Does Adobe hate the Mac?

I’ve been pondering this question for a while now. I think that the folks at Adobe probably don’t hate the Mac, but they do seem to have a preference for Windows. Here’s why.

Exhibit A: Windows-style UI elements in Mac Photoshop

I’ve been using Photoshop since around 1995 (even written a nice book about it) so I feel like I know this beast inside out now. I’ve used both Windows and Mac versions heavily, and the Mac version is full of little Windows UI quirks. For example:

  • Non-standard shortcut to bring up the Preferences pane (Command-K, not the standard Command-,). Just because Windows users have to suffer from the lack of a consistent Preferences shortcut, why should Mac users have to do the same?
  • Non-standard shortcut to hide Photoshop (Command-Control-H, not the standard Command-H – fair enough in a way, as Command-H is used to hide stuff within Photoshop).
  • Non-standard shortcut to switch between document windows – i.e. Control-Tab, not the standard (and much less finger-twisting) Command-`. This one really bugs me.
  • The odd shortcut that only works in Windows (I’m thinking of Alt+I, then hold Alt and press D to instantly duplicate an image – a quirk that relies on Windows’ keyboard shortcuts for menus).

Exhibit B: 32-bit Mac Photoshop CS4

Photoshop CS4 will be 64-bit on Windows, 32-bit on Mac. ‘Nuff said. (Although Adobe blames Apple for this.)

Exhibit C: The horror of the Mac Photoshop CS4 interface

One of the things I’ve always hated about Photoshop on Windows is the “everything in one big window” interface. Well – horror of horrors – Adobe is shoehorning the single-window UI into Photoshop CS4 on the Mac! Is nothing sacred? And how will this work with Exposé? However, it looks like there will be an option to revert back to the multi-window UI. Thank flip for that.

Having said that, I confess I haven’t tried the single-window CS4 interface. Maybe it’s great, and maybe it does in fact mirror certain other Apple apps, as John Nack from Adobe argues quite convincingly on his blog. Time will tell I guess. (Many commenters on that blog post would seem to disagree. Choice quote: “I’ve always disliked the PC version of Photoshop, since it’s in a window and now you guy vomit this onto the Mac.”)

I personally don’t see the point of an app frame to block out underlying windows, especially as we now have Spaces in Leopard (if you’re really bothered about seeing stuff underneath document windows, simply put Photoshop in its own Space and you’re done.)

Then we have other yucky stuff in Photoshop CS4, such as buttons in the title bar (yuck) and non-standard window control buttons (yuck).

Exhibit D: The horror of the Mac Fireworks CS4 interface

The yuckiness continues with the Fireworks CS4 beta. According to Craig over at Cult of Mac – who describes Fireworks on the Mac as user interface hell – we have the same single-window interface, non-standard window buttons, and buttons in the title bar to look forward to, as well as no standard window resize control. My good friend and partner-in-crime, Si, recently echoed some of these grumbles, though he argues that Adobe is creating a UI that is neither Windows nor Mac. Interesting point – but if it’s true, what’s Adobe’s game-plan here? To create a new UI standard for all other companies to follow?

Exhibit E: Adobe Bridge CS3 – might as well be running it on Windows

Now I love Bridge CS3; after wrestling with iPhoto for ages I’ve finally settled on Bridge as the easiest, most transparent way to organise my photos. However, it feels very much like a Windows app that somehow got a bit lost and wandered onto my Mac by mistake.

Windows keyboard shortcuts that have polluted the Mac version include:

  • Same non-standard Preferences shortcut as Photoshop (Command-K)
  • Shift-click to select a range of items (admittedly quite useful, but non-standard on the Mac nonetheless)
  • Return doesn’t rename a photo, it opens it. According to the Bridge Help, you’re supposed to be able to rename with the Spacebar, but it doesn’t work. What does work, however, is F2 – a shortcut lifted straight from Windows Explorer!
  • F5 to refresh the window, again lifted from Windows Explorer and IE.
  • F1 for Help! Even the Mac’s dedicated Help key doesn’t work!

Hmm. I’m thinking: Written for Windows, hastily ported to the Mac. What about you?

I must admit, though, that I quite like Bridge CS3’s single-window approach (except when I’m trying to drag and drop photos between folders, of course). Maybe there’s something in what John Nack’s saying after all.


