Adobe's senior product manager for Photoshop -- and semi-official office gossip -- John Nack has talked about the thinking behind some interface changes that will be added to the next version of Photoshop. He's also posted a video showing how it will work.
As usual, Nack makes a point of not referring to the software as Photoshop CS4, merely as the "next version". Last week Nack's comments about naming terminology caused a minor blog-froth as he tried to avoid saying "I don't want to call it Photoshop CS4 as then we're tied to calling it that". However, with public betas of Dreamweaver CS4, Fireworks CS4 and Soundbooth CS4 available from the Adobe Labs site, I think we can take the CS4 name as a given -- at least as a codename for the beta. Though that's not to say that the company's marketing department won't have a communal brain tumour for breakfast, and decide to rename the line of applications as 'Creative Suite Extreme', 'Creative Suite On Fire', or 'Creative Suite 2009' before its probable launch later in the year.
Nack discusses why the Mac version of Photoshop CS4 will have an 'application frame' -- a gray background box that sits behind the whole application. It's an interface style that's most associate with Windows applications, though -- as Nack himself points out -- it's also used by many Mac applications, including Apple's own pro-level creative tools such as Final Cut Pro and Motion. He says that an application frame offers four main advantages over traditional floating palettes.
"It facilitates N-up (2-up, 3-up, etc.) document layouts that adapt as you adjust the interface. Think 'live window tiling' -- great for comparing, compositing, etc," he says. "It makes it easier to move the entire application and its contents, including from one monitor to another. It prevents documents from getting obscured by panels (palettes). It blocks out the contents of the desktop, minimizing visual clutter."
To show what he means, Nack has posted a video on YouTube of how the interface may/will work, detailing a new toolbar for arranging windows into two-up and four-up views.
Nack is right about the need to move on for interface design. The old conventions of a Mac way of working vs a Windows way of working are outdated -- creative professionals spend 90 per cent of their time in three or four applications, and making these applications work best for the creative process is much more important than rigidly adhering to the conventions of the Mac Finder or Windows desktop.
A better debate is whether a homogenized approach across different creative applications for different tasks is better than fine-tuning applications for their particular tasks. Adobe is cross-breeding its tools like crazy -- but is it really necessary that After Effects works exactly the same as Dreamweaver? I've always been quite taken with tools that do their own thing such as Avid Liquid and Autodesk's Combustion, which have interfaces tuned to specialized tasks. However, this puts me in a minority, as both of those tools are languishing in relative obscurity. Liquid's on its third owner and none have known quite what to do with it, and Combustion isn't getting much love from it's Maya-making developer, as its last major upgrade added one core new tool. But even so, this a conversation that those designing creative tools need to have.