Crash Report for “Adobe Fireworks CS4” by Jon Hicks
Poor Jon. If ever there were a man who didn’t need Adobe apps crashing for no good reason, this has to be him. And, although I use Adobe apps a fraction as often as Jon, I can still sympathize. Brother, can I.
I hate bagging on software developers (Jesus, it’s such hard and underappreciated work), but I’m baffled by where Adobe’s Mac BU is heading.
Each release of the Adobe apps I use (and used to so depend on) feels less stable, more bloated, and — easy as this was to overlook for a REALLY long time — increasingly less Mac-like. Or at least less OS X-like. They feel like sketches of OS X applications, drawn from memory.
Kinda reminds me of Microsoft in 1993 or whenever it was they released Word 6. It’s hard to call up a metaphor for how badly those folks ruined one of the most elegant applications I used and truly relied on to do my job at the time. It installed dozens of crufty extensions, looked just awful, and ran with the pluck and elegance of an incontinent grizzly bear with the gout. So I stayed with 5.1 until it died in my arms some time later that decade.
Also makes me further appreciate the work of people like Gus (Acorn), Buzz (PodWorks), and Keith (Scrivener). Sure, they’re vending software, but really they’re selling elegant little solutions to real problems. Even Scrivener — which does a LOT — has its by-design limits, as chosen by the auteur who made it. But each of the three apps works (IMHO) at exactly the level of scope needed for what each needs to do. And not a bit more. Plus, they’re each really fun to use. And…er…don’t crash so much.
This level of awesome doesn’t happen by accident or iteration or lucky lottery ticket. Each app’s a joy to use precisely because it’s built from scratch to solve certain problems real people have in a certain context — not to do everything for everyone and certainly not to fit into a “Suite” that was invented by some white-toothed Stanford grad who knows each app’s “Features & Benefits” bullets better than the needs of its battlefield users.
In a good app (or a good anything) the design and functionality are inseparable; it’s designed like this because it works like this because it’s designed like this….
To paraphrase that overquoted analogy about drilling holes vs. “being happy,” nobody wakes up today going, “Oh, I can’t wait to leverage the synergy of Adobe’s integrated suite of applications and services.” They go, “Holy shit. Now that my drive crashed, I hope I can get the only copy of my MP3s off this old iPod.”
Nobody uses bullets. Nobody thinks that way, and, I promise you, nobody works that way. Yes, IT departments may buy that way. But, I’m not an IT department. (Except, yes, granted, when a subtly enhanced OS update goes tits up)
It’s just that right now, the Adobe apps I use don’t feel like they’re made for anybody. Then they crash. Which sucks.
Yes, I do hate to bag on software developers, but, Jesus. If I were one of Adobe’s Mac guys (and, obviously, if I had the resources and mandate to do so) I’d do any of four-ish things (And yes, I realize trying to do all of them at once is paradoxical and impossible. Pick one.):
- Start over. Not really exactly start over. But stop acting like these iterations around shuffling product lines and bolting on new bits of functionality is getting you anyplace good. Act like you’re inventing new apps for what people need today. For the OS people use today. Learn from the indies. To use a word that I’m allowed to invoke exactly quarterly: innovate. (See also: Lightroom)
- Strip the shit out of everything. Cut down on cruft, chrome, gold plating, menu diarrhea, and all the other things that make Adobe apps feel like a carnival ride you’d NEVER put your kid on. Yes, be an auteur, but also be a mensch. Apply your own version of 80/20 rules to everywhere it applies. Viz: Does anyone use “Plastic Wrap” as much as “Unsharp Mask?” Okay. Then why are they on equivalent menu levels? Make it clear what’s really important but then (ala Quicksilver) also learn to bubble up what we each use the most.1
- Stabilize. You know. The slow launches? The long saves? The crappy performance? The crashing? Yeah. Stop that.
- Be nicer to us. Man, if you make software, you never want to be on my “Groan Pile.” That’s the apps that make me Groan as soon as I realize I have to launch them. MS Word is not only the President of Groan; it’s the 4-term FDR of Groan. But, Adobe makes some promising dark horse candidates for the next election cycle. Because, with Adobe apps, everything from installation through activation through re-activation through software updates through more re-re-reactivations through (HEY! more updates!) is like a giant rectal exam. That I paid for. Or maybe more like a weekly trip to the DMV where I’m confronted by a manic-depressive clerk who always thinks I’m lying about my age and eyesight. Swear to God, guys; I bought the fucking apps. See? And the updates? Wow. You should check out this new thing called “Sparkle.” It’s a Mac thing. Really catching on. Apps update and you don’t even have to go to the DMV every week to do it. Cherry.
(Yikes. Can’t believe this started as a Flickr comment. Anyhow.)
Adobe. Guys? Love you. I know a handful of you personally. You may (as with my pals at MS) have close to zero control over any aspect of any of this. If so I apologize. Not trying to be a dick. But there’s two and only two scenarios here for anyone who claims they want to be taken seriously by the OS X community:
- You make great apps that solve real problems and observe conventions that Mac nerds depend on — apps that are also easy to buy, easy to use and maintain, are breathtakingly well-supported, and are just a general delight to own and recommend, or;
- You do literally anything else.
One (sometimes one of the extremely few) of the benefits of the annoyingly rabid Mac community is that we do talk to each other a lot, and we do absolutely have equivalents of pro wrestling’s faces and heels. Right now, Adobe is not regarded as a hero. No. Right now you’re the heavy guy from some country we don’t like who’s always with the folding chairs.
I get that Photoshop and Dreamweaver etc. are about a lot (LOT) more than one task for one user by one developer. But should they really feel this much like the opposite of that? Like some…stuff for some…user…in some…job via some…enterprise suite that….[Ooops. Need to go re-activate.]
That’s not how you make people look forward to double-clicking your increasingly austere icons.
Maybe you don’t want or need to be a hero to a bunch of portly men in Daring Fireball t-shirts. That’s understandable. And, in which case, yes, this is all beyond irrelevant. But, I’m assuming you want to do the right thing and that you want to reclaim your rightful place of honor within the community that, frankly, helped make you (yeah, I know you’re big competitors now, rah rah).
But, if you did want to be a hero — and wanted to again become relevant to the crowd I run with — it’d take a lot of work and a lot of listening, and the same kind of grinding dedication to making something awesome for real people that’s made folks like Gus, Buzz, and Keith (and Chock and Cabel and Steven and Wil and Brent and on and on and on) as successful and beloved as they are.
So, listen. As ever, if I can help or you wanna talk or you just want to have me in for lunch to tell me where I got it wrong, Dom’s got my digits and you’re an easy MUNI ride away.
Ohs and exes,
P.S. Notice how it wasn’t until this sentence that I mentioned Acrobat? That’s because I’m a gentleman. I’m restrained. Plus, I hate bagging on software developers.