I suppose there’s something to be said for a consistent UI across platforms. It lets users easily switch between operating systems at will. However, part of what makes the Mac so great is its standards for UI elements and keyboard shortcuts, and Adobe happily ignores many of these standards with their apps.

So does Adobe hate the Mac platform? Do they want it to die quietly in a corner, so that they only have to worry about developing for one OS? Probably not. But it does seem that they care more about making their apps play nicely with Windows than with Mac OS.

In a way, this is understandable; they probably sell more copies of Windows Photoshop than Mac Photoshop (or do they?). Nonetheless, it’s a shame that Adobe’s apps seem to have a Windows bias these days. Both Apple and Adobe produce fantastic products which enjoy a strong following among the creative community, and I feel that Adobe is doing those users a disservice with this apparently Windows-centric approach. It’d be great to see Adobe treat both Mac and Windows platforms equally.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how this situation plays out in future Adobe apps.

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15 Responses to “Does Adobe hate the Mac?”

  1. Snafu Says:

    “Photoshop CS4 will be 64-bit on Windows, 32-bit on Mac. ‘Nuff said. (Although Adobe blames Apple for this.)”

    yes, because Apple promised to deliver a Carbon 64 UI API which Adobe and others targetted their Carbon apps for, and a year later (WWDC ’07) it killed it even if it was already mostly done. Now Adobe must attempt the biggest transition of a Carbon app to Cocoa ever (Apple hasn’t ported any of its biggies yet. Say, Final Cut Pro). And they are doing it after discarding these previous efforts that could have given us Photoshop 64 this year. It simply will take them beyond CS4.

    I like their new UIs lots, the alternative being the usual palettitis.

    Frankly, I don’t see then as the enemy. Any big Mac app developer that persists through the gyrations Apple usually puts them through merits a bit of love 🙂

  2. Nick Says:

    I don’t think they do have a preference for Windows. If anything it seems to be the other way round. I just bought Adobe Lightroom for my Mac and also bought the official book (by Martin Evening) to go with it. The book nearly always shows Mac screenshots and almost always says stuff along the lines of, “Do this on the Mac (or that, I you’re on Windows)”. I suppose Adobe knows that many, perhaps most, creative professionals are using Macs and so it makes sense for them to highlight that platform more even though it’s the minority platform across all demographics.

    Actually, IIRC, Lightroom debuted first on the Mac and the leading programmer is very much a Mac man (although I think I also recall reading he’s now left Adobe and is at at Microsoft of all places.)

    I think Adobe can seem to be uninterested in the Mac because of the 32-bit issue you mention and because of the awful quality of Flash on the Mac. But, after all, Flash was a Macromedia product not originally an Adobe one; and, besides, there the demographic is all Net users, which *is* a predominantly Windows-using demographic. As for the 32-bit issue — Adobe’s stuff is, as you mention, cross-platform at its core, and obviously needs to be given their market. Where it interfaces with OS X it uses outdated technology that was taken from the old Mac OS and forced (not always comfortably) into the NeXT-based stuff Jobs brought back with him from his years in Redwood City. Adobe have been trundling along with this technology for years — as has Microsoft with their Office for Mac. It’s irritating, but not surprising: I don’t think one could expect Adobe to move to the newer technology until they perforce had to. They, like Microsoft, were hardly going to go to the expense of abandoning an existing codebase and starting fresh unless there was no other choice.

    Adobe are something of a mixed bag. I believe they are fairly Mac-oriented and that they do some nice Mac software. Lightroom is a prime example. OTOH, they have Flash and that dreadful bloated Adobe Reader software, which seems always to have new insecurity to threaten its users with.

    Perhaps they’re not too different from Apple! Apple has some excellent best-in-class software — Safari, for example — but it also has QuickTime, which is nearly as much of a security embarrassment as Reader.

  3. Peter Says:

    I just wanted to make a quick comment about Exhibit B.

    Apple is deprecating Carbon UI elements. They will not be 64-bit. If you want to do 64-bit UI, use Cocoa. Using Cocoa means a big rewrite to applications into a language which is not all that transportable between Windows and Mac OS X.

