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Author Topic: On the value of competition  (Read 7623 times)
BernardLanguillier
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« on: January 27, 2006, 06:13:57 AM »
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I'll start by writing that I am not sure about this issue, but that it worries me enough to devote a bit of time to starting a discussion on the topic.

It has struck me recently that many key writers in this small community of photographers active online have been promoting heavily the 2 new kids on the blocks in the DAM race, Appel Aperture and the Adobe corresponding offering. They have written on these 2 much more than they ever did on the previous players.

These 2 applications have chosen the route of the full integration from RAW conversion to cataloguing and query. For many photographers they will be appealing and rightfully so.

I am afraid though that this is just the beginning of a process that we have seen happening before in the OS and photo-editing areas. The creation of monopolies.

We are photographers, and our job is to take successful images, why should we care about creating or avoiding monopolies?

- Well, I for one don't believe in do it all applications, and the RAW conversion capability of RSP would be used best in combination with a general tool for DAM that would be able to work with different RAW converters. Isn't the current Apple/Adobe hype going to endanger seriously those applications that have chosen such a route?

- Isn't the price of those offerings going to further skyrock if all the other guys die out?

- Isn't the very spirit of opening underlying the developement of neutral formats like XML (DNG for instance) going in the direction of application inter-operability in order to reduce the capability of big players to hold users captive? In other words, aren't going against the march of time and progress?

Reporting on what is new is in itself not a problem, but I believe that in depth comparison with what is old is needed, as well as a certain level of reflexion on the consequences of such reporting.

Am I alone in feeling this way?

Cheers,
Bernard
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Ray
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« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2006, 07:08:16 AM »
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Bernard,
I really don't see a problem here. In a sense, Apple is the underdog and has to be innovative to maintain its continued existence. Adobe is the 800lb gorilla (to repeat a phrase used by Michael) but has to provide regular improvements to its system in order to remain 'top dog'.

We, the customers, benefit from any competition between the two platforms. I don't see a monopoly here. At worst a duopoly. But even so, I believe there's always room for other players to provide some desirable new feature and get a foot in the doorway.

There are other applications that also specialise in image organisation and cataloguing. There are also other applications that strive to do a better job with respect to one part of the work flow, such as RawShooter which I'm now using instead of ACR 3.3 despite already having paid for it.

Maybe it's not such a big deal for me because I rely upon DVD and CD for storage. However, in a situation where time is money, the most efficient image oranizational application will tend to prevail, even if some aspects of image quality are sacrificed.
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michael
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« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2006, 07:29:12 AM »
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Bernard,

You might as well complain that the sun is going to rise tomorrow morning.

It is the nature of humans, capitalism and technology development that when an idea's time has come, those that see it first rush in to fill the vacum.

Integrated software for digital photographers is now a reality with these two programs. Looking forward 8-12 months, (because both currently have growing pains) we will have working environments which allow us to do just about eveyhting that is needed, all with one program, and with more features and flexability than ever before.

Alternatives will continue to exist for those that need them. Competition will keep prices low (unlike the situation with Photoshop where there has been no real alternative that's been able to gain any traction).

I really don't see anything ton complain about. Indeed the opposite. This is an exciting time.

Michael
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« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2006, 07:37:38 AM »
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Bernard, I guess in another way you are alone.  
Take aleve for your pain

BlasR
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DiaAzul
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« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2006, 07:55:49 AM »
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I am afraid though that this is just the beginning of a process that we have seen happening before in the OS and photo-editing areas. The creation of monopolies.

Am I alone in feeling this way?

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=56882\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I wouldn't go as far as saying that anyone is creating a monopoly, but there is a current of change taking place which does need to be noted and discussed, particularly around the area of metadata and search.

A good example of this arises in the domain of image cataloging - especially when photogaphers aquire a large catalogue that needs to be documented with ratings, keywords, and other descriptors in order that individual images can be located quickly (either by the original photographer or by some client or other user).

