Is There Life (or creative desktop software) After Photoshop?

You know how you can know something in theory but still have it surprise you when you encounter it in real life? That happened to me yesterday with software.

I had decided to unplug my kids’ desktop Mac from the web for about 23 hours a day and instead load it up with cool creative software. So I went looking for some, and was surprised to find there was none out there. At least none of the standalone off-the-shelf variety.

I mean, I’m familiar with what Photoshop, Flash, InDesign, After Effects, Combustion, Autocad, ProTools and plenty of other mainstream media applications can do in the hands of experts, and it is awesome. But I wanted to get off the creative grid and find tools that aren’t designed to churn out music videos but instead enable you to create buildings out of sound, or to paint with feelings, or design incredible new fashions for exotic new species. Or that offer a new kind of creative experience altogether, some kind of twist on ‘normal’ interfaces and features that really opens up new doors. Not children’s software but not state-of-the-art professional media production tools either. Something else.

But when I searched for “creative software’ or ‘most creative software’ or ‘fun and creative software’ on Google, I got only the most shockingly sad little salad of results. Not an enticing link anywhere in the first 3 pages. Whereas it seems to me there used to be a great number of such obscure software titles. Some were available as freeware and some you could purchase, and some did some very cool things. I remember one app I picked up somewhere years ago, called Nozzle, that let you load any text into a hose, choose a font and various settings, then press down to spray the words our in whatever patterns you liked. I made some nifty concrete poems out of Nozzle, like this:

But now I can’t find Nozzle or anything like it. At least not via Google. And for a few  minutes yesterday I was quite perplexed by this void.

At least until the part of me that knows something about software trends kicked in and I realized that I already knew that software had long ago migrated from the desktop, first to the browser and then to the cloud and to mobile apps. Doh! But until now I had not quite realized how bare, how standardized and how vertically integated the off-the-shelf cupboard appears to be for creative software. Whereas in the realm of enterprise software, by way of comparison, off-the-shelf tools are more numerous and diverse than ever, with many unique products made by small specialist firms. This is a curious paradox.

Unless, as is possible, I am missing out on all the good stuff which is available somewhere I have not yet found. If you know of such a place please let me know too. In the meantime, I am off to Rhizome, that wonderful digital portal, to see what downloadable creativity or signposts to cool desktop software they may have there. I will report back if I find any…

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