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Mars Report:

Acorn: The Cocoa “Photoshop Lite” I’ve Been Waiting For?

Published September 20th, 2007

Flying Meat: Acorn

Originally downloaded September 20, 2007. As anyone who’s been following my download history for the past year or two knows, one of the software behemoths I’ve been anxiously trying to rid my Mac of is Your $300 upgrade license has expired after one month!Adobe Photoshop. Don’t get me wrong… I love Photoshop and couldn’t live without it. It’s a marvelous package, and has long been one of Adobe’s best offerings. However, several aspects of Photoshop have been grating on me for awhile now:

  • Its product activation feature is the worst one. I just bought the upgrade to CS3 last month, and already I had to uninstall and reinstall Photoshop on this computer because Adobe’s system thinks my license is no good. (I use Photoshop on two computers, as allowed under the license–one at home and one at work. But I also run it under different versions of Apple’s operating system since I’m in the OS X developer program, and each time I upgrade and forget to “deactivate” Photoshop first, I’m in trouble.) This is just too big a pain in the butt to deal with. Heck, it’s my software, Adobe… I paid through the nose for it! Gimme a break.
  • Its cost. Honestly, is an image editing program worth this to me? If my company didn’t buy my license, I’d have to seriously consider saying No.
  • Its technical construction. I’m just really getting tired of Carbon-based apps for the Mac. Even when they’re not ugly, they lack features I’ve come to rely on in all my apps–such as being able to toggle between two document windows using Cmd-~ and being able to count on Cocoa’s built-in access to the dictionary and spellcheck services of Mac OS X. I also know right away if I’m in a Carbon app if the scrollwheel stops working (though this isn’t a problem with Photoshop in particular).
  • Its bulk. I’m accustomed to it, of course, but the fact is that Photoshop consumes huge amounts of disk space and takes an inordinately long time to load. Surely we can do better in 2007!

So last week, I noticed that one of my favorite Mac OS X software vendors, Flying Meat, had released a new product called Acorn. Flying Meat owner and lead (only?) light-bulb, Gus Mueller, describes Acorn as “the bitmap image editor I’ve been dreaming out for years…”

It wasn’t until today that I found time to download Acorn, and I haven’t yet had time to do a full evaluation, but let me just say this is the first such product I’ve tried in the last year or two that comes close to being my hoped-for Photoshop replacement.

Virtually every function I use daily is there, and its interface is refreshingly simple and clean. Imagine zooming in and out with a simple slider in your document window, rather than fiddling with the Navigation pane or fussing with Cmd+ and Cmd- repeatedly, just to zoom in for a closer look and then zoom back out. The app is filled with small touches like this that I know will save me lots of time.

Acorn utilizes Apple’s Core Image filter set, and provides for third-party plugins. It also leverages Mac OS X native tools like Automator to enable workflow actions you can easily add to its Actions menu. The only thing I couldn’t figure out how to do easily in 5 minutes was drop shadows. There may be more such items, but this is just a first impression report.

All I can say is, if you’ve felt as I have about Photoshop lately, you won’t be wasting your time to check out Acorn. At an introductory price of $40, it looks like a real gem of a software bargain.

Version as tested: 1.0.

Update 8/12/12: After using version 1 and upgrading to version 2, I can say that this software is definitely worth the modest investment to get on board. I’m going to spend the $20 to upgrade to version 3! One of the niftiest features is the ability to transform an image to an illustration… quite cool. My only gripe is that Acorn doesn’t have integration with my scanner, so I’ll have to keep using Photoshop for that kind of workflow.

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