--Alan Zisman

Adobe's graphical competition can't come close
to Illustrator and PhotoShop for the Macintosh - Feb 17 1998

Recently, we took a look at the new release by Ottawa-based Corel of its Corel Draw graphics suite, version 8. The package offers a pro-level illustration program, along with photo enhancement and 3-D graphics programs, in a single package with fonts, clip art and photos, and miscellaneous utilities making it a graphics studio in a box.

Despite Corel Draw's power, extensive feature set and attractive price, however, the graphics community -- professional artists and designers -- tends to steer clear of the package, maintaining a relationship with a pair of products from Adobe Corp.: Adobe Illustrator and PhotoShop. These are sold separately, each costing about as much as the entire Corel Draw suite.

Most of the graphics community remains a stronghold of Apple Macintosh users. The very first Macs came bundled with MacPaint software. It was primitive by today's standards, but the first easy way to create pictures on a computer screen. And the whole direction of the Mac -- the first popular graphical operating system -- seemed designed to appeal to a right-brained, artistic temperament. With the release a few years later of Aldus PageMaker, desktop publishing brought Macintoshes into corporate design departments, cementing the pairing of Macintosh computers and graphics professionals.

Nothing since then has really shaken this relationship. Windows computers have become easier to use, and most of the main Mac software products have been released in Windows versions. Despite that, most people working professionally with graphics and design continue to work on Macs.

There are good reasons for their loyalty. While software such as Adobe's Illustrator and PhotoShop, MacroMedia Freehand and QuarkXpress are available on both platforms, on the Mac they are the centres of an entire culture. Many of the add-ons and extensions that add capabilities to the core programs are still only released for the Mac. Hardware products such as accelerators, sold specifically to speed up PhotoShop operations, are Mac-platform only.

And when PC users want to get the finished products printed onto high-resolution output, they may find themselves treated as second-class citizens. Service bureaus tend to have more experience working with Macintosh output, and in some cases are wary of working with PC files. They've had problems in the past with Windows TrueType fonts and Corel Draw files, and are more comfortable with the Postscript fonts and files brought in by the Mac crowd.

Adobe Illustrator, for example, saves its files directly to Postscript -- the page description language used by most high-end printers. As a result, its files are pretty much guaranteed to work as advertised. Like translating poetry to another language, when Corel Draw files are translated to Postscript, the results are not always as pretty.

Despite having a lead in owning the hearts and minds of graphics professionals, Adobe hasn't been taking the market for granted. Its core programs, PhotoShop and Illustrator, have both been upgraded in the past year or so and now feature virtually identical Mac and Windows versions, sporting an interface shared with Adobe's PageMaker desktop publishing program.

PhotoShop, updated last winter to version 4, now features layers, allowing users to work on a graphic as if it was built-up on multiple transparencies. This way, artists can make changes to individual layers without altering the parts of the graphic underneath. The changes can then be viewed in a preview before the actual picture is modified.

And the single saved file contains the older versions as well, making it easy to revert to an older version if you're dissatisfied with your changes. An Actions palette lets you record your work, to automate repetitive activities.

The new version features a more logical tool and menu layout, and isn't too proud to steal features from its competitors, such as Corel's fly-out menus, showing variants on tools. By catching up with features first offered by programs such as Corel PhotoPaint and MacroMedia xRes, PhotoShop is able to maintain its position defining the product category.

It's a similar situation with Illustrator, which was graced with a recent upgrade to version 7.

Vancouver's Steve Bain explains his continued preference for Illustrator by pointing out that it has completely integrated the keyboard. There's a shortcut for just about everything. And the shortcuts are shared with the other Adobe products, making it more likely that customers who have learned one of the programs will feel comfortable with the others -- and uncomfortable using the competition.

With support for layers, powerful text support, and easy importing of PhotoShop bitmap pictures, Illustrator has caught up with features offered by competitors MacroMedia Freehand and Corel Draw, in a package that's familiar to a generation of PhotoShop users. And its output remains preferred for service bureau printing.

The result must be frustrating for the competition. Seemingly regardless of what they produce, Adobe's PhotoShop and Illustrator remain the defining tools for graphics professionals, just as the Macintosh remains the platform of choice.*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan