Adobe intends to enhance the performance of After Effects by harnessing the multiple computers over a network. The company is preparing a version of the compositing software that will be able to run across a group of computers, bringing the concept of grid computing to a commercial desktop application for perhaps the first time. However, the functionality will only be available to owners of the Professional version of the software.

The company plans to bundle a plug-in from start-up company GridIron Software with the next version of After Effects Professional. The plug-in will make it easy for users to run a single computing job on two or more computers linked over a network, reducing the time it takes to preview and render effects, said Gord Watts, GridIron's vice president of marketing. The plug-in will be based on GridIron’s XLR8 technology, which runs on both of AE’s current platforms, Windows and Mac OS X.

Grid computing has been used most often by academics and scientists for high performance computing, and more recently by enterprises to make better use of server and storage resources. It generally involves linking computers together and using their combined processing power to run computing tasks more quickly.

If Adobe's efforts are successful, other companies selling desktop software for compute-intensive tasks such as video editing are likely to offer similar capabilities with their products, said Ahmar Abbas, an analyst with market research company Grid Technology Partners.

GridIron's software takes care of the configuration and management tasks required to run a computing job across a group of computers - work that would be too complex for most end users to handle themselves, Abbas said. That ability, combined with today's network speeds, could help to make grid computing accessible to everyday desktop users, he said.

Development of the Adobe-GridIron software is still in progress, and Adobe was reluctant to say for certain that a grid-enabled version of its software is forthcoming. However, prototypes and test results look promising and it is Adobe's intention to bundle GridIron's plug-in with the next version of After Effects Professional, said Steve Kilisky, Adobe's group product manager for digital video.

Adobe has made changes to the API (application programming interface) of its application to allow it to implement GridIron's plug-in, although it has yet to see the products operating together fully, he said. GridIron has demonstrated its software speeding the rendering functions of After Effects Professional, but not its preview capabilities, according to Watts.

"The potential of using the grid to do rendering as a background process is very compelling. It would allow our users to take jobs they are having to allocate hours to – even overnight – and, by putting more computers to work through the grid, get the work done a lot faster," Kilisky said.

Adobe has signed a licensing agreement with GridIron to use its software pending the successful outcome of the development work, Watts said.

Emma Boys, a senior art director with Weldon Owen Publishing said the technology sounds useful and would like to see it brought to other Adobe applications soon. She uses Adobe's PageMaker, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat products.

"Sometimes I'll be working with a PDF file and want to convert it to some other format, so I have to open it in Photoshop. When I do that it can take a long time to rasterize," she said, referring to the process of converting an image into a pixel-based graphic for editing. "If they could make that happen more quickly it would be a huge plus."

The performance improvement for users with desktops linked over a Gigabit Ethernet LAN will be almost linear, according to Watts, meaning two computers will run the application twice as fast, three computers will run it three times as fast, and so on. The performance gains will taper off more quickly over slower networks, he said.

GridIron's software will likely be bundled for no additional charge with After Effects Professional, Adobe's Kilisky said. With a single license, users will be allowed to run the application and plug-in on two processors besides their main workstation - which could be two single-chip PCs or a dual-processor machine, he said. Running the software on additional machines will cost extra, he said.

Gridiron's plug-in, called XLR8, uses peer-to-peer technology to find other PCs on a user's LAN that have its software installed, then automatically divides up computing jobs and distributes the work to the other computers. No configuration or ongoing management is required by the user, according to GridIron.

Kilisky wouldn't disclose the release date or pricing for the next version of After Effects Professional, citing Adobe's policy of not pre-announcing products. The current release, version 6.0, is priced at £999 plus VAT was released in July 2003.

GridIron's software will be coming to other desktop applications shortly, according to Watts. The company has been able to encode MPEG 4 video using its software, which means XLR8 could potentially find its way into a product like Apple's Final Cut Pro software, he said, although he declined to comment on any specific upcoming partnerships.

"This is the first of a number of significant customer announcements we'll make over next 60 to 90 days," he said.