Photoshop wasn't the first image editor for the Macintosh by any means, and actually drew a great deal on the concepts and interface popularized by Apple's own MacPaint as early as 1984. There were programs with names like PixelPaint, ImageStudio, and SuperPaint, and, notably, Silicon Beach's Digital Darkroom. But the precocious Photoshop was the first program to really grab the imagination of photographers and the publications that employed them.
Happily, reasonably priced color scanners became available (earlier color scanners could cost up to a million dollars each, making them practical only for the largest newspapers and magazines). Scanners supplied Photoshop with ample fodder for its magic, and vast numbers of publications adopted Macs and Photoshop as key tools within a very short period of time. By then, the key battles in the imaging war were over and Photoshop was all but crowned the victor.
Adobe augmented its darkroom paradigm with some other powerful advantages. The first of these was a program interface that made it possible to seamlessly incorporate add-on mini-programs called plug-ins, developed by Adobe and third-party developers. Although plug-ins first appeared in Digital Darkroom, Photoshop's already commanding lead in the image-editing market made the ability to use Photoshop compatible plug-ins a must-have feature for competing products of the time, such as PixelPaint and Fractal Design Painter.
The final battle was won in April 1993 when Adobe released a version of Photoshop 2.5 for Microsoft Windows 3.x. There had been earlier image editors for PC-compatibles that (barely) worked under Windows, or which used proprietary DOS-based interfaces. But once Photoshop became a cross-platform tool available to both the Macs that were dominant in the graphics and photographic industries, as well as to die-hards in the Windows realm, there was really no reason to use anything else for sophisticated image-editing tasks.
Today, the term digital darkroom has become a generic description. You'll find it used in websites, books, and magazine articles by pixel pushers who've never set foot in an actual darkroom. (Alas!) And, as an interesting footnote, the rights to the Digital Darkroom trademark were purchased by MicroFrontier after Silicon Beach was purchased by Aldus Corporation, which in turn, ironically, was bought out by Adobe.
Each new version of Photoshop has improved on the last, offering new capabilities. Some have been rather earth-shattering in their scope, such as Photoshop's move from "floating selections" to full-fledged layers in Photoshop 3.0. Others have had chiefly ergonomic or convenience benefits, such as the Palette Well introduced with Photoshop 7. Users screamed for a few features for a decade or more before they became a reality, such as the ability to bend text along a path, introduced in Photoshop CS. Other features were relegated to "junior" programs, such as the sophisticated red-eye correction tool found in Photoshop Elements, but which didn't make an appearance in Photoshop until CS2. The improvements in Photoshop have been gradual and, over time, fairly impressive, as the program grows to meet the needs of our new digital age. For example, the ability to edit digital camera RAW files is now an integral part of Photoshop CS, which is important at a time when so many photographers are going all-digital and need the ability to manipulate their digital "negatives," work with 16-bit images, and control image noise.
Perhaps the best news is that, unlike an office suite that shall remain nameless, Photoshop has generally escaped "feature bloat," which has been described as features few need and which are added purely to justify an upgrade. You may not need all of Photoshop's features now, but, as you grow in experience and skills, you'll find that those "mystery" features may prove to be lifesavers for you farther down the road. As sophisticated as it has become, there's very little fat in Photoshop CS.
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