There are any number of applications which are vying to capture this data and store it away in 'proprietary databases' - Microsoft will have Vista, Adobe caches data in their database, Apple as their search tool and aperture, Google has google desktop search, etc...Now, individually these are all fine and dandy - you catalogue/rate your images and they get stored in the database on YOUR computer in the software vendors PROPRIETARY database.

Now, what happens when you get in a supply chain and you need to interchange information. If your particular client use system A and you use system B how is keyword, description, heading etc data to be shared? For the moment there is a reliance on IPTC to do this role and it seems to cope satisfactorily, though obviously it could be significantly improved to expand the range and flexibility of fields - and, true to its roots, it works well for press and editorial, but not necessarily so great for other applications (i.e. is there anywhere to store GPS coordinates in IPTC data?).

So, I wouldn't worry to mutch about monopoly; but, I would want to think long and hard about how I am storing my information and what it will cost me to share that information and also, how much it would cost to migrate to another system at a later date should I choose to do so. The danger is from getting locked into one vendors system at an early stage and not being able to get back out again later (though nothing new there) and it is perhaps why Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, Google are fighting so hard now - because once your in you won't be able to get back out.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2006, 07:57:13 AM by DiaAzul » Logged

David Plummer    http://photo.tanzo.org/
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« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2006, 03:21:17 PM »
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I think we may be headed toward a semi-monopoly, what in other places is called a "standard."

One current example is my favorite program to hate, Microsoft Word, which IMHO is an expensive,  bloated anti-intuitive kludge of a program which attempts to be everything for everybody. As a result, it's buggy and sometimes unstable, and though I have been using professional computer word processors of some kind since 1975 (!) I will occasionally lose something in Word simply because I hit a sequence of keys that I can't replicate.

I can, however, send a Word program to almost anyone in the publishing business without having to worry about compatibility. And compatibility is a problem in a manuscript of any length -- even little fly-speck errors will drive a reader crazy, and compatibility problems will generate them. They also tend to be hard to find with copy-editing, just because they are so small. So...you use the standard, even if it is a kludge.

I think Adobe is going to set the standard with Lightroom -- for one thing, it is a cross-platform program by the producer of all the Creative Suite stuff, which has now added Macromedia products to the line; Lightroom (eventually) will be made to seamlessly lock into that whole suite, a perfect fit, which you will not get with other products. Aperture, because it is not cross-platform, and because it had a rather poor launch, I think will become another program like IPhoto...good for non-pro enthusiasts who don't need cross-platform and cross-system compatibility, but not much used by pros. The other options have always seemed to me to be made for data-base operators rather than for photographers.

If I'm right, and Lightroom becomes the standard, I am fully confident that Adobe will try to make it everything for everybody, and it will become a bloated, over-expensive kludge, adding features willy-nilly. For people who doubt my prediction, look how bloated Photoshop has become. Did we really need CS2? Well, I guess you did if you want to use a D200 or a 5D, because of the lack of updates for the two-year-old CS program...

Of course, all of this may be a product of the fact that I haven't had my full ration of meds today, with their wonderful calming effects...

JC
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David Mantripp
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« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2006, 01:16:37 PM »
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I totally agree with you, Bernard.  I'd be interested to see if Adobe's enthusiasm for "standards" such as DNG & PDF extends to providing a plug-in architecture for 3rd party RAW engines (similar to "choose your own CMM" idea). But I doubt it.

As for the enthusiasm, well call me a cynic, but I can only just imagine the excitement in the "Usual Suspects" camp at being able to churn out "Lightroom Bible", "Aperture in 24 Hours", "Lightroom for, er, Photographers", "Aperture for Dummies", "Lightroom Silly Tricks", etc etc, padded out with the standard 10 chapters of boilerplate and dull photos.... whilst of course evangelising on about how easy to use they are :-)


As I said, call me a cynic. You'd probably be right.

However, I'm also naive, hence I believe that iView MediaPro's sheer quality, speed and clean design will prevail, and prevent it getting stomped all over by Aperoom & Lighture.  The problem is it doesn't have a Photoshop mafia keen to relive their glory days supporting it :-)
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michael
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« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2006, 03:01:14 PM »
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Well, it certainly appears that cynicism is alive and well among some of our regular readers.

