How file formats matter

This is an article about many of the file formats we are familiar, from HTML to Photoshop, but what interests me is this about word processors:

WordPerfect was always the best word processor. Because it allowed for insight into its very structure. You could hit a certain key combination and suddenly the screen would split and you’d reveal the codes, the bolds and italics and so forth, that would define your text when it was printed. It was beloved of legal secretaries and journalists alike. Because when you work with words, at the practical, everyday level, the ability to look under the hood is essential. Words are not simple. And WordPerfect acknowledged that. Microsoft Word did not. Microsoft kept insisting that what you saw on your screen was the way things were, and if your fonts just kept sort of randomly changing, well, you must have wanted it that way.

On File Formats, Very Briefly, by Paul Ford · The Manual

I could be wrong, of course, but it always seemed to me that WordPerfect was developed by writers and Microsoft Word by engineers. For all that I admire engineers, in this case I think they did a poor job. In WordPerfect, a document is stored in sequence, paragraph by paragraph, fine. In Word, every single paragraph is like a separate document with lots of pointers back and forth to others. It’s like the paragraphs in a Word document are all free-flowing, free-standing and only happen to line up the way you want.

Maybe I’m just too into this stuff, but if you are too, then do read the full piece.

Breathtaking future from Adobe – er, and Microsoft?

Is it bad that I look at this, want it and then when I see it’s Microsoft think twice? Microsoft tends to do feature lists really well, as in adding a lot of features to the list. It tends to demo well too. But then in real life the perfect demo crashes all the time. Or the features on the list don’t actually do what you thought they would (see the howls of WordPerfect users forced to switch to Word and learning that Microsoft literally – literally literally, not just very – could not do Reveal Codes). Or the features are just so hard to find that you wonder whether they’re really there or not.

So the Microsoft element of this makes me cautious. And I suppose it’s interesting that Adobe is getting into bed with Microsoft more: it makes you wonder if they’re really thinking of abandoning their power user base over on Apple gear.

But if you’ve ever used Photoshop, Illustrator or other main Adobe apps, this will impress you.



Weekend viewing: The Adobe Illustrator story

I have a love/like relationship with Adobe. Sometimes the firm is irritating – Adobe Flash just seemed to get more irksome every minute – but I think Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are miraculous.

Usually I forget that I ever worked in computers. Certainly it is a jolt to be reminded that I was ever a programmer – I used to yearn to include dramatic plot twists in my software, I was never going to be happy staying there – but I even forget that I wrote extensively for computing magazines. But sometimes, just sometimes I’m so really glad I did. Because while I don’t think I ever wrote about Adobe products much, I was in the trade as this company came along and made the most astonishing impact on all of us.

You might find a book or a magazine or a newspaper that wasn’t designed in Adobe InDesign, it is just about possible. But you cannot find anything that didn’t go through Adobe Photoshop. Cannot. This one company touches everything we read and through that it touches every one of us.

About twelve years ago I had a really good time reading Inside the Publishing Revolution: The Adobe Story Hardcover by Pamela Pfiffner (UK edition, US edition). All the news I knew from my years in the computing press plus the story behind it, I was riveted. Slightly narked at how 100% pro-Adobe it all is and if had been published later than 2002 it might have had to have more gristle in with the positive meat. But it was a deeply interesting story.

And now there’s a video. This is specifically about Adobe Illustrator which is actually the Adobe program I know the least well, but I was riveted. I’m assuming it was produced for the 25th anniversary of Illustrator back in 2012 but I only saw it today thanks to The Loop.

The video is 20 minutes long and I’d have watched an hour without noticing:

I should say, Adobe products are all available on the official site here.

A tonne of news from Adobe

Honestly, I’m not your guy for this: there has been so much news from Adobe about the latest release of their Creative Cloud that I’m still catching up. I read one news story cooing about wild additions to Photoshop – an application I love – or bits I don’t really understand for Illustrator – an application I generally fear to pieces – and that’s not the half of it. Or the quarter.

Go take a quick peek at Adobe’s main site for Photoshop to just see a simple video about one feature. It’s the feature that lets you take a photograph and then later change your mind about the perspective. Just move that building around for me, would you?

The firm has a comprehensive if a bit dull press release here.

And the best summary intro I’ve caught so far is this from Macstories.

Cameras started lying in 1987

You know that Photoshop is used to manipulate images of women but I didn’t know that was what was going on with the very first photo it edited. Why are we not surprised?

There is more to it than you think, if less than you’d hope, but first, here’s the image:

It’s called Jennifer in Paradise and was taken on film by John Knoll, one of the people behind Photoshop. I can’t find out what this Jennifer’s surname was at the time of the shot but she married the photoshop guy and is now reportedly Jennifer Knoll.

So they married, that happened, and somehow this one shot has become known as the first-ever Photoshopped image. No more than I can find her maiden name, I can’t prove what exactly was Photoshopped here. But I think the answer is nothing. This is, I believe, the original film shot and what has happened is that myriad people have subsequently edited it to produce whatever it is their heart desired.

Only, one fella has got seriously into this shot:

[Dutch artist Constant] Dullaart’s reverence for the picture may be extreme, but it is hard to overstate Photoshop’s importance. David Hockney, who was invited to test the program soon after its release, predicted that it would spell the end of film photography. And although, as Knoll is quick to point out, photos were being altered long ago in Soviet Russia, it was only Photoshop that democratised that ability. In a way Jennifer was the last person to sit on solid ground, gazing out into an infinitely fluid sea of zeros and ones, the last woman to inhabit a world where the camera never lied.

Jennifer in paradise: the story of the first Photoshopped image -Gordon Comstock, The Guardian (13 June 2014)

There’s a lot more detail of Dullaart’s campaign to celebrate the shot in The Guardian’s whole story..