January 24, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Vista success hinges on developers

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Creators of professional programs have a much harder time just starting over, as Riverdeep did. With Photoshop, for example, Adobe aims to keep the program looking modern, but wants to keep the controls and palettes in the places people expect rather than overhauling the user interface.

John Nack, a senior product manager for Photoshop, said that the company doesn't want to change things in a way that would force its users to forsake the hundreds or thousands of hours of muscle memory they have built up in the current generation of products. Plus, the company places a high priority on making sure its software title maintains a similar look and feel across Macs and PCs.

"To some extent, that's a different priority than maybe the OS vendors have," he said. "For us, even the placement of 'close' boxes--whether it is in the left side of the palette or the right side--it can trigger a reaction."

Adobe has released a test version of Adobe Photoshop CS3, the next version of the program, which will support Vista. Nack said the program isn't really written specifically for Vista. "If somebody is moving to Vista, I think CS3 is going to be a great fit," he said. "I wouldn't say that you necessarily should upgrade (to Vista) because there is some particular feature we are leveraging."

However, Nack said the new Photoshop does benefit from some of Vista's overall performance improvements such as faster loading of applications. "It's nice we get an extra kick from Vista there," he said.

The company is also careful when it comes to architectural changes, even those that aren't visible to the customer.

"If this was 1999 we'd all have stock ticker gadgets. This being 2007, I think we're much more likely to have weather and traffic."
--Jay Roxe, group product manager, Microsoft

One of the technologies that Microsoft has been working for years to bring into Windows for years is support for 64-bit computing. The company introduced a 64-bit version of Windows XP a couple of years ago, but it remains a niche product.

Nack said that Adobe would have to see considerable performance gains to justify the effort needed to create a 64-bit version of Photoshop.

"It's not clear to us at this point that it will (be worth the effort), especially when you consider the work involved," Nack said.

The company is already straining to restructure its software for better use the additional processor cores that are becoming standard in PCs. "Making sure the cores aren't going to waste--that's a big challenge for us," Nack said.

Some of the best uses of new features just take time, Microsoft's Roxe said. A good example of that is the "People Near Me" peer-to-peer engine. Microsoft's own MeetingSpace program offers an early example. But the real test will come as developers start to create new ideas that weren't possible before such technology was built into the operating system.

Vista is also creating some new real estate for programmers, in particular the Sidebar that sits on the side of a Vista screen and houses widgets. Roxe also sees promise in its SideShow technology, basically small secondary displays that sit on the outside of a notebook or on a keyboard and offer notifications for appointments, incoming e-mail, and so on. Because SideShow has to be built into new hardware, it may take some time before there are enough people with it to attract significant developer efforts.

"It will be a little bit longer until end users see it, but the sidebar runs right out of the box," Roxe said. He noted that developers are already creating a lot of Sidebar gadgets, in part because the tiny applications are easy to write.

"If this was 1999 we'd all have stock ticker gadgets," he said. "This being 2007, I think we're much more likely to have weather and traffic."

Software makers that write large programs, such as sales force automation or other business programs, also can use a sidebar gadget to complement their existing products, offering a quick snapshot of data without needing to open up the full program or shift windows.

Roxe said he is hopeful that Microsoft's focus on security with Vista will ultimately free developers to spend more time on their creative efforts.

"Since we've reduced the attack surface area, developers have to spend less time worrying about protecting against attacks, which gives them more time to focus on the real purpose of their application."

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