Our industry is fortunate, I suppose, that there are companies and people out there making positive things happen. At least it gives the cynics something to snipe at.

Believe it or not, there really are people in the world who try and create good, if not great products, and others who try and support these efforts, and maybe even all try making a living in the process.

The world must be a very dark place indeed when everything is seen with such a negative perspective.

Oops. Gotta go. Time for my happy pill.

Michael
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David Mantripp
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« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2006, 04:49:57 PM »
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Well, let's see how many "bla bla Lightroom" books there are by the end of the year, shall we ?  

I'm not taking this stuff so seriously, but I do honestly feel a sense of unbalance.  I have worked long enough in the software industry to know that it is not a charity, and products are primarily produced to make money. Obviously, if they can be great products at the same time, so much the better, and Adobe are most certainly in the premier league on that.

Leaving aside my cynicism about the computer book industry, I really believe that there is a danger that companies such as Pixmantec, iView, Bibble, even PhaseOne as far as the DSLR market is concerned, could be driven out of the market.  Many people swear by RawShooter, including luminaries such as Alain Briot and Andy Rouse. I've never used it, but I would not want to see it disappear due to Apple and Microsoft implementing OS level (second rate) RAW decoders, or Adobe steamrollering what is left of the market with their uneven ACR. Many photographers owe their "RAW education" to the free RSE - where are the plaudits for that, from the elder statesmen of the digital imaging world ?  

A world where we take photos with only Canon cameras, and develop them with only Adobe software, would not be a healthy place. But I don't see it as far-fetched, right now.

There are some serious points here, Michael. It isn't just whining.
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michael
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« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2006, 05:35:07 PM »
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Understood.

I am a believer in fair, open markets. If a product is good enough it will push others off the shelves. Sometimes the big, the bad and the ugly prevail (ie: Microsoft), but not always, and not forever.

In the long run good products usually succeed and bad or week ones disappear. Sometimes good products disappear and bad ones prevail, but since this is not the best of all possible universes, this is to be expected.

As for "bla bla" Lightroom books how did you know? I'm writing my own bla bla book. Maybe it will meet with your approval.

Michael
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« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2006, 07:12:32 AM »
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Well I'm honestly sure your book will be worthwhile, Michael. I expect the near-inevitable Real World Lightroom by Bruce Fraser will be good, too. And I can't honestly blame people for taking the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new market.

Possibly, speaking from the perspective of a user of cameras for which the RAW format is not well handled by either Adobe or Apple, I'm over-concerned.  I assume that Raw Shooter Essentials is funded by sales of Raw Shooter Pro, and that many users of RSP would be tempted by Lightroom. I also assume that the mass market version of CaptureOne is largely funded by Canon & Nikon users. These again might well be tempted to switch to Lightroom.  These means that Adobe will be sucking up the R&D money which funds 3rd party support for owners of cameras from Pentax, Olympus, Minolta, Kodak and others.   It is not impossible for me to forsee a situation in a few years where if I want pro-level RAW workflow support, I might have to change my camera. Not so good...

And if the competition dries up, then what do the Adobe beancounters say to requests for more funding for ACR R&D ?

These things do happen. Roads to hell ARE paved with good intentions.

There is a good argument for saying that good competition works both ways. I certainly hope that PhaseOne will wake up and release C1 v4.0, and that it will fight back. I also hope that iView are not complacent. I suppose some products will be forced out of the market, but I hope that some competition remains.
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michael
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« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2006, 08:04:26 AM »
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I am also a staunch believer in The Law of Unintended Consequences. Things never work out the way you think, or fear, or hope, that they will.

The current situation in the Middle East is proof of this maxum.

