The future of Photoshop and the Lightroom Graphic User Interface

by George Mann


A few days ago John Nack posted an interesting story on his Adobe Blog. The title of which being, "Photoshop, as seen through Johnny Cash". The article compares the development of Photoshop over the last twenty years as being very similar to the story in the Johnny Cash song, One Piece at a Time. In the song Johnny Cash presents himself as a Cadillac assembly line worker who stole individual parts of a Cadillac over a period of twenty years and when he finally assembled it not all the parts fit together seamlessly and the car looked kind of funny but it ran well, like a Cadillac should.

The point of the story being that although Adobe Photoshop is a top class application and arguably performs better than any other competing graphics arts application, it is not very pretty and many think it is badly in need of a graphic user interface overhaul, as well as a judicious pruning of some fairly obviously obsolete functions. A possibility that he also hinted at is that Adobe may opt to produce various versions of Photoshop for different industries and professions, or that the application can be configured more easily and completely to suit the individual user.

What he goes to great pains to explain to his readers though, is that Adobe is not intending to revolutionize the Photoshop experience, but rather to continue down the well trodden evolutionary path of Adobe Photoshop user interface and feature development and not throw out anything that could be of possible use to anyone. Kind of like getting married to a new wife every couple of years to keep up the appearance of vitality, but keeping all the old wives in the house because they are needed to take care of the children. In the process some of the rooms and joint family activities will inevitably end up getting pretty messy.

Oddly enough Photoshop Lightroom is not mentioned even once in this article. I say oddly because not long ago Adobe went to great pains, to make us aware of the fact that Lightroom is indeed a member of the Photoshop Family of applications. What that tells me is that Adobe is planning to go into two (or maybe even three) separate directions with the Photoshop Family.

The old Photoshop (or as I like to call it, Photoshop Classic) will remain pretty much the same as it is now and continue to evolve for many years to come, until the user numbers fall too low to support further development.

The new Photoshop (Lightroom being the first of this group) will be cloned into separate but equal applications for a new generation of graphic arts professionals who are either new to Photoshop or willing to adopt a new way of doing things. My guess (actually my wish) would be a Photoshop Webroom (or maybe Webstudio) will be the next one in this series. I can also imagine a version of Photoshop Lightroom that is designed for photo retouching only with a simple browser interface instead of the current Library system and no Web or Slideshow modules.

I don't want to go to far into conjecture concerning specific versions here, but I think by now you might understand what I am aiming at. Everything that the "Classic" Photoshop now does can be offered in a number of separate software packages using the Lightroom Graphic User Interface. As long as the "Classic" Photoshop version is still available this should not really upset anyone, and if I am right it would explain why there is so much overlap between the current Photoshop CS and Photoshop Lightroom applications.


Bruce McL
2007-11-09 08:15:14
I disagree.

I think that adding the name Photoshop to Lightroom was a last minute, marketing based decision. My understanding is that Lightroom was a project started by Macromedia before Adobe bought them.

That would explain why Lightroom is not mentioned in the article. It doesn't fit at all in Photoshop development plan. Lightroom is a separate program as far as development is concerned, with it's own development plan.

George Mann
2007-11-09 08:32:04
Thanks for the comment Bruce. I expect that a lot of people will disagree with me on this one. I don't think it really matters how Lightroom started, but now that it has proven to be a gigantic success, it would only make sense that Adobe uses the same type GUI to build more applications (whatever they may be). I am just playing a guessing game, so I may be pretty far off the mark (on the specific applications) but there will obviously be more.
2007-11-09 10:17:42
Bruce: Lightroom wasn't started by Macromedia. It was started by Mark Hamburg (former architect of Photoshop and Adobe employee all along).

Bruce McL
2007-11-09 23:37:50
Daveed - I wasn't sure about that, thanks for correcting me. I do believe that Lightroom is a "clean sheet of paper" app that shares little, if any, code from Photoshop. Perhaps someone will correct me on that as well.

George - Adobe's latest version of Photoshop Elements certainly looks a lot like Lightroom. Again though, I don't think the underlying code is shared between Lightroom and any other app with the Photoshop name.

I think Adobe will want to keep using the code in what you call Classic Photoshop. I think they will want to add value to that code by perhaps spinning off different editions for different types of users. Vectorworks is a CAD product that took this route. It was one product for many years that is now split up into more specialized products.

With this approach you could still have your Photoshop Webroom. It might look like Lightroom, but under the hood it would be based on the one true Photoshop, not on Lightroom.

George Mann
2007-11-10 00:31:40
First I would like to provide a link to the John Nack post that inspired the post above -

Thank you John for constantly inspiring all of us to think beyond the (Photoshop) box.

Bruce - Interesting comments, I can not argue with your logic and you may be quite right, my conjectures are limited to the User Interface and possible future editions only, I am am in no way qualified to speak about the underlying code, but would not mind hearing from someone who is.

Daveed - Thank you for the comment about the origin of Lightroom, as far as I know you are correct.