May 18, 2007

Illustrator is just "standard"

In today's world, we often spend much of our time comparing things, or trying to figure out who is best. In my home town (especially this coming weekend), the news is filled with Mets vs Yankees. Today's local newspaper dedicated two full pages to a position by position comparison of both teams, and who had the edge for each one. TV is filled with things like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and more. In the design community, we've spent years comparing Apple to Microsoft, Adobe to Macromedia, Syquest to Bernoulli, Type 1 to TrueType, PageMaker to Quark, Quark to InDesign, etc.

The latest "drama" to unfold is Adobe's announcement earlier this week, finally putting an end to the one thing that most people probably already knew anyway, but just didn't want to accept -- that FreeHand would not see another version.

While FreeHand users have never been silent in the past, when John Nack posted Adobe's intentions on his blog, FreeHand users once again have stepped up to defend their beloved program.

I do agree (quite strongly I might add) with one of John's statements. In response to those who claim Adobe "killed" FreeHand, John replies:

Well, you can blame Adobe, but not in the way you think: FH steadily lost market share to Illustrator, and Macromedia realized that rather than fight that uphill battle, they'd be better off funding other efforts. As far as I can tell, the FH codebase had been essentially dormant for 2.5 years before Adobe took ownership. So, blame Illustrator for surpassing FH in the market, leading to the current situation, but don't blame Adobe for not reviving a dormant app.

The reality is that Macromedia killed FreeHand way before Adobe even had the chance to do so. In fact, if I remember correctly, when I came on board as product manager for Illustrator in early 2001, FreeHand had 14% marketshare worldwide. At the time, I no longer considered FreeHand even as a competitor anymore, and instead saw older versions of Illustrator as competition instead (many users stuck with Illustrator 8 because of how fast it was and because it didn't have "transparency" issues at the time).

But as I mentioned before, we live in a world where we feel the need to compare things. And so, it's easy to say that FreeHand is better at this, or that Illustrator is better at that. There's no question that FreeHand has some great functionality, and that Adobe simply MUST consider moving much of that functionality over to Illustrator. But that's a discussion we can have at a different time. At present, I thought I'd take a different stand -- something which I think is more productive in the present -- because it can help users NOW (not in some unnamed versions in the future).

The reality is that many users are making a decision (either willfully or not) to make the move from FreeHand to Illustrator. While there are a handful of resources available to help people make that adjustment (some developed by yours truly), I thought I'd present five specific features that appear in Illustrator that have no equal (or aren't present at all) in FreeHand. In fact, I'll tell you that I rely on these five features quite heavily. And while I may miss a feature here or a feature there from FreeHand (I was a FreeHand user before I moved to Illustrator), the time lost because those features are not in Illustrator pale in comparison to how much time I now save because these five features are present in Illustrator today.

To make a point, I have chosen five features that are specifically NOT new in Illustrator CS3. The features I list here have been in Illustrator for at least two versions now, so I've come to rely on them heavily and can't possibly ever imagine giving them up for anything else -- even paste inside :)

To make an additional point, I've found that these specific features share an interesting theme -- as they are all build around standards. Standards are important, and most designers I know have to deal with many kinds of files with many kinds of demands and with many kinds of deadlines. And Adobe's commitment to standards throughout Illustrator (and all of it's other programs for that matter), have only helped me in my work.

While you can argue that it's easier to select objects in FreeHand, these are five things that I do in Illustrator many many times each day, and ultimately save more time in the end.

PDF

While it was only a few years ago that I was pulling matchprint proofs, color keys, and dye-sub prints for my clients, today it's all about PDF. And while I fondly remember the days of racing across the city to drop my camera-ready ad for a newspaper to the latest Fed-Ex drop off in the city, I don't even think twice now when I send my files via email or upload them to a printer's FTP site (remember trying to jam just one more Syquest cartridge into that fedex envelope?).

The reality is that Illustrator's support of PDF and the standards built on it (PDF/X) are something I simply could not live without. Whether I'm sending a quick proof to a client or creating a high-res PDF for press, I can rely on using Illustrator for that. And since Illustrator can also OPEN any PDF file, I have the ability to edit or use content that I once might have had to redraw on my own from scratch.

