Happy birthday Photoshop!

Photoshop turns 20 today. The photo-editing software has become one of the few pieces of technology where the brand name has become a verb, others including “to Google” and to a lesser extent “to eBay” (an action often performed on unwanted Christmas gifts.)

Strictly speaking, the software was first distributed in 1988, though this was in the form of around 200 copies under a deal with a scanner company which wanted a free gift to send out with its scanners. 10 February 1990 marked the official release of Photoshop 1.0.

The software began its life in 1987 when a postgraduate student named Thomas Knoll, working on a doctorate on computer vision, decided he needed a diversion from his studies. With no LOLcats to visit (and how could such a thing have existed before Photoshop), Knoll tried to develop a way of displaying grayscale images on his black and white monitor.

Knoll’s brother John, who worked for Industrial Light and Magic, then helped him tweak the program (known simply as Display back then) to work in color and then add some basic functionalities to it such as adjusting brightness levels. John then persuaded Thomas the project had commercial possibilities and, after the scanner deal, the pair reached a licensing agreement with Adobe.

(For a more detailed history of Photoshop’s origins, check out http://photoshopnews.com/feature-stories/photoshop-profile-thomas-john-knoll-10/)

Today the system dominates the market (for once the phrase “industry standard” is appropriate), though its high price means it’s probably one of the most pirated applications among home users.

Its popularity means there’s more scope than ever for producing misleading images, whether that be airbrushing models to produce unnaturally “perfect” figures, or creating missiles from thin air.

Unfortunately, Photoshop is like Othello: it takes a moment to learn and a lifetime to master. And those who don’t master it are celebrated at the Photoshop Disasters blog. A great example is this pair of pictures for the US and Polish markets respectively in which a man undergoes a Michael Jackson-like transformation. There is one flaw, however: check out the “white” man’s hand:

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