Sunday, June 4, 2017

Google Nixes Nik: Some History and Some Thoughts

Google Nixes Nik: Some History and Some Thoughts

Photoshop can do a lot of stuff, but not everything, and some of what it can do isn't all that easy. Plugins try to help, and Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro and others from Nik Software are among the most popular. Or at least they used to be.

Way back in the day, there was a company by the name of Nik Multimedia. The company was formed in 1995 by Nils Kokemohr in Hamburg, Germany. So far as I am aware, their original offerings were Nils Efex! and Nils Type Efex!, both sets of Photoshop Actions combined with texture files. They were pretty small players in the market.

Nik Collection by GoogleA few years later, they made more of an impression with Color Efex, a Photoshop plugin aimed squarely at photographers. By the turn of the century, they had grown and rebranded themselves as Nik Software and had several products for photographers. Eventually, programs such as Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro and Sharpener Pro were industry standards. For quite a few years, Nik Software flourished.

But in 2012, Google acquired Nik Software, predominantly in order to get the popular photo software known as Snapseed so Google could better compete against Instagram, owned by Facebook. At the time, Nik Software said they were pleased and hoped their users would join them on the "next phase" of their journey as part of Google. In reality, this was more the beginning of the end for Nik than anything else. Originally Google offered the "Nik Collection" including the entire Nik product suite for $500. A couple of years later, the price dropped to $150. Last year though, they made it free. Users celebrated, but the price seemed more than a bit suspicious. Something had to be up. This week, the other shoe dropped, and the reason for the price drops became clear. Google has now stated that it will cease updating the Nik Collection software to be compatible with new versions of Photoshop, Microsoft Windows, and Apple OS X. The software still works for now, but eventually, it won't. Either all at once, or feature by feature, it will stop working as the rest of the software world moves on. All things must pass, it would seem.

When Google acquired Nik, they were deep in their battle against Facebook, believing that they were in danger of losing their dominance on the web if they didn't do something. They had a great search engine, but they needed to offer more than that. The company started acquiring technology. One of the earliest was Picassa, some eight years before the Nik Software acquisition. There have been many others.

Picassa had started life in 2002 as a shareware program released by Idealab. Google acquired Picassa two years after it debuted. Originally, it had been a standalone program for photo organization and basic editing but was later augmented in 2006 by Picassa Web Albums. But Picassa was doomed to die once Google started work on Google+. The company simply didn't need two photo-sharing web platforms. Google slow-walked the death of Picassa in an attempt not offend their users, but eventually they pulled the plug in early 2016, migrating what remained to Google Photo. Not everyone was very happy about that.

Google+ first hit the scene in 2011, as part of Google's attempt to compete with Facebook. They had made similar, previous efforts to unseat Facebook with Orkut in 2004, followed by Google Friend Connect in 2008, and then Google Buzz in 2010. Their efforts were tenacious, if not terribly successful. Since then, Google+ has made some inroads in the corporate world, predominantly with small to midsized business looking for a collaboration platform. But such users were never very big on photo editing, and Google+ never made more than a brief splash with individual users. Originally, you had to have an initiation to be deemed worthy of joining Google+. Today, hardly anyone joins even without any barriers. There just isn't any reason to. The failure of Google+ to catch on has become somewhat of a technology inside joke. The tide of Google+ may have risen for a while, but has certainly been falling for some while now.

Nik Software did have their own brief attempt at diversification when they entered into a joint software development agreement with Nikon to develop Nikon Capture NX in 2006. Nikon was never very good at software, so users were pleased when Nik agreed to co-develop a new version of Nikon's NEF raw converter. Nikon and Nik eventually parted ways when Nikon released Capture NX-D in 2014. But Capture NX was one of the first places where Nik's famous Control Point technology saw the light of day, something eventually common across the entire Nik product line.

The history of plug-ins in Photoshop overall tells an interesting story that helps put all this in perspective. Early versions of Photoshop had serious limits, but Adobe thankfully made a plug-in interface available for third-party vendors to augment the user experience. Numerous companies leapt at the opportunity, and competition was fierce. Plug-ins such as Eye Candy, Alien Skin, Kai Power Tools, and the numerous offerings from Extensis were early winners. Each came, conquered, and eventually faded away as even better plug-ins came along. But Nik was somehow different. It was as if the "plug-in wars" finally had a clear winner in Nik Software. Surely, other companies continue to sell plug-ins, but it's been a long time since anyone really vied to push Nik from its position of dominance.

It was always interesting teaching Photoshop. Some of these plug-ins were so popular that many students believed they were part of the program. They were shocked that, in addition to the hundreds of dollars it took to buy Photoshop they also needed to shell out for these plug-ins.

Today, most photographers have shifted their focus from Photoshop to Lightroom, but many longtime users still rely on plug-ins from Nik software.

There's now an online petition to save the Nik Collection on Personally, I have my doubts that this will work. Perhaps some other company might purchase the collection from Google, but this too seems unlikely. Call me skeptical, but Google never really viewed serious photographers as their target audience. All they ever really wanted was Snapseed. They got what they wanted. Just like with Picassa, Nik will get dropped, sooner or later. Google's interests are elsewhere.

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Time Trap Photography is dedicated to freezing those special moments in life that can be revisited and admired for generations to come. - Shannon Bourque

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