure out what it is. Then try looking up “GPU” and behold the nebulous results for yourself.

The “Masks Panel” is basically useless as you cannot select masks within it for detailed modifications.

To be fair, there are some “fixes” for these deformations to Photoshop using quasi-third-party plugins and Adobe Configurator files. However, these things require some degree of programming work, time and tolerance of losing other normal functions. They are also in development and by no means comprehensive.

In other words, when you buy Photoshop CS4, you are like the shopper who buys a DVD player which only plays movies in a completely different format or language which you don’t understand. So you complain and they tell you to use this gadget to “fix” it. However, you must install it yourself. Here’s a screwdriver and soldering iron. Good luck.

This is bad customer service. I don’t treat my customers like this (and I certainly couldn’t get away with it for long). I’ve heard from Beta users who said the changes I mentioned were very controversial. In fact, I’ve been growing in frustration with Adobe since they started the whole “CS” (Creative Suite) marketing scheme. It almost seems like they release upgrades for the sake of upgrading—not serving customers according to their needs.

Adobe should have learned from QuarkXPress: Software pirates, pencil-pushers and shareholder value be damned. Customers are #1.

Assuming Photoshop will never go back to pre-CS4 dialog boxes, I have concluded that my business has been “jacked-up” by Adobe. Unless there is an easy fix for the Adjustment Panel interface, I will prepare to find a reliable alternative from another company when my old CS3 becomes incompatible with my system. Maybe Gimp? Maybe Paintshop Pro will create a Macintosh version? Not the prettiest options. Yet they are viable. Moreover, I will soberly reflect on the possibility that I, the owner of this humble studio, may be obsolete and will need to hire more help and do less retouching myself. As a believer of Divine Providence in all affairs, I might also submit to the possibility that this Photoshop fiasco will force me to grow my business to the degree in which I direct other retouchers who are comfortable with the new interface. Either result is positive. Neither one will be used as an excuse to underperform or allow our customer service to deteriorate.

Thank you Adobe for making me strive harder to build a multi-million dollar firm with happy customers and empowering your competitors to create a better product.

Regardless of what anyone says or writes about Photoshop CS4, be sure to download the free trial from www.adobe.com before you spend any money on it. I certainly regret not doing so myself!

If you want to attempt to put PSCS3 functionality into CS4, I have uploaded a collection of plug-ins and hacks which might help (courtesy of various other Photoshop users who were generous enough to share them). I’m still trying to get it right on my system. Download and install at your own risk!

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