I create so many PDF files each day, and while you can certainly create PDF from FreeHand, you don't have NEAR the robust support that you would have in FreeHand. That's why support for the PDF standard is reason number one for why I can't look back.

OpenType

It wasn't pretty for Illustrator users when CS came around with its brand-new text engine. Migrating older files to the new version was painful, and for workflows that demanded moving files between CS and non-CS versions, a nightmare ensued. But there's no arguing that the modern Unicode-based text engine in Illustrator has made a world of difference in the work I do today. Better language support, better global support, and most importantly, better cross-platform support, means that files that I create can be used around the world, and likewise I can use files from almost anywhere.

I have clients with office around the world, and who need to create documents that people can read anywhere on any device. And Adobe support for the OpenType standard means that I can deliver that promise. It also means that I can incorporate the creative advantages of OpenType into my work. I used to spend my day trying to get documents with crazy fonts to work across multiple machines in my own offices and in my client's offices around the world. And I can't begin to explain how often I'd be on the phone with a client who claimed their PDF contained all these boxes on their screen where text was supposed to appear, when the file obviously looked perfectly fine on my screen. I can't go back there -- and so OpenType support (and Illustrator's professional-level typography in general) is reason number two for why I am not looking in the rear view mirror, but have my eyes firmly locked on the road ahead.

XMP

I'll admit that when Adobe first announced their support for the XMP standard, I thought it would only be interesting for huge businesses or news agencies (like the Associated Press). But here I am, publishing content and creating new files every day. My hard drive is filled with files that I create or update every day. And I work with others. And they have their hundreds and thousands of files. Metadata becomes increasingly more important.

On my own, I have also found myself publishing files and posting them for others to benefit from. With XMP I can store copyright information in my files. I can provide information above and beyond the content that appears within the file itself. And XMP metadata enables much more in the way of scripting, integration with digital asset management systems, and products like Adobe's Version Cue and the Adobe Stock Photos service. These days, I can't afford not to have this information, and probably couldn't function without XMP in most of my files. This is why XMP is reason number three (it rhymes).

Integration

So this is admittedly a broad category. I originally meant to label it as integration with the industry-standard application for photographic editing -- Adobe Photoshop. But then again, Illustrator is a best-of-class citizen when it comes to integration with almost all of the programs I use on a day to day basis. Illustrator has always excelled here, and besides for the ability to export layered PSD files with many items intact (layers, editable text, opacity, clipping masks, slices, etc.), you can of course also bring layered content with all that goodness from Photoshop back into Illustrator as well. Add After Effects to the list here, as I use that often enough. I am also holding back from mentioning Flash here -- only because Illustrator to Flash workflows were never pretty until CS3 came along (although in CS3, Illustrator to Flash integration is probably the best example of cross-product integration that I've ever seen between ANY product -- with the possible lone exception of the Dynamic Link feature found between After Effects and Premiere Pro).

I use so many applications every day and work on so many projects that I can't see limiting myself to trying to force one application to do it all. I use whatever I can have available to me at the time to get my work done, and Illustrator enables that. I can't imagine using anything else. Chalk integration up as the fourth reason for my loyalty to Illustrator.

Save for Web

I'm trying to think of a feature I use more often than Save for Web in Illustrator (it has been renamed Save for Web & Devices in CS3). I also could never believe that FreeHand never moved to offer this kind of functionality. In the world we live in today, I'm repurposing graphics all the time. Nothing gives me near the functionality that Save for Web does. One can argue that you can do all of that stuff in Photoshop, but the whole point is that I can get it done so quickly in Illustrator directly.

And it goes beyond just saving out a GIF or a JPEG here and there for a website. Clients need logos that appear in their proprietary database programs, wallpaper for their cell phones, icons for their digital displays in their windows, etc. I also use Save for Web to quickly crank out art for screenshots or for posting illustrations on my blog. Or for generating still frames for podcasts, movie clips, or animations. It's a workhorse, and it does SWF animations too. How can you beat that? A part of me died inside when Adobe lopped off ImageReady (the actual codebase for Save for Web), but for most of what I need on a daily basis, I need Save for Web. And that's reason number five.

