The Shape of Everything
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May 18, 2011

Recently Acorn 3 was reviewed in Macworld by Ben Long. He seemed to come from the perspective of a long time Photoshop user who is looking at Acorn as a Photoshop competitor or maybe as an app that aspires to be Photoshop. Ben starts out writing that it's surprising to see small companies making image editing programs when PS dominates the market. He refers to Acorn's single palette as a "screen-cluttering single toolbox", and even moves the palette from the right to the left side of the screen (which is where PS's tool palette is). Acorn is also dinged because it has too many effects filters (which are mostly the system supplied Core Image filters) and it doesn't have Photoshop features like Fill Light.

Amusingly, Ben also refers to the bezier tools in Acorn as having "all the editing abilities you expect from a full-fledged vector illustration program". I'm sure if you've ever used Illustrator or Freehand or Fireworks, you are smiling at that quote because Acorn's bezier tools are pretty much dead last if you're going to compare it to any vector apps out there. I'll be the first to admit that Acorn's vector tools are pretty pathetic.

And finally in the buying advice section, Ben writes:

"Unfortunately, the target audience for the program isn't clear. Acorn's got advanced features that most novice users won't use, but not all the simpler tools that novice users need." "I would imagine that the user who’s shopping for a $50 image editor is not out to create an effects-laden masterpiece, they probably just want to improve their photos, and in that regard, Acorn offers about the same level of power as iPhoto."

I'm not mad at Ben Long or Macworld for the review, because I understand the perspective it is coming from. Ben is a long time Photoshop user- he has even authored a book with many pages dedicated to using PS. Photoshop is what he's comfortable using. Trying to make Acorn act like PS is going to be an exercise in frustration, and it comes through in the review. (I might not be mad about the review, but I will admit to being upset. Especially since the exact same "screen-cluttering toolbox" was awarded an Eddy by Macworld a year and a half ago. A little consistency please!)

So let's just get this out of the way.

Acorn isn't Photoshop. I have no desire to turn Acorn into any sort of Photoshop clone. Acorn opens up PSD files, borrows many keyboard shortcuts and ideas from Photoshop (just as Photoshop borrowed from MacPaint), but Photoshop is not Acorn's future.

This upsets some people. I know this because I get the angry emails. This makes some people very happy. I know, because I get the love letters.

So who is Acorn for?

Acorn is for people who want an easy to use image editor which behaves like a modern Mac application. If you want to drag and drop an image into the layers list? Cool- you can do that. Drag and drop it onto the canvas? Awesome, it works. Does Acorn integrate into the system and use the native filters and plugins from Core Image, Quartz Compositions, and Color Pickers? What about integration with the Services menu? Yes yes yes.

Acorn is for people who want to make original images. Want to make a simple gradient background for your desktop? Awesome- choose your monitor's resolution when making a new image (which Acorn figures out for you and puts it in the preset list), add a quick gradient and choose "Use Image as Desktop Picture" from the canvas's contextual menu. Go nuts with all the filters- I've seen some of the crazy shit you guys have made with the Sixfold Rotated Tile, and holy crap- how did you do that?

Acorn is for people who just simply want to add text to images. Is there styled text on your clipboard already? Awesome- just paste that right onto your image and Acorn will add a new layer and text box for you. Change it up with Acorn's Type palette, or use the standard system supplied one. That was easy. Spice it up with a drop shadow or another layer style.

Acorn is for people who want to quickly touch up or adjust their photos for when iPhoto isn't cutting it. Yes, it is going to be slow with your 21 megapixel RAW image created on your professional grade Canon 5D Mark II. Acorn isn't optimized for that case and if you own a $3,000 camera, you probably already have Photoshop. Use that. But if you have a point and click camera without some insane resolution- then you're probably going to be happy with Acorn. You can make selections or use quickmask to selectively apply levels or filters and so on. Or make a new layer from your selections and work on it that way while blending your layer in using the opacity settings.

Acorn is for people who just want to quickly resize an image. Open your image up, hold down the option key, and resize the window to a smaller size. Tada- Acorn just shrunk your image. Or get more precise by opening up the Resize Image sheet. And by precise I mean type in "(1024 / 2) + 4". Yes, the width and height fields will take calculations. You can even press the up and down arrow keys to change your dimensions. Acorn is simple, and it is powerful.

Acorn is for people who want to script or use Automator to drive their image editing app. Got a bunch of images you want to resize or save in a different format? You can do this with Automator. What about scripting across multiple applications? AppleScript to the rescue. Or maybe you're more proficient with JavaScript- hey, Acorn supports that too. If you're a developer or just handy with a simple scripts, you can write plugins using JavaScript as well.

I can go on and on, but I think you get the point. Just because Acorn isn't Photoshop doesn't mean it doesn't have a place. There are a couple of other apps out there which I believe are looking to compete with Photoshop (such as Pixelmator, which refers to PS as "big brother" and adopts the many-palette paradigm)- those other apps might be a better fit for you where Acorn isn't. That's fine- I'm happy you've found something that works great for you.

But while Acorn might be able to replace some or all of the features that you personally use Photoshop for, it is not a design goal of Acorn to compete with or replace Photoshop. Acorn has its own path to take, and that is what it will be doing.