It’s May!?

Acorn 3 last week (while it was still on sale) based on rave reviews from trusted sources. I used it to prep this image collage. I've been using Photoshop since the 1996, so this is a significant change.

Will it replace Photoshop? Maybe, someday. I'd like to be able to migrate away from Adobe, mainly because the software updates are expensive; I, a relative power user, really don't need many of Photoshop's capabilities; I find I need the other Adobe tools in the Creative Suite (web edition) less and less; I like supporting indie developers.

The problem is that my Photoshop workflow has evolved over many years. I can whip out images quite fast with the tool. Acorn appears to offer many of the tools I need (if not most, to be honest), but learning a new app and getting that speed back is going to take some time.

Learning to use Acorn efficiently feels akin to the time, years ago, when I learned to type in Dvorak instead over Qwerty. The above image would take me a minute to create in Photoshop. It took me 15 minutes in Acorn. But that's to be expected.

So far, it's doing the job well ... and it's fast, fast, fast. I also appreciate many of the little touches in Acorn that make it pleasant to use (e.g., when I add a guide, I'm shown the pixel measurement in a little bubble window as I scroll the guide into place). And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it supports all of my Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard shortcuts, which is something that I can't say for my version of Photoshop (CS3). So I'm sticking with it as my primary editor to see if I can make the switch. Even if it doesn't meet all my needs, I still have Photoshop CS3 to fall back on if I need more advanced features. My hope is that I won't need to upgrade to the newest CS version of Photoshop. Ever.

Aviary Now Free

Aviary, a slick collection of browser-based design and editing tools that I wrote about last February, is now free.

From the Aviary blog:

We have long felt that to better serve our core mission our complete feature set needed to be in the hands of everyone - not just those who could afford it. Fortunately, our recent round of funding (by Spark Capital, Bezos Expeditions & others) enables us to finally achieve this goal...

Aviary remains a socially-focused suite of applications, meaning that sharing and derivative works are encouraged. 'Free' means that all users may now save private files, add custom watermarks or go watermark-free for creative works, and access all Aviary tutorials. As opposed to the free online version of Photoshop, there are also no storage limitations (Adobe charges you if you go over 2GB).

This is an amazing collection of free tools. For those who are following the current Flash debate, note that these tools are Adobe Flex/Air-based. For artists, note that you own full rights to all works you create with these tools. For those who can't afford the pricey Adobe Creative Suite apps, note that this suite is a surprisingly powerful alternative.

I like to think of Aviary as a creative playground. Even if you own the Adobe Creative Suite, you may still find that the Aviary tools are a lot of fun to play around with, especially Peacock (the Effects Editor).

Aviary: Worth a Test Flight

Aviary, a collection of online design and editing tools, is an amazing technical feat.

A couple of weeks ago, Aviary brought their online vector editor out of Beta. It's called Raven, and it joins, well, an aviary of other online applications: Phoenix (image editor), Peacock (dubbed a 'visual laboratory'), Toucan (color manager), and Phoenix (an image editor).

These tools are powerful, free to use, and tightly integrated (meaning you can pass your work of art seamlessly back and forth between the different applications). But what really intrigues me about Aviary is where it's heading.

In addition to the current flock of Aviary applications, there are many, many more interesting creative applications coming. We're talking everything from an audio editor to a terrain generator to a word processor. And the Aviary team plans to eventually offer offline versions of their tools via Adobe AIR at some point in the future (interesting to note that Adobe already has an online office suite, and I've read that they plan to bring many of their creative tools to the web, a la Photoshop Express).

The tools at Aviary are free to use, and are well worth your time to check out. No, Phoenix is not as powerful as Photoshop. And no, Raven is not as powerful as Illustrator. But how many users really need that much power? For casual creation, artistic exploration, and simple projects, Aviary is fun and easy to use. I especially like experimenting with Peacock. If the interface seems weird, it's only because we've become so use to Adobe's way of doing things.


Basic usage is free. The catch is that Aviary is, at heart, a social site. So free usage means you are prepared to share your work of art with the world. Also, while you own the full rights to all works you create, Aviary retains a license to display any works you make viewable to the public "within Aviary and in any external publication provided it's in a way that promotes Aviary." Also note that your work will be accessible by others, so someone else can mash up your image and repost it. In this case, your name will appear in the attribution in the new derivative work. It's a great model for encouraging social creativity and sharing.

If you want more control (and more privacy), a pro-level subscription is $10 a month. If you are interested in using these tools to create artwork for, say, a Web site, you'll want to pay the fee. Not a bad deal when you factor in the considerable capabilities of these applications and compare with the cost of Adobe applications. No, Aviary is not as powerful as an Adobe app, but if you can't afford or don't want to purchase an Adobe app or Suite, Aviary offers some powerful tools to create some great art.

