Adobe product manager Hart Shafer confirms on his blog that Soundbooth, Adobe’s new audio editor, will ship both as part of Creative Suite 3 and as a standalone product. Apparently I’m not the only one who wanted to see a standalone version:

Soundbooth Beta 2 Article

Given that Audition is already bundled in the Windows video production suites, maybe this means Mac bundle customers and lower-end customers will also see the app as an included product, which would be nice. We’ll know soon enough.

Equally interesting is the reaction Soundbooth is already generating. Apparently me comparing an audio editor to Photoshop pricked up some ears:

Adobe Soundbooth Beta 2: Now Easier, More Photoshop-y [digg]

And, of course, digg’s trolls immediately took to the comments. One good idea out of the discussion: OGG export, which has a lot of appeal to me and wouldn’t even require a license fee for Adobe. Mac users are still understandably upset that there’s no PowerPC version, but given the availability of Sound Studio and Peak LE, and the Intel-specific optimizations in the Intel-native Soundbooth, this argument seems like a waste of time.

Are Graphics Tools Intuitive?

More interesting, though, a lot of readers were upset that I called Photoshop intuitive. Personally, I think the basic lasso editing tool and graphical painting metaphors are quite intuitive, and I think a spectral view is one of the best ways to visualize sound. These metaphors have become so familiar to computer users, in fact, that we forget they weren’t the creation of Adobe Photoshop at all. The lasso tool, and most other paint tools that are now as second-nature to us as windowed interfaces, are the invention of Bill Atkinson, while developing MacPaint for the original Mac (pictured at right, courtesy folklore.org):

MacPaint Evolution [Andy Hertzfeld, folklore.org]

It’s rare that someone really invents something, but in the case of the now-ubiquitous graphic editing metaphors on which most modern apps are based, Bill really did invent some of the basic tools. And I’ll argue with the commenters on digg: this doesn’t just make sense to graphics people. I remember being in school and using the original MacPaint and Hypercard for the first time. I didn’t need anyone to show me: I started messing around with the mouse, I saw what the tools did, and I’ve been using these tools ever since.

There are other lessons here, too. Apple in the early days took smart interface concepts and applied them universally. MacPaint tools were in HyperCard; shortcuts worked everywhere. Apple doesn’t do that nearly as well any more; even Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro feel like they were developed by different companies. Adobe has a lot more integration work to do, too, and certainly apps are much more complicated than they once were — not always a bad thing, as I’d rather use Photoshop CS3 than MacPaint. But leveraging good ideas across products is absolutely a good idea.

The other lesson, though, is that the possibilities are still open for new interface inventions. Before MacPaint, there was no MacPaint: Atkinson made it up. Why not make up new ways of using our computer? Of course, Apple had an advantage, in that they could build software around the hardware most people weren’t yet using (the mouse). That concept has deep implications for those of us in music, because physical activity has always been what music is about.

Bill Atkinson was one programmer with an idea, of course, not a huge corporate development effort. I suspect we’ll see more good ideas come from individual developers. Some of these interface ideas will be intuitive, others more subtle. But there are still plenty of ways of exploring sound and image that we haven’t discovered yet.

Oh, incidentally, digg doesn’t usually bring down CDM. We’re having serious server problems that seem to bring CDM crashing to a halt if we look at it the wrong way. We’re moving to a new, dedicated server next week. At that point, please digg us, slashdot us, tell everyone we’re hosting free nude photos (synth pr0n?), whatever. (Just don’t send any more spam than the 2,000 spam comments we get per day. We hate that.)

  • http://www.cutwithflourish.com ed

    Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro were developed by different companies. Apple bought them.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yes, correct — Apple bought them, and they still have some confusing differences. And what about Motion and Soundtrack Pro, developed in-house at Apple — some things are consistent, others are not. I think it's as much about the inherent complexity of modern creative apps as it is common ownership, and as I said, I don't want to go in a time machine back to 1984. But it is something to consider.

  • bliss

    You won't get an argument out of me about how Photoshop isn't intuitive, because I think it is intuitive. I wrote a post on the CDN forums not too long ago about how I wish more audio applications functioned the way Photoshop does. With Photoshop all you have to do is do something once and then you will never forget how to do it. With audio apps sometimes I have to do things multiple times before the concepts stick. Anyway, I think it's likely that things will only get easier for us computer musicians because the computer gaming industry is definitely leading the way for innovative software and hardware interface design, and so you know people like Steve Jobs are paying close attention. Plus Jeff Han and his "interface-free" computer touch screen still has people picking their jaws up from off the floor because sound and practically anything else will be virtually in our hands in a very short while.

  • http://www.cutwithflourish.com ed

    I like Jeff Han's touch screen (and curse the fact that I can't afford a lemur) but do you think they'll ever be as precise as a mouse? My finger's a lot wider than that little arrow.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I don't see Jeff Han's touchscreen in wide computer use any time soon, because it relies on back-projection. It's very cool, of course, but not quite ready for prime time. And Ed is right — touchscreens in general are limited by finger size. In fact, we never really think about it, but what the mouse is doing is taking gestures in your hand and translating them into more finely-detailed motions. (Ditto touchpads.) Tablets do that too, however, and more touch technology is definitely in the future — just don't expect them to replace the current hardware entirely.

    I had an argument with someone about knobs. If you think knobs are an arbitrary idea (well, maybe they were at the time), just take a look at your hand. Opposable thumbs mean knobs and encoders will always feel good.

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