077 – Take a picture – 1987

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A picture is worth a thousand words but it takes 3,000 times the disk space.  Anon

Photoshop started life as a program written by a PhD student at the University of Michigan in 1987.  The student was Thomas Knoll, the son of a photographer and an early Apple II and later a Mac user. 

He and his brother cut their technological teeth on these early products.  For his PhD on image processing at Michigan he purchased an Apple Mac Plus and was disappointed that it could not display simple black & white images on its monochrome monitor.  He set out to create something he called Display.

His brother John was working at the special effects company Industrial Light and Magic perhaps best known for its work on Star Wars.  John realised that Display mirrored a number of developments within this Lucasfilm subsidiary and was in a strong position to suggest additional features, to develop it into a full image editing package.

When John later bought a colour Macintosh II he encouraged Thomas to develop a colour capability too.  Thomas rose to the challenge; he added colour balance, hue saturation and image processing of the whole or just a selected area.

1988 Display became ImagePro when John travelled to the West Coast and offered it to leading players.  It was in one of these demonstrations that someone used the term to be adopted as its final name – Photoshop.  Originally written as PhotoShop the capital S was dropped.

John received some interest from Adobe and a deal was proposed.  This was so slow and protracted that for a short time the software was sold by Thomas via a scanner company called Barneyscan; here the software Photoshop was called Barneyscan XP.

1988 – John and Adobe’s art director Russell Brown agreed a licence for the product.  Thomas and John were charged with evolving the package that was eventually launched as Photoshop 1.0 in 1990; initially this was for the Mac only.  Russell Brown was a Photoshop evangelist for many years.

Photoshop propelled Adobe into becoming a globally-known brand.  It was sold for under $1,000 against its closest competitor which was Letraset’s ColorStudio priced at $1,995.  Photoshop rapidly became the industry standard – but also earned a less desirable accolade as one of the most pirated packages.

One late noughties survey of photographers estimated that some 60% of Photoshop users had a pirated copy, compared with 38% using other pirated software.  Naturally Adobe is prominent in anti-piracy but perhaps the inclusion of Photoshop at the heart of the Creative Suite series has had the most positive impact.

Today Photoshop is a pixel-based image editor that works with images in greyscale, RGB (red, green, blue), CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key black), bitmap and other formats. 

It can also work with vector image formats such as GIF (graphics interchange format), EPS (encapsulated PostScript), JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts’ Group) and PNG (portable network graphics).

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