In a somewhat surprising move, Adobe and Google have announced a streaming version of Photoshop for Chromebooks and the Chrome browser. This is potentially massive news for Chromebooks, as the lack of Big Software — those big, killer software suites for Mac and Windows — has always been a thorn in the side of Chrome OS’s attempted takedown of Microsoft and Apple’s domination of the laptop market. If it’s Photoshop today, you can be guaranteed that the rest of the Creative Cloud suite will follow — and then who knows, maybe big-ticket programs like Visual Studio and triple-A PC games will be next?
So, you may ask, what exactly is a streaming version of Photoshop? It’s actually exactly what it sounds like: Adobe is now running a bunch of servers that are running Photoshop. You open up your Chromebook, install the Project Photoshop Streaming app, and then connect to one of those virtualized Photoshop instances. The Photoshop instance that you connect to will have direct access to your Google Drive — that’s where images will be saved to and loaded from. In essence, you are editing directly in the cloud — pretty cool.
We don’t have the exact details, but this really does just sound like some kind of screen sharing or remote desktop type thing. This is the same thing as running Photoshop on your Windows PC, and then using VNC or some other screen-sharing app on your Chromebook to dial into your desktop. Though, of course, in this case the remote computer is being set up and managed for you — and keeping everything all in one place on your Google Drive is quite neat and tidy, too. Because none of the processing occurs locally, battery life shouldn’t take a huge hit — but on the flip side, it also means that GPU acceleration isn’t available.
For now, Project Photoshop Streaming is being beta tested among Adobe’s education customers in North America only. We have very little info about latency — and, perhaps more importantly, we know nothing about image quality; it’s going to require a pretty high-bandwidth link if you want to squirt high-res 24-bit graphics over the internet at anything approaching real-time. For now, during the beta test, the streaming service is free for Creative Cloud subscribers. It apparently works on both Chrome OS, and also Chrome for Windows.
Moving forward, this is obviously a fantastic way to get around the fact that Chromebooks generally have very wimpy hardware, and that Chrome OS has a very small library of key business, education, and enterprise apps. If streaming Photoshop works well on Chromebooks, and the program is extended to other key programs like Premiere Pro and InDesign, then this could be a huge win for Google. After that, if the market share of Chromebooks continues to swell, who knows what other virtualization/remote desktop magic we might see? I can imagine there’d be a lot of developers who might like to use a Chromebook to dial into a Visual Studio instance, or a SteamOS instance…