Shawn Blanc here suggests that CSS is the new Photoshop and points to some great examples. I argue that CSS is not the new Photoshop. CSS and HTML5 and Javascript together form the new PostScript. What PostScript was for desktop publishing, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript are for the modern web page. What is missing is the new PageMaker.

Most people don't know much about PostScript except maybe that it was Adobe's first product. The founders of Adobe wrote this powerful graphic programming language to describe pages for printers. Their first customer was Apple. PostScript was used as the page description language for Apple's first laser printer. It enabled the desktop publishing revolution by becoming the lingua franca of printers and publishing systems. Very few people directly wrote PostScript. (I did, but that is another story.) It was usually generated by publishing applications like PageMaker or Quark. It was also generated by print drivers on Mac, Windows and Unix. In those days, mostly programmers who wrote printer drivers wrote PostScript code. The point here is that designers did their layout  by drawing and moving objects on a screen, not by writing code.

CSS, HTML5, and Javascript combine to form the way to describe pages on modern browsers much like PostScript was the way to describe pages on printers. In some cases PostScript was even used to drive displays. Steve Jobs licensed Display PostScript from Adobe as the display language for the NeXT computer before he returned to Apple.

What is missing today is the modern day equivalent of Illustrator and PageMaker for CSS, HTML5 and Javascript. Designers and artists should not need to directly write code to express art or layout. I suspect that many are working in this area. Any day now, I'm hoping that someone or some company will start to release products that bridge this huge gap.

Part of the problem is how to make a tool that will have the universal appeal of a PageMaker or Illustrator. Those applications were massively popular because of how well they solved the problems of laying out a page and drawing in vectors. Given the broad and somewhat disjointed characteristics of CSS, HTML5, and Javascript, coming up with a UI to rule them all is a big opportunity for UI gurus. How to make the result efficient enough to be useful in a production environment represents a significant programming challenge.

Adobe is the most likely to succeed in this if they can figure out how to market such a thing without undercutting Flash. Apple may also do something here.

AuthorMichael Slade