Today in Apple history: Photoshop debuts as a Mac exclusive

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Adobe Systems' Photoshop launch changed the game for image editing.
Photoshop changed the game for image editing.
Photo: Adobe Systems

February 19 Today in Apple history: Mac creator Jef Raskin complains about Steve Jobs February 19, 1990: Adobe ships the first commercial version of its soon-to-be-iconic Photoshop photo editing software.

Released exclusively for the Macintosh, the groundbreaking software debuts for Mac System 6.0.3. Priced at $895, Photoshop quickly becomes the standard editing tool for graphics professionals. Whether they work for advertising agencies, news organizations — or, frankly, anywhere else — Photoshop users take advantage of the program’s digital darkroom tools to seamlessly manipulate images.

Photography will never be the same.

Photoshop launch: From ILM to Adobe

Brothers Thomas and John Knoll developed Photoshop. Thomas Knoll began developing it as a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan in 1987. Discovering that his Mac Plus computer would not display grayscale images correctly, he started coding a program to help.

Thomas’ brother John ran the special effects department at George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic. Together, they developed Thomas’ brainchild into a full image editing program they called Display. They later renamed it Image-Pro, then Photoshop. The Knolls completed the first alpha version, Photoshop 0.63, in October 1988. However, they never released that version to the public.

Adobe Systems purchased the program, releasing it in February 1990 as Adobe Photoshop, a standalone software application. Once Photoshop hit the mass market, it changed image editing forever.

Photoshop launch changes the image-editing game

Compared to today’s Photoshop, version 1.0 seems, unsurprisingly, quite primitive. Still, it represented an enormous leap forward compared to other graphics applications available at the time. Version 1.0 boasted features like the Lasso and Magic Wand icons, making it easy to select and copy image elements. Adobe donated the original source code for Adobe Photoshop 1.0 to the Computer History Museum in February 2013.

Much like the concerns with “deep fakes” today, Photoshop woke people up to the ways in which computers could be used to manipulate images. In 1990, the year Adobe released Photoshop 1.0, photography critic Fred Ritchin wrote:
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“[As] the public begins to perceive photography as unreliable, those who control its uses should clearly understand what they are doing to a photograph. They should address both the question of image manipulation by the computer and the more general tendency to use photographs to illustrate preconceived ideas and self-fulfilling prophecies.”

For a fun trip down memory lane, check out this InfoWorld article about Photoshop from early 1990, comparing it to the other advanced graphics editor of the time, Letraset’s Color Studio. It does a good job of summarizing just what a game-changer Photoshop was at the time. Even if, as the author noted, it was “a fairly big program … [taking up] about 2 megabytes.”

Photoshop sets a new standard

In the years that followed, Photoshop became a standard application for anyone who works with graphics. Today, Adobe sells it (now on version 21.0.3) as subscription software.  While other image editors rose to challenge it over the years, Photoshop remains the gold standard for many people. And it all started 30 years ago today with the Photoshop launch on the Mac.

Did you use Photoshop 1.0 back in the day? What are your memories of this game-changing piece of software? Let us know in the comments below.

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