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The Mass Media

UMB Student Designs New Photo Editing Software

UMB Student Designs New Photo Editing Software

Cheng Chen’s original impetus was to earn a good grade in his computer science class rather than develop his own image editing program. Over 97,000 downloads later, with thousands of forum users, and a four star product rating, his enthusiasm and dedication has grown due to the overwhelming response.

Photobie (photobie.com), the name of his free program is the offspring of a project Chen started at UMass Boston in Professor Eathen Boker’s Senior Software Engineering class.

Chen, currently a PhD candidate at UMass Boston, collaborated with doctors at Mass General Hospital to create a software program that would allow real time annotation and screen capture while conducting a mammogram. “I was doing the part for the screen capture and so we were talking directly with the doctors who wanted those features,” says Chen.

With a pregnant wife, Chen took a personal interest in continuing the software project after the course finished. With a child on the way, he anticipated the need for an image editing program for the inevitable wave of baby pictures that would soon follow.

Chen already owned Adobe Photoshop, but was frustrated by the complicated user interface. “I’ve had Photoshop since 1996, a very long time,” he explained. “But I’ve never become an expert since many of the features are not for amateurs.”

Aside from Photoshop’s daunting user interface, the standalone version of the professional image editing software costs $649.

With that in mind, Chen continued working on his pet project and soon Photobie was born as an outgrowth of his class work. Photobie, unlike Photoshop and other commercial image editing software, is freeware, so it doesn’t cost a dime. In this world of digital communication, startup companies have a greater ability to access to their potential market creating strong competition and people are increasingly resistant to paying for software. Instead, companies are looking at different business models to generate income, with Google being the prime example.

This has given people like Chen an advantage over conventional companies. At a miniscule 2.13 MB, Photobie is a much smaller than competing freeware such as GIMP. Chen is confident his program offers something that both Photoshop and GIMP lack – simplicity. Photoshop is not for amateurs. “It’s built for professionals and it’s very complicated,” says Chen. “I felt frustrated and found GIMP to be even more difficult than Photoshop.”

So far, it appears that many users agree with Chen. His internet forums have become an online community with users able to interface with Chen and other more experienced members directly. This gives Photobie a unique user experience that is not available with more popular image editing programs. Users regularly suggest new ideas to Chen, who then tries to incorporate them into updated versions. So far Chen has released about twenty updated version of the program thanks in large part to all the input he receives from Photobie’s users. “Each feature may take two or three hours of work to make it, test it, and put it on there,” he says. More complicated ideas, such as adding support for Photoshop plug-ins, may take several weeks worth of development time.

As of now Chen is the only developer of the software, but he credits users who have helped make the program better by writing tutorials, displaying artwork made through Photobie and offering suggestions for new features. Just recently Chen put up flyer around the UMass campus looking to recruit people to help him translate the program into other languages. He personally translated it into Chinese, having been raised in China, and a volunteer from Canada has translated it into French.

Photobie has the potential to be a widely successful freeware image editing program – its simple usability, compatibility with Photoshop plug-ins, unique screen capture, image browser, and gif animation tools, all put Photobie in a unique spot in the image editing market. The only thing Chen needs now is more help and is extending an open invitation to UMass students interested in getting involved. “I’m not a marketing major,” he admits and advertising and seeking sponsors is the next step for Photobie.

If you’re not a marketing major either, but are interested in image editing, then give Photobie a shot – try it out for yourself and if you like it tell a friend about it.

Go to www.photobie.com for more info.

About the Contributor
Denez McAdoo served as the following positions at The Mass Media for the following years: Arts Editor: Spring 2005; Fall 2005 Editor-in-Chief: Spring 2006; 2006-2007