Why software competition is good: A couple of months back, Apple released Aperture, a pro photo management app with some fancy features (auto stacking, non-destructive tweaks, the lighttable). While not a direct competitor to Photoshop or other apps from Adobe, it was regarded as taking a bite out of that pie. Now Adobe have released their public beta of Lightroom, their pro photo management app. Lightroom's been in development for years [via Daring Fireball] and although it does a similar job, this appears to be a result of convergent evolution: Both teams looked at the existing practice of photography, and made the best app they could.

Here's the good bit. Apple released an app because they saw something that wasn't being done as well as it could. They folded in functionality from the OS (CoreImage), previous expertise (iPhoto and the pro apps), some innovative ideas, and released it. Far from quashing competition, Adobe came back strong. Lightroom is on the Mac platform first. It's a free public beta till June, which implies they'll use the feedback to improve the app (it's not just a marketing move, in other words). Lightroom has some nifty features of its own--it's snappy on Powerbooks (unlike Aperture) and check out that 'Lights Dim' feature.

But my favourite consequence of the competition? Read this from the Lightroom FAQ: But we're not interested in trying to pack more knobs and switches into Lightroom than Aperture, or than in Photoshop for that matter. The goal of Lightroom is to have the RIGHT knobs and switches, in the cleanest, least cluttered, easiest to use package. It’s not about having every tool in the hardware store. It’s about having a focused set of features that are just right for photography, are intuitive, powerful, and easy to learn. And there's more: One of the goals of Project Lightroom is to create an application that is so easy to use, you may never even look at the user manual. A basic tenet of the product team is that a new user should be able to get up and running easily after learning no more than five basic rules about a new application.

Usability ruck! When interface design, and not feature count, is the subject that's debated - and competed on - in public, I'm a happy man indeed.

(Take a look at MacMothership's excellent Apple advertising and brochure archive, and see how much the "anyone can use it" selling point comes up. More of that please.)