    This, of course, is after years of telling application developers that if they will rewrite their apps to use these special Carbon UI elements (HIView), Apple will support them in the future. Of course, now Apple is saying, “If you rewrite everything again, we’ll support you.”

    From what I understand, 25% of Adobe’s revenue comes from Mac users. On the other hand, if Adobe is spending 75% of their development dollars to support 25% of their revenue, is this a really good idea?

  4. jbelkin Says:

    Yea, Adobe hates Apple … (and to be fair, Apple hates Adobe and Adobe also hates MS – they’re idiots).

  5. Joy Says:

     has dictated that ALL 64 bit applications must be coded using Cocoa. Joy! This simple stipulation, will force Adobe to actually treat Mac development as it’s own entity and take it seriously instead of a ported afterthought.

    Photoshop written in Cocoa will fix a lot of the unconventional Adobe UI, make a better product for Adobe, and maybe even drive innovation on the windows side.

    Once everything is written from scratch in Cocoa, this will be a screaming modern application, that will be well ahead of its windows counterpart.

    Adobe should take this seriously and jump on the rising ship, instead of grumbling and clinging to a dying windows platform. Does anyone seriously think that windows 7 will plug the holes and save the platform? Most PC manufactures are bundling duel boot Linux alternatives to ween users off of windows, and preserve their control, trying to deliver the tightly controlled Apple UI experience through pre-configured Linux.

    Microsoft is even doubling their Mac OSX Cocoa efforts. MacBU will be delivering many more al Cocoa applications in the coming years. Adobe would do well, to simply form an all new AdobeMac department that focuses on OSX technologies independent of Adobe/windows. The only colabration, would be cross platform file sharing, nothing else. All other UI conventions can be completely different and exist as distinctly different programs. Adobe could then sell to the strengths of both platforms, winner take all.

    It makes sense that Adobe try to make up their own UI for windows, that lacks this. However, they should adopt & embrace the  UI and stop trying to reinvent what  has already done so well.

    Adobe is in the best position to benefit from 64 bit OSX Snow Leopard, with OpenCL, QuickTIme X, & Grand Central… all in Cocoa. Adobe knows this… it is only their nostalgia for windows that prevents them from making a killer product. Maybe  will just buy Adobe and stop the nonsense.

  6. Roger Says:

    To me it seems Adobe is now run by marketing folk that do wish they only had to write for one platform. I am sure many of the folk writing Adobe apps do like the Mac, but they don’t run the company. Adobe does a great job with Photoshop and OK with InDesign while turning many of there applications in to bloated crap. They hardly ever fix the bugs in their applications. At one time they hardly ever had bugs. There is a company that needs to pause and clean up their applications as Apple is suppose to be doing.

  7. wtfk Says:

    Yup. I bought Photoshop Elements 6 because I needed it for compatibility with Leopard–or so I thought. The interface is an effing abomination! It takes over your whole screen, and you can’t even hide it easily because cmd-h doesn’t work the same way it does in every other application. You can’t cmd-option-click on the desktop to make it go away, because they’ve done away with your desktop!

    I’m seriously pissed, and you can color me “looking for a replacement for Photoshop Elements.”

  8. Matt Says:

    Many thanks for all your insightful comments. So it sounds like Apple might have jumped the gun forcing 64-bit apps to use Cocoa, but maybe Cocoa will be a good thing for Adobe Mac apps in the long run!

    @jbelkin – that’s a very interesting piece on the future of Flash. Thanks for posting it.

  9. Former PSE Fan Says:

    @Peter: There’s a fair amount of software that Adobe makes that is not available on a Mac. Plus, there’s got to be a lot of sales to the Windows behemoth with Flash (ads), InDesign, and Dreamweaver.

    @All: Apple really did pull the rug out from under Adobe with Carbon64. I’m sure it was a purely political move to try and lock people into Mac coding just as Microsoft has tried. It also has the HUGE benefit of keeping the apps that run the OS in sync with the OS. Changes to the OS objects automatically are reflected inside the App.

    As for the UI, I do Wincrap at work (power user) and Mac at home. I have to make the change at the OS level already. I DO NOT want to have to do a THIRD UI!!! I’m already locked into the UI I’m using and do NOT want to have to shift within that OS. Gack!

