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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Adobe streams Photoshop to Chromebooks

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

A Chromebook running Photoshop.
Photoshop (for Windows) streams to a Chromebook.

Back in September I mentioned that Adobe was going to get Photoshop running on Chromebooks. At the time, I was hopeful that this meant actual Photoshop code was running on those (generally) low-cost laptops.

This week I got a demo of Photoshop running inside Chrome, and while it was really interesting, some of my assumptions were faulty. It turns out that when Adobe says Photoshop is a “streaming app,” they mean it—it’s much more like screen sharing than native software. Photoshop runs remotely on a Windows-based server, and video of the app’s interface streams to the Chrome browser.

Adobe insists that performance is good, even on low-speed network connections. Files can be opened and saved to a Chrome user’s Google Drive, and it’s the full version of Photoshop that’s running. Though you might think of an app that’s really just streamed video as being laggy and slow, Adobe says that’s not true—and on some slow Chromebooks, the performance of Photoshop can actually be faster than it would running it locally, because the server’s got a lot more power than the chromebook.

Right now this is a pilot program targeting educational markets, both K-12 and higher education. According to the Adobe representatives I talked to, higher-ed adoption has been “tremendous,” and they’re now considering how this program might be used more broadly across the education market.

I’m not sure whether this sort of approach to software is the future of computing or just a very strange side street, but there are a lot of non-traditional aspects to this approach: Chromebooks rather than Macs or PCs, streaming video rather than onboard executable code, and even Adobe’s approaches to subscription-based software licensing factor in.

The server side stuff is technically impressive. This approach required the creation of a special version of Chrome Remote Desktop and an adapted version of the Google Drive desktop client on the server side, and a new Chrome App Remoting API on the client side. Presumably the work Adobe and Google have done here will allow this sort of approach to be replicated with other streaming apps in the future.

As for my hopes that this was a sign that Chromebooks might become more versatile in the future? I suppose that’s true—just not in the way I originally expected.

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