14 comments:

jimHere said...

Since I haven't used Freehand since 1996 (except maybe to convert an Illustrator file for Flash), I can't say I'll miss it's features.
But it is crazy that when the forums were full of "what will happen to Freehand" posts, Adobe didn't just say Yeah, it's over.
Now maybe we'll see what the deal will be with DreamWeaver and goLive.

khiltd said...

I'm much more annoyed by Adobe's sudden promotion of Flash to favorite child status than anything else. Instead of putting so much effort into integrating Illustrator with Flash why not focus on simply making Flash suck less so its users don't need to use (or buy!) Illustrator in the first place? Then the Illustrator engineers could actually strive to improve Illustrator rather than convert it into a thousand dollar companion utility for Flash--which is arguably the most obnoxious thing to happen to web design since the Java "reflection pool" applet. Even professional animators resent its prominence.

Of course it would also help if the Illustrator engineers were all Illustrator users with a genuine, non-monetary, interest in the product's success. With the exception of Mr. Knoll, I get the feeling that the people working on Adobe products today are in no way related to the people who actually use Adobe products with any degree of regularity. When bonuses, bug reports and beach houses become the only motivation at hand, creativity dies, and that detachment becomes unfortunately palpable to the customers who begin to feel (often times quite rightly) as though they could do a better job on the specifications than the left-brained CS graduates who not only can't see the proverbial forest, but may not even be aware of the fact that it exists.

I don't blame Adobe for killing FreeHand, but the overall public perception of the company's becoming a despotic tyrant is something they've brought upon themselves--especially archetypal silicon-valley-product-manager-with-an-undeservedly-high-opinion-of-himself Nack. I know I'm not the only person on Earth who feels as though stopping him from interacting with the public would actually improve the company's PR. Die hard FreeHand users would obviously still be upset, but painting them as some sort of easily dismissible lunatic fringe would be a much easier task for a more credible and less arrogant company mouthpiece.

Woz said...

I have no idea why, but for some reason the Germans absolutely LOVE Freehand. Every time I get files from Germany, it's Freehand. They use it for page layout also. Terrible, 'cause it won't play nice with Illustrator...

Mordy Golding said...

Certain regions (such as Germany) are strong proponents of FreeHand. Why? Because many years ago, Macromedia identified those regions as areas of growth and marketed their products heavily there. I believe that at one point, Macromedia practically gave away copies of FreeHand for free in the Education markets there. I think the same is true for many areas in South America and other latin countries. Israel too.

Jeremy said...

Something doesn't add up to me on this. With the amount of total users world wide that Freehand had (yes even at 14%) there would have to be a viable business case to move it forward if you were Macromedia at the time. If a product is making money why on earth would you stop developing it?

No Adobe is not to blame directly on this death as has been noted. Macromedia stopped development before the deal went through. So in my mind its 1 of 2 possibilities.

1) Macromedia decided internally that web was it, and that supporting products in the print industry was not in their best interest. You can see hints of this in the new Fireworks which now supports many of Freehands features like multiple pages, paste inside, etc.

2) Negotiations between Macromedia and Adobe started alot earlier than any of us have thought.

Perhaps its a combination of the both?

At first I was 100% pissed when I heard that Adobe bought Macromedia. Freehand has been a staple in my arsenal for over 10 years. But over the last 2 years of uncertaintity I decided to give other tools a look. At this point I am comfortable enough with Illustrator to make the switch. I suspect this has been Adobe's strategy in not saying anything official. Let angry Freehand users blow off enough steam for a while before making the announcement so they can lure them with $199 upgrade prices :)

In the end folks be it Freehand, Illustrator, Corel Draw or whatever they are just tools to make art. If one tools dies, I would hope each one of us can get past the emmotion of it all and pick up another tool and continue to make more art.

Cheers,
Jeremy

Beavix said...

Freehand died when Adobe bought Macromedia. The death of Freehand means zero competition for Illustrator, which is bad for us the users, because competition stimulates progress. Look at Quark vs. InDesign.