    Also, presumably Adobe can use some brains and do the Model View Controller dev methodology properly and set the View up to run platform specific and the model platform agnostic. I would think the controller could be divided to support the View and Model appropriately (or more accurately, the view has all the code needed to run itself and the controller has the rest of the code needed to run against the model anywhere. I write database apps so my knowledge of coding native apps is skin deep.

    I totally agree about the bug fixes. So many of the fixes wait for the new version. I’m also a PSE user (v3) and reeeeeeeeally don’t want to upgrade to 6, but there’s no other place to find these features. (Enlighten me if so).

  10. Darren Says:

    I, for one, will not be upgrading to CS4 apps if there is no option to use the traditional interface. I tried using the single-screen idea with fireworks CS4 and it was a disaster. I have a 1920px wide monitor and i make lots of 100 pixel wide banner ads and such. The single window idea makes no sense when one is generating small web graphics.

  11. Adam Pescupa Says:

    I don’t think Adobe hates they Mac, they just pander to Windows users due to the significantly higher bottom line. What I do know is that more and more Mac users are beginning to hate Adobe. I’m definitely getting there myself. After wrestling with all sorts of headache inducing BS on both ends of Adobe’s Mac toy store (Designer & Developer), my employer has been diligently weeding out every Adobe solution possible for some time now. It’s the same reason I hope Apple keeps Adobe’s half-assed Mac Flash Player off of the iPhone.

  12. tim Says:

    Very good article and I agree with pretty much all of it. Anyone who uses Macs more than Windows is going to hate the new UI. It looks really shocking and not at all good for workflow.

    On a separate note I hate the way we (UK customers) get fleeced on the prices. If you go get the complete suite is about $1500 more. I look at Apple and see FCS 2 for the bargain price of £850 and can’t help but feel some slight hatred toward Adobe.

  13. Matt Says:

    @tim: Yes the UK prices are a shocker aren’t they. We don’t get it quite so bad here in Aus (though still not as cheap as the US). It’s always been this way with Adobe I believe.

  14. Justin L Says:

    microsoft’s .NET is specifically designed to support multiple languages and concepts, to be as cross-compatible as possible (it’s even designed to work with unix paths). it’s based on multiple standards by the ISO and Ecma. microsoft has agreed in writing not to sue the mono project (the major open source rewrite of .NET) for reimplementing .NET. microsoft has incredibly thorough documentation and samples of the entire framework available for free online with no signup/login.

    microsoft’s upgrade policy for .NET is that with each new version of the framework, previous versions are included, being maintained on their original source code, so that older .NET programs will continue to work exactly the way they always did, and you can always continue to develop for an older version of the framework.

    also, in terms of the toolkit, .NET allows first-class access to the legacy windows API, .NET still has its original GUI toolkit (windows forms) fully supported, and it also has the new WPF which is infinitely more advanced than cocoa. everything on .NET is inherently cross-platform and cross-language, where one .NET binary works on all archs, without having to contain individual builds for each supported arch, and where there are no second class languages. you can define a .NET class in managed C++, extend it in VB, extend it again in haskell, and instantiate it in C#.

    .NET’s pluralist approach is the diametric opposite of apple’s proprietary, platform-bound, one-size-fits-all way of thinking.

    as usual, apple fans who claim to be artists and innovative free thinkers are forced to defend their corporate master’s decision to eliminate choices and impose the “one true” design on its obedient masses of silenced would-be artists.

    blue and grey are nice, but my favorite color is orange, apple.

  15. Eric Says:

    Some very astute comments here. I work at Adobe. The fact is there is a special affection for Apple, but Jobs has been a dick. And in reality there are 3 forces, MS, Apple, and Adobe vying for the future of computing. MS and Apple both have OS platforms (agendas) they are pushing. Adobe is trying it’s best to be middle of the road when the vast majority of the industry is just happy to suck Bill Gate’s dick exclusively (Intuit ring a bell?) Give Adobe a break. We live in a capitalist culture and Adobe needs to eat. What other company with their portfolio (Adobe plus Macromedia) would give Apple the time of day much less treat them as equal to MS in spite of Job’s egomania? No Flash on the iPhone, fine.. welcome to Silverlight everywhere, all the time. It’s coming.