Friday, October 23, 2015

O Photoshop, My Photoshop!

This morning I happened to be going through an old disk a friend returned to me earlier this year after many years, and I came across, of all things, an installation set for Photoshop. Photoshop 3.05, to be precise. The installation came in the form of eight folders, which represented the contents of the eight 1.44 MB floppy disks that Photoshop 3 shipped as. I was curious to see if it would still be possible to install and run Photoshop 3.05 on a computer made a dozen years later and running Windows 7.

It is.

This was a real kind of delight for me because it's the first version of Photoshop I ever worked with. I did an abortive stint on the fringes of the animation industry in the mid-1990s that, at what I guess I would call its apex, involved creating content in Adobe Photoshop 3 and animating it in Macromedia Director 4. In my case, this was done using a PowerMac 7200 running some flavour of System 7.

But Photoshop 3 was only the second version Adobe cross-platformed to Windows, and despite the fact that we were a Mac shop, a few of us were Wintel users at home. Someone got hold of the Windows installation and suddenly, unlike our Mac-preferring coworkers, we had Photoshop at home. For nerds like us, it was like being given a Mustang to swan around with.

Photoshop 3 was the first version of Photoshop to feature layers. Prior to that, the closest you got was when you pasted a copied selection into a document, it would float above it, temporarily, until you committed it, at which point it would drop down and replace the pixels beneath it. And unless you immediately used the single undo, those pixels were lost forever. But with version 3, you could simply create a new layer and paste into that instead, and lose nothing. I only became aware of this when I found an old demo installation of Photoshop 2.5 at work and read the manual, and was astonished to find it didn't have layers. Even in 1996, that seemed primitive.

I spent thousands of hours of my life, professionally and casually, working in Photoshop at that juncture of my life. I adored it. It was almost like my religion. And even though it's been vastly improved since then and superseded in essentially every particular, I still find myself with that first-love attraction to the simplicity, and yet unlocked power, of Photoshop 3. Frankly, if you just have the skill, patience, and knowledge, there's still not all that much you can do pushing pixels in Photoshop CC 2015 that you couldn't manage in Photoshop 3.05.

In kind of futzing around with it today, I noticed two things. One is that I still miss the keyboard shortcut for loading the alpha of the current layer! I spent well over a year of my life pressing CTRL+ALT+T to load the opacity of the current layer I was working on as a selection, and still miss that. It was removed in Photoshop 4 and has never come back. Ever since then, you've needed to hold down CTRL and use the mouse to click the thumbnail of the layer whose opacity you want to load as a selection. To me, that's retrograde. I went from being able to do it using the thumb, pinkie, and index finger of my left hand, with my eyes closed, to needing both hands and second piece of hardware. Even if you rewire the keyboard shortcuts, the best you get now is a dialog that asks you what you want to load as a selection, and you still need the mouse to click a drop-down and select current layer. There might be a way back, but I've never found it, and they long ago wore me down to doing it their way. But I swear, I've never once clicked one of those thumbnails without feeling sulky resentment, and I've never quite forgiven Adobe for doing that.

The other thing came as I was just fiddling with the layers. When I created a new layer, I happened to notice the Group with Previous Layer check box. I thought, hmm, I wonder what that does. So I clicked it. Oddly enough this never seems to have occurred to me in the couple of years I used Photoshop 3.05. What does it do? Well, today, we'd call it creating a layer using the layer below it as a clipping mask. Same thing. When I started drawing in the new layer, I was astonished to see the pixels only appeared if they sat over an opaque region of the underlying layer. I had no idea that was possible in Photoshop 3! Or at least, if I ever did, I made no use of it and long ago forgot about it. But till this morning, if you'd asked me, I'd have said that was a comparatively recent feature of Photoshop, and would have guessed it was introduced no earlier than, say, Photoshop 7... if then!

One undeniable limitation of 3.05 relative to today is the lack of editable text. Until version 5, text was rasterized as soon as you committed it, and ceased to be "text" in the sense of being characters as far as the computer was concerned. You could read it, but to the computer it was just a bunch of pixels like any other. If it weren't for that drawback, I'd say that 3.05 would still be perfectly serviceable for most things casual users could possibly want to do with Photoshop. As it is, taking into account a handful of other features I've found a need for over the years, I'd say my personal bottom line for must-have features is Photoshop 7 (the last version before we started this awful "Creative Suite" numbering revisionism).

In truth, I'm probably not going to use Photoshop 3.05 beyond the next couple of days or so, just to sort of wander down Memory Lane. I have a subscription to CC 2015, and that's the face I've grown accustomed to. But there's no reason not to swing by the old stomping ground, look up that gal you shared that first kiss with, and spend a few hours laughing and saying, "remember when..."

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