Michael
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Ray
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« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2006, 08:14:57 AM »
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I thought political comment wasn't allowed on this site, Michael   .
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DiaAzul
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« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2006, 08:41:32 AM »
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It is not impossible for me to forsee a situation in a few years where if I want pro-level RAW workflow support, I might have to change my camera. Not so good...
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57168\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

But isn't this an argument for an OpenRaw format rather than an problem with potential lack of competition in the RAW converter market? There is a point where agreement on a common standard should over-ride the needs of competition. At the risk of covering old ground it is perhaps a year or more since the need for an open RAW file format kicked off and we are no further forward than we were twelve months ago. This is not a criticism of the users and pundits who have tried to keep this issue alive, but a reluctance of manufacturers and software vendors to converge on a common standard which would lead to a better workflow for photographers.

Whilst trying to remain neutral about the ethics of Adobe, at least they have tried to provide some standards to the market - DNG and XMP/IMPTC being two of the standards that I can think of at the moment. Neither the camera manufacturers or the other software vendors have done much to actively push the standards forward (either through constructive open discussion) or active implementation (though a few exceptions do exist I am talking Nikon/Canon in the main).

One does get the impression that the major camera manufacturers are still stuck in the mind set of film cameras with digital sensors rather than digital cameras and workflow - and this is still after several years of producing digicams.
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« Reply #14 on: January 31, 2006, 08:59:03 AM »
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But isn't this an argument for an OpenRaw format rather than an problem with potential lack of competition in the RAW converter market? There is a point where agreement on a common standard should over-ride the needs of competition. At the risk of covering old ground it is perhaps a year or more since the need for an open RAW file format kicked off and we are no further forward than we were twelve months ago. This is not a criticism of the users and pundits who have tried to keep this issue alive, but a reluctance of manufacturers and software vendors to converge on a common standard which would lead to a better workflow for photographers.


[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57175\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


I agree with you that OpenRAW doesn't seem to be flavour of the month any more - basically DNG is seen as the solution.

But one the great arguments in favour of the RAW workflow is (was ?) that you could try different converters, that you could chose different solutions for different scenarios, and that you could potentially revisit RAW files in the future when a better converter is released.  This seems to be being downplayed.

I realise that this is not a fully watertight argument, but back in the darkroom days, would photographers have been happy with one choice of chemicals, or one grade of paper ?   Taking it further,  imagine that C-41 or E-6 were the only processes available....

It would be great to be able to import a RAW file into Lightroom, and stack up ACR, PhaseOne, Pixmantec and XXXX processed TIFFs...  Maybe you'd see people developing RAW converters specifically for B&W, or specifically for IR, or Landscape, ...  

Am I making any sense here?  
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« Reply #15 on: January 31, 2006, 09:14:42 AM »
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But one the great arguments in favour of the RAW workflow is (was ?) that you could try different converters, that you could chose different solutions for different scenarios, and that you could potentially revisit RAW files in the future when a better converter is released.  This seems to be being downplayed.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57176\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I don't think anyone is trying to downplay this argument - more the case that it has become so widely accepted that it doesn't feature as a discussion point; the arguments having been successfully communicated and generally accepted.

Another side to this, IMHO, is that RAW convertors have now matured to the point where they are all equally capable of extracting the same amount of detail and achieving similar levels of colour fidelity that (bar obtuseness, pixelpeeping and posturing) there isn't really a great deal to choose between them. It now is coming down to ease of use and integration into the workflow that will make the difference. Another technological change to consider is that when windows Vista is launced there will be an architecture for creating Codecs (RAW converter) for converting raw files to XX format as part of the operating system. Thus if manufacturer X produces a codec for their RAW format and software leverages the Londhorn architecture then all software doing so will be able to read RAW files for whichever manufacturer produces a codec (i.e. the RAW convertor and software is separated by a defined API).

But moving beyond that I think that the general case for open standards has also been well presented and communicated seems to be falling on deaf ears at the equipment producing end of the industry.

