Adobe Lightroom

Somewhat oddly, I still don’t have a digital camera, having singularly failed to save enough pennies for a Nikon D50 (or, more specifically, for some decent lenses for the thing). In a remarkable feat of what would have been called ‘convergence’ two years ago, my mobile phone talks to iPhoto, so I do actually use that package. But I’ve really no call to futz around with the likes of Apple’s Aperture.

Nevertheless, I have, just a little. And it’s a gorgeous application. Very much in keeping with Apple’s other ‘Pro’ apps, it’s aimed squarely at the professional market, with only quite subtle spill-over into the ‘enthusiastic amateur’ bracket. Odd, then, that the interface employs some weird and wild swooshy animated effects. But they seem to make operations clearer rather than obscuring them – there’s distinctly good design taste involved. Aperture is, however, something of a system monster – stories are legion of it bogging down on quad-processor G5s with 4+Gb of RAM, which is rather a far cry from my lowly PowerBook.

Apple, though, has something of a tradition with its high-end packages: make them vaguely work, get them out of the door, then make them really work. Somewhere during that process the hardware catches up, and you have a winning package. Well, it worked with Final Cut Pro – anyone who claims to have used version 1 of that is either not meaning ‘in a professional capacity,’ or is flat-out fibbing. I didn’t encounter the early versions of DVD Studio Pro, but from what I hear the main difference between versions 1 and 2 was that ‘v2 actually worked.’ Motion was another example; v1 was exciting but barely worked, v2 you can actually use in anger.

Aperture, then, is expensive, slow, and finicky… but beautiful, and maybe-just-maybe a groundbreaking piece of software.

Except the ground has clearly been there to be broken for years, and Adobe just extended the strained metaphor by establishing a beachhead. Lightroom is their equivalent to Aperture, and it’s… actually, it’s remarkably similar. It’s nowhere near as slick and polished and whizzy and glossy, but on the other hand it actually works, and feels at home with less than four million pixels of screen space.

What’s entirely unexpected is the way Adobe have released this. They’ve issued a public beta under the ‘Macromedia Labs’ moniker, and that’s distinctly unlike the assumed behaviour of a giant software corporation. It’s also a Mac-first beta release, which is equally unexpected. They’re clearly heading towards a Windows release (there’s no Core Image stuff going on, apparently), but so far as I can tell it’s a Cocoa application, which is… er… well, I didn’t think I’d be seeing that from Adobe in a hurry.

But perhaps most significant is that they’re blogging about the thing. Here’s a lovely story of the software’s development: while it’s clearly intended to put the lie to the idea that Lightroom is a knee-jerk reaction to Aperture, it’s also a rather charming human tale. Meanwhile, here’s a more formal blogged announcement of the package.

Weird. But welcome. As we sit locking away our credit cards, waiting for whatever Jobs is going to announce at MacWorld in four hours’ time – perhaps we’ve seen the beginning of the end of that sort of staged nonsense? It’s one thing when small software houses like Panic (Steven, Cabel) or Ranchero blog about in-development software, but when Adobe start doing it too, I can almost believe the ‘blogs change everything’ meme.

There are more rumblings, too: another blogging Mac dev, Gus Mueller, notes that something like 40% of Lightroom is written in a little-known language called ‘Lua.’ I know very little about Lua – mostly what I’ve read on Gus’ blog, natch – but I have heard it described as ‘the next Ruby,’ in a doubtless similarly-inaccurate manner to the ‘Ruby is the next Python’ and ‘Python is the next Perl’ blatherings.

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