Fantastic SaaS-based graphics tools

* Aviary's suite of Flash-based graphics tools

A decade ago the idea of being able to rely on online services to provide personal productivity tools seemed hopelessly futuristic not to mention optimistic - the Internet wasn't generally fast enough and it seemed that the problems of duplicating the functionality of top end tools such as Photoshop would be just too big a hurdle. That was then...

Today, as a result of Moore's Law along with Adobe, Google and a lot of other key players, and with the support of lots of really clever programmers, this vision of productivity being delivered using the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model is becoming a reality.

You can use Google Docs or Zoho for spreadsheets and word processing, along with scores of services for databases, diagramming, presentations, and so on. But something has been missing - an analog of the tool I first mentioned: Photoshop.

It’s true that there are a number of graphics editors online, but most fail to come anywhere close to the functionality of Adobe’s iconic software. Until now.

After more than a year and a half in private beta, Aviary opened its virtual doors to the public in February to reveal a suite of Flash-based graphics tools including a convincing Photoshop-like application named Phoenix.

The suite today consists of the aforementioned Phoenix; Peacock, a graphics generation and manipulation laboratory; and Toucan, a color palette coordinator. Those tools are all free to all subscribers while (continuing to beat the bird theme to death) Raven, a vector editor; and Talon, a Firefox extension for screen capturing, are only available to paying subscribers (this subscription is currently offered at $9.99 per month).

Phoenix is very impressive. With support for layers, history, a small selection of filters, most of Photoshop’s tools (some of the really tricky tools are missing such as the healing brush), Phoenix can do more-or-less anything that anyone who isn’t a Photoshop expert would want to do.

Peacock is a very cool graphics tool and rather reminds me of Artmatic Pro. Peacock could be described (as Artmatic Pro is) as a graphics synthesizer. You start with an image or a content generator and add algorithmic steps to transform the output into amazing images (you really need to play with Peacock to understand what it does and why it is so cool).

This suite is remarkable and my only complaints are that the responsiveness of the applications to my mouse had a little lag (which doesn’t happen when I use other offline applications or with the browser when not running Aviary’s tools) and that the tutorials are all for Phoenix with a few of the advanced tutorials for paying subscribers only (I don’t get this, why not show me everything the suite can do and make sure that it lures me into paying?).

I am very impressed with what Aviary has achieved and if these tools can be run offline using Google Gears or similar, the potential for redefining what consumers’ and general business users’ desktops consist of and how they are delivered is just around the corner.

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