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Friday, October 21, 2005

Say hello to Aperture

So, Apple released a new program, Aperture. It's not meant for mere mortals. Just looking at its screenshot gallery, I'm already overwhelmed by the features. Take note: this is meant for hardcore professional photographers only.

But I read something about it that made me stop and think twice about this program. Apple tells us that the program doesn't affect the original image, but tracks what changes you make to it and applies them. You can then "step back" through the changes to undo them, or you can keep track of multiple versions of the same image, e.g. black-and-white, sepia tone, etc. And all this time, you do not create any intermediate, "backup" files.

How is this revolutionary? Kelly Turner, one of Macworld magazine's editors, wrote an announcement article about Aperture. Buried at the end is a point worth highlighting:

"By the way, there’s no Save command in Aperture. As you make changes, those changes are recorded in a SQL database."

What's so significant? Well, think about it. Consider how work is done in most programs:
  1. Start a new document or open an existing one.
  2. Make changes to it.
  3. Save the file (thus overwriting the previous version).
  4. Make more changes.
  5. Save again.
  6. Repeat a few more times.
  7. Oh drats, you need to undo an earlier change... but you've saved over the previous changes! Those earlier changes are now lost in the ether!
  8. (optional) Curse software developer.
  9. Make the best of what you have, or restart your work.
  10. Repeat the above process over and over and over...
The point is this: saving a document is destructive (to the original). And this doesn't even discuss the situation when you don't save a file that you really should have.

Aside: Incidentally, this problem doesn't apply to computer programs only. Even the humble video cassette recorders and more modern DVD recorders are prone to accidental recording-over's. I should know; I've recorded over shows I wanted because I didn't check the tape beforehand, and then it was too late.

From what i gather, Aperture's saving mechanism is different: it doesn't, or at least not in the normal sense that we're used to. Instead, whenever an edit is applied to an image, Aperture will note that edit in its database. The more edits you make, the more records are added to the database, where each record is an edit. If you need to modify or remove a previous edit, you track it down in the database, and either amend the record (thus amending the edit) or delete it (thus eliminating the edit). And all edits remain whether or not you consciously save them. In fact, Aperture does away with the common "Save" command because the edits are already saved in the database! A "Save" command would be redundant.

This is A Good Thing™ because it does away with the "Oh drats" situation. Imagine if you're typing in, oh, OpenOffice and realise too late that you changed your client's name when you shouldn't have. And horrors! You don't know how it's actually spelled! You can't call the client, because that would be embarrassing.

If OpenOffice had an Aperture-like method of saving documents, you would be able to search through the database of changes, find the record that says "You renamed the client's name to something idiotic" and delete it. Boom! Your client's name is back to what it was, and the rest of your document is as before.

And that is revolutionary. Yes, there is the "Undo" function in most programs, but these destroy the changes that you "step back" through. For example, if your mistake happened at change #10, you'll have to undo the last 10 changes, then reapply the nine changes that come after #10. What happens if you forget what changes you made those nine times? Good luck.

Unfortunately, I don't see something like this becoming more mainstream. Sad to say, a lot of mainstream programs are stuck in an innovation rut. But I hope that Apple will be able to extend this database-saving mechanism to the rest of its programs. Once other developers see how cool it is, then perhaps they'll also implement it.

And then the revolution will be complete.


Update! (22 Oct 05, 2:34pm) Holy crap! I got picked up by MacDailyNews! Thanks guys! *high five* And welcome, all MDN readers!

Update! (23 Oct 05, 12:36am) And now I've been picked up by, Norway's largest Mac-related website! Thank you! And hello, readers! Unfortunately, I can't read Norwegian, and there is no free online Norwegian-to-English translation tool, so I can't read what had to say.


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Mike said...

Hey Yuhui

The "Save" mechancism in Aperture is nothing new to Apple. iPhoto has been using this since it's introduction over four years ago. It's still cool though..

Doug said...

Like the iPod and Digital video editing this is not an Apple invention
The editable changes are the whole point of RAW and how RAW has worked since the first digital SLR I tried in 1999. (Using Bibble 1 and Nikon Capture 1)

Many programs exist to do the same thing (Bibble, ACR, Capture, Capture One etc....), what's new is the innovative way Apple have applied 'Stacks' to this process along with all of the other features that never existed and required the use and understanding of at least two other programs (Such as Photoshop and Extensis Portfolio)

This improvement to workflow is likely to make this App the iPod/FCP for digital photographers and leave everyone else playing catch-up

Yuhui said...

Mike: As someone pointed out on MDN's comments, iPhoto moves the original file to a seperate folder, then applies the changes to a copy of the file. Aperture doesn't make any copies (AFAIK). So it's not the same.

Doug: I admittedly have never used any of those programs you mentioned, so I can't comment further. But thanks for pointing this out.

Anonymous said...

There's one snare in this idea. In the world of photo editing, you start with a complete picture. In the world of text editing, you start with a blank sheet of paper. Either 1) every add would be recorded in the same DB and the document grows or 2) a point in time would be selected as the start point after which all changes would be tracked.

Anonymous said... - Norways biggest Mac-portal has also picked up this story.. Lucky you!

Yuhui said...

Anonymous 1: I envision (1) happening, i.e. all documents start with a blank slate and you build from there. The database may grow as big regular files, given that databases can be compressed and/or optimised.

Anonymous 2: Thanks!

bonus said...

I’ve seen a couple of negative reviews but I still think Aperture is a good product. I only got it last week and I'm already impressed by its fluidity and speed. It offers a ton of advanced options in a real easy and simple interface. I won't ever need to import pictures with iphoto, and I only ever use Photoshop for montage because Aperture does the job really well. Well done Apple.

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