Mordy Golding said...

I'll respond to some of khiltd's comments:

I'm much more annoyed by Adobe's sudden promotion of Flash to favorite child status than anything else. Instead of putting so much effort into integrating Illustrator with Flash why not focus on simply making Flash suck less so its users don't need to use (or buy!) Illustrator in the first place? Then the Illustrator engineers could actually strive to improve Illustrator rather than convert it into a thousand dollar companion utility for Flash--which is arguably the most obnoxious thing to happen to web design since the Java "reflection pool" applet. Even professional animators resent its prominence.

While I'm sure Adobe puts a high value on Flash, I don't think it is NEARLY anything like a favorite child. While I know that the Illustrator team did spend some time in making Flash integration a key feature of the CS3 release (and I can't offer enough praise for how wonderful of a job they really did), I also know that the Flash team tried to do as much as they could in the time that they had as well. Obviously, you can't make an application "suck less" until you start fixing things at the core. Considering how much time the Flash team had after the merger until the release of CS3, I think they did a wonderful job. Consider that they revamped the entire underlying vector engine, fixed the pen tool, and gave it to the new Adobe user interface, in addition to some wonderful features like the ability to copy and paste motion and to copy motion as ActionScript. Of course, there's also ActionScript 3.0 itself. In any regards, it's easy to see that Adobe is dedicated to making Flash better. But there's no way to get it done in one release.

Of course it would also help if the Illustrator engineers were all Illustrator users with a genuine, non-monetary, interest in the product's success. With the exception of Mr. Knoll, I get the feeling that the people working on Adobe products today are in no way related to the people who actually use Adobe products with any degree of regularity. When bonuses, bug reports and beach houses become the only motivation at hand, creativity dies, and that detachment becomes unfortunately palpable to the customers who begin to feel (often times quite rightly) as though they could do a better job on the specifications than the left-brained CS graduates who not only can't see the proverbial forest, but may not even be aware of the fact that it exists.

Having once been on the team that you are now attacking, I do take personal offense on some level. First, engineers have nothing to do with this. Engineers are team members that code the actual software. If you want to blame engineers, then yell at them for making buggy software. But they can take no blame for anything other than that. Second, I find it odd that you expect those on the Illustrator team to have a non-monetary interest in the product's success. Are you kidding me? When I worked at Adobe, I got paid to do my job. If my product wouldn't sell, I couldn't get paid. In fact, it's completely OPPOSITE from how you mention it. If I do my job really well, and make a REALLY good product that my customer wants to buy, then my manager rewards me with money for making such a wonderful product. So in essence, the Illustrator team cares very much about making a product that succeeds (meaning that it makes money). Because if the product is great and makes money, they benefit from it. So in the end, both Adobe and its customers are happy. At least, that's how I think it's supposed to work, no? I also think you have no idea how much research and work Adobe does to try to make their customers happy. You might be surprised to find out how many people who work at Adobe are also users of their own products.

I don't blame Adobe for killing FreeHand, but the overall public perception of the company's becoming a despotic tyrant is something they've brought upon themselves--especially archetypal silicon-valley-product-manager-with-an-undeservedly-high-opinion-of-himself Nack. I know I'm not the only person on Earth who feels as though stopping him from interacting with the public would actually improve the company's PR. Die hard FreeHand users would obviously still be upset, but painting them as some sort of easily dismissible lunatic fringe would be a much easier task for a more credible and less arrogant company mouthpiece.

I could defend John Nack here, because on many levels, John and I are cut from the same mold. While I don't agree with every point he makes, I will say one thing. It's refreshing when a product manager is passionate about his product and passionate about what he does. And his willingness to go out of his way to also communicate with the world some of the things he sees from within Adobe is something you don't see every day. John actually inspired me to start blogging, and I like to think that I've helped many people along the way. Maybe he steps over the line at times, but I think the positive far outweighs the alternative.

Mordy Golding said...

Thanks for your comments Jeremy. Here's a response to some of your questions:

Something doesn't add up to me on this. With the amount of total users world wide that Freehand had (yes even at 14%) there would have to be a viable business case to move it forward if you were Macromedia at the time. If a product is making money why on earth would you stop developing it?