My beef at the moment is that we don't just need standards for RAW files, but also to capture comments, notes, ratings, etc...which can be stored within the image file - in accordance with open, well documented standards which all manufacturers (hardware and software openly and publicly support). Yes, we have DNG adn XMP/IPTC and there is a general movement to supporting them - but I would sleep much easier at night if I had some certainty of which standards were to be recognised and supported by a broad base of software both now and in the future.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2006, 09:20:52 AM by DiaAzul » Logged

David Plummer    http://photo.tanzo.org/
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« Reply #16 on: January 31, 2006, 12:15:17 PM »
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Another side to this, IMHO, is that RAW convertors have now matured to the point where they are all equally capable of extracting the same amount of detail and achieving similar levels of colour fidelity that (bar obtuseness, pixelpeeping and posturing) there isn't really a great deal to choose between them. [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57177\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Well you're not using the same camera as me :-)  Adobe Camera RAW is hopeless for Olympus RAW files, and the Apple RAW converter is pretty much hopeless for everything.  You don't have to peep at all to see the difference...
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« Reply #17 on: February 03, 2006, 08:18:58 AM »
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- Isn't the very spirit of opening underlying the developement of neutral formats like XML
Just a minor nit-pick to clear up a misunderstanding:

XML isn't a neutral format in the way you (and most other people) seem to think it is.

XML is a markup language, used for constructing structured formats.

XML-based document formats can be just as proprietary and locked as any others; there is nothing inherent in XML that makes the resulting formats "open" in any way other than that you can see what entity names the format creators chose and what the entities contain.

That Microsoft has chosen to do lots of stuff in XML should be evidence enough that it doesn't have to be open.
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« Reply #18 on: February 03, 2006, 10:25:28 AM »
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But one the great arguments in favour of the RAW workflow is (was ?) that you could try different converters, that you could chose different solutions for different scenarios, and that you could potentially revisit RAW files in the future when a better converter is released.  This seems to be being downplayed.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57176\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I think DNG is, for the time being, the answer to a universal Raw format.  The fact that DNG was invented by Adobe only shows that Adobe is leading the market as well as delivering viable solutions to photographers.  The ball is now in the hands of the camera manufacturers: will they include DNG as a Raw format in digital cameras instead of the current proprietary format?  

Regarding the variety of "possible" Raw converters -for B&W, for specific uses and for specific tastes- I think that this variety is currently available.  I personally use 4 or 5 different Raw converters depending on the requirements of specific images and of my vision for each image.  I don't need more than that!

To me, what makes a lot of sense right now, and what would make my life easier -in short, what I need- is a converter that allows me to do all of this in 1 software package.  This can be achieved easily through plug-ins, yet no Raw software company has embraced the Raw plugin concept offered by Lightroom yet.  Why not?  Clearly, some Raw converter companies are bound to disappear due to market competition.  So why not design a plug-in now rather than vanish?  

Maybe because their converters are not all that different anyway from what other converters can do?   Or maybe because they want to remain stand-alone Raw conversion software packages in the face of mounting evidence that this is coming to an end?  Or maybe because the variety many complain doesn't exist is actually alive and well?  Or maybe because they don't want to bow to Adobe and Lightroom?   Clearly, the answer varies from one company to the next.  However, it seems that the plugin concept is an excellent way to offer diversity.  The plugin approach is extremely successful with Photoshop, and widely embraced by both users and software developers .  What's wrong with using it in a Raw converter?  It seems that Adobe is offering an excellent solution, a solution which follows in the footsteps of Photoshop.

I don't see what we have to loose by embracing it.

Alain
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Alain Briot
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« Reply #19 on: February 03, 2006, 11:20:46 AM »
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This can be achieved easily through plug-ins, yet no Raw software company has embraced the Raw plugin concept offered by Lightroom yet.  Why not?  Clearly, some Raw converter companies are bound to disappear due to market competition.  So why not design a plug-in now rather than vanish? 
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57370\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

So the plug-in environment I'm asking for already exists ?  Sorry, I haven't discovered any reference to this yet.  I totally agree - the flip side to my argument is that there is no point in PhaseOne, Bibble et al building complex workflow tools.  However, there are things that Lightroom does not support yet as far as I know, such as live capture / camera control.
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