I'm an Adobe CS owner and daily user for work and home tasks. I like my Adobe applications. But I hope that services like Aviary thrive. I'd hate to see Adobe completely own the design and editing tool space both on and offline (... and they already own the offline space).

Competition is good, and Aviary is one of many alternatives out there offering innovation and quality service. invitation

I received an invitation to beta test Aviary today, a new web-based creative suite from a company called Worth1000. I received access to Phoenix (an online image editor) and Peacock (an online pattern generator).

From the Aviary site:

Aviary is a suite of rich internet applications geared for artists of all genres. From image editing to typography to music to 3D to video, we have a tool for everything. At Worth1000, we are creating a complex ecosystem for artists and providing the world with free, capable collaborative tools and an approach to collaboration and rights management that will turn the marketplace for online art on its head.

I haven’t done much with it yet, but I tried it long enough to determine the image editor is responsive and fairly feature-rich. If you want to give it a try, shoot me an email. I have five two invitations to pass on.

ImageWell and the Low Cost Image Editor

ImageWell, a lightweight image editor for the Mac, is no longer offered as a free download. With today’s launch of version 3.5, the developers now offer only one choice: a paid full-feature version for $19.95. Prior to 3.5, a limited version of the app was offered for free with an upgrade option to unlock more powerful features.

ImageWell excels at quick and simple processing (aimed primarily for images heading for the web). It specializes in watermarking, adding annotations, creating shaped borders, taking screenshots, and batch processing. It’s not a bad option for a fast, easy to use, tiny little app if your image editing needs are light.

ImageWell offers a lot of what you will find with Skitch. In fact, you may find that the free Skitch beta serves up more choice, flexibility and options if your main interests are capturing screenshots, marking them up, and sharing them online. However, you’ll get more image editing functionality with ImageWell. In this respect, it’s most similar to Flying Meat’s Acorn in that both emphasize lightness, low cost, and simplicity and strive to meet most of your basic image editing and image sharing needs.

Perhaps the developers of ImageWell are making a smart move by staking out the low end of the Mac image editing field. The feature set and the price are not bad. I think the developers are trying to head for that sweet spot between Skitch and Acorn: not as much power as Acorn, but more features than Skitch, for the relatively low price of $19.95. Sure, the user interface is not as elegant as Acorn’s and it’s not free like Skitch (and who knows if Skitch will be free once it leaves Beta status) but it’s cheap and it offers a lot of tools. Acorn offers more image editing possibilities and is easier to use. Of course, it costs $30 more than ImageWell, too — a pretty big price gap.

I’ll be curious to see how this change in strategy pans out for the ImageWell developers.

If you’re looking for a cheap, simple editor (cheaper and simpler than, say, Photoshop) but think your image editing needs may grow over time, take a look at some of the other low cost desktop apps out there like Pixelmator ($60) and GraphicConvertor ($35) before you make a decision. Of course, you could also see if the various free online editors meet your needs. If all you want is a quick drag-and-drop tool to create nice thumbnail images for your blog or website, you may also want to try Thumbscrew (free).

Adobe launches free online image editor

learned that Adobe launched a public beta of Express yesterday. It’s an online photo editing application with a couple of free Gigabytes of storage. It was first demonstrated last September.

It’s pretty slick. It’ll be interesting to see how Picnik, Splashup, Snipshot, Phixr, Preloadr, and Pixenate (among other competitors in this crowded field) fare in light of this gorilla-sized competition.

I think Apple should enter the fray. I would think it would be a short leap from iPhoto and .Mac to a great web-based editing and storage solution from Cupertino. I’m guessing they wouldn’t want to make it Flash-based, though.

Two apps to check out: Iguania, Flux

Here are two apps that recently caught my interest:

1. Iguania:

I heard about Iguania while listening to Adam Christianson's MacCast, which is incidentally one of the best general-interest Mac podcasts out there. Iguania is a novel application to edit your photos without all of those popup boxes and sliders. Instead, you use the keyboard to select the function you want, then adjust that value with your mouse. I've tried it out and love it. I found it to be quite intuitive. I couldn't help but think of how this idea could be applied to the iPhone/iPod Touch 3-axis accelerometer and the new Apple multi-touch trackpad. Some real innovation happening here. It's still in Beta, so give it a try and send some feedback to the developer.

2. Flux:

I came across Flux the other day while perusing my RSS feeds. It's a new website design tool just out of Beta (...and yet already at 1.1.1). I downloaded it, then went to the developer's site to read more. I have to admit it was a bit disconcerting to see the developer blog hosted on a Blogger site. Then I clicked on 'About' and landed on Hmm. Still, I pressed on. Thirty minutes later, I concluded that the app has potential but still needs work. It just didn't feel complete to me. I pondered if I should post this or not, but decided I would. I think there are some interesting ideas here — the CSS view alone is worth a look.