I wasn't working at Macromedia, so I certainly can't state for sure what their reasoning could have been, but can offer this insight: business is all about making money, and showing sustained profit and most importantly, growth.

Yes, FreeHand had 14% marketshare, but that number had been shrinking for years (I think it stabilized at around 11% but rebounded a bit when Macromedia created a Flash and FreeHand bundle). In addition, while the market for FreeHand may have been making some money, their business around Flash was exploding and showed tremendous growth. So I present you with this scenario. Someone offers you a job where you can make decent money. But the money will basically stay the same for several years. Or, that same person offers you a job that pays the same money now, but has the potential to make tons of money over the next few years. Which job would you take?

In the end folks be it Freehand, Illustrator, Corel Draw or whatever they are just tools to make art. If one tools dies, I would hope each one of us can get past the emmotion of it all and pick up another tool and continue to make more art.

That's a great way to look at it Jeremy.

Jeremy said...

Hey Mordy

"So I present you with this scenario. Someone offers you a job where you can make decent money. But the money will basically stay the same for several years. Or, that same person offers you a job that pays the same money now, but has the potential to make tons of money over the next few years. Which job would you take?"

Therein is the problem with our world LOL Money makes everything dirty. :( If I was one of the families who was laid off because Freehands developed halted I know which scenario I would pick. And the boat loads of Freehand users I would venture to guess don't care much about scenarios either. It's a shame that excessive amounts of money is the primary motivator for decisions business leaders make. I mean I coud understand it if Freehand was loosing money. Fair enough. But to abandon it because it wasn't making as much money as Flash? It's a real shame.

"That's a great way to look at it"

Thanks Mordy. It's the only way we can look at it really. It doesn't mean I am not frustrated by the ass backwards way Illustrator manages/implements colour, nor by the ommision of any kind of gradient tool for manipulating gradients on the fly of each object, or an appearance tab with tons of potential but not enough guts, or lack of multiple pages, or a more elegant paste inside masking feature (heck even fireworks c3s has it now!!!), etc. Its a tool and if I want to continue to make art I will have to either get around Illustrators methodology or move on to some other tool.

Cheers,
Jeremy

Anonymous said...

a question for pdf/illustrator magicians: how do i edit LAYERED pdf in illustrator exported from indesign? actually i'm trying to transfer same layer structure from indesign to photoshop. and the workflow i thought should be working was- indesign>export to layered pdf, open it in illustrator and export to layered psd from there (since photoshop imports only flattened pdfs). however the workflow doesnt work for me with cs3 on mac. i can verify in acrobat 8 that layers are correct on the pdf exported from indesign, but illustrator opens in one layer with some grouped contents (doesn't seem to have anything common to original layers in indesign).

anyone got ideas on this? thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mordy!. A question:

In Cs3, when you try to align points, let's say u have a ragged line made with the pencil tool (of let's say 5 points), and then you want to align the points and select all of them with the white arrow tool, how does AI know if you want to align the points between themselves or the whole object relative to another one? I mean, when all nodes are selected, can Illustrator tell if u have selected the object or just all of its nodes? I've been told FH was able to tell the difference.

Thank you!

Mordy Golding said...

a question for pdf/illustrator magicians: how do i edit LAYERED pdf in illustrator exported from indesign? actually i'm trying to transfer same layer structure from indesign to photoshop.

Illustrator won't recognize layers in a PDF in that way. In addition, the InDesign to Illustrator workflow isn't really a good one either. I do agree that Adobe needs a better offering in that regards (ID to AI). You might try creating separate PDF files for each layer and then recompositing them in Photoshop (you wouldn't need AI in that case).

Anonymous said...

Hi Mordy

I noticed you talking about XMP metadata. Do you have any idea how to set up default values for Illustrator files so that when I go to File > File Info there's a standard set of information pre-filled? I know there's a template system in place, but I don't actually want to have to visit this dialog box at all - I'd prefer to just know that it's adding my copyright information off the bat without any human intervention required at all. Any pointers much appreciated!

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