Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Photoshop, how it all started

Storyphoto.com reports: [edited]

The story of one of the original "killer apps" begins in Ann Arbor, Michigan with a college professor named Glenn Knoll. Glenn was a photo enthusiast who maintained a darkroom in the family basement. He was also a technology aficionado intrigued by the emergence of the personal computer. His two sons, Thomas and John, inherited their father's inquisitive nature. And the vision for future greatness began with their exposure to Glenn's basement darkroom and with the Apple II Plus that he brought home for research projects.

"Photography was a hobby of mine in high school," explained Thomas in an interview for the Michigan Engineer. "In dad's darkroom, I learned how to make black-and-white and color prints, how to balance color and contrast."

"Another memory that is really fixed in my mind" John adds, "was in 1984 when I picked up a copy of Time magazine that had a little article about the Macintosh, and I thought, wow, look at this thing!" A couple of months later Mr. Knoll had purchased one of the first Macs available on the open market.

Even though Thomas loved hands-on darkroom work, he too had a keen interest in computers and programming. In 1987 he purchased an Apple Macintosh Plus to help him with his Ph.D. work on the "processing of digital images." Much to his disappointment, the Mac couldn't display gray-scale levels in his images. To solve that problem, Thomas wrote a subroutine to simulate the gray-scale effect.

"There were a bunch of command line driven shell tools much like the Unix C shell command line interface of the Pixar." Shortly there after, John and Thomas pulled these pieces of code together and Thomas built an amazing little application called "Display."

"I was delighted," John said, "but I started asking for more. What if Display could save images in other formats so I could print them in another program? I used Display to open a couple of sample images that I got from the ILM computer graphics department, but they looked too dark on my screen—suddenly I needed gamma correction tools too." John's requests distracted Thomas from his thesis work, but he too was intrigued by the possibilities of image editing on a personal computer.

This cycle of refinement continued over a period of months and led to an improved version of the application that became "ImagePro" in 1988. At this point John began suggesting to Thomas that they turn ImagePro into a commercial application.

"My fellowship money had run out and my wife was expecting our first child," Thomas explained during the Michigan Engineer interview. "I was feeling pressure to finish what I was doing and find a job."

In early 1988, Thomas decided to give himself six more months to finish a beta version of ImagePro and let John shop it around Silicon Valley. One company, BarneyScan, did show some interest. They offered to bundle (on a short term basis) what was now called "Photoshop" with their slide scanner. A total of about 200 copies of Photoshop were shipped.

In September 1988, the Knoll brothers' luck changed. John presented a demo to Adobe's internal creative team, and they loved the product. A license agreement was struck soon after, and Photoshop 1.0 was shipped in February 1990.

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