In-depth review of the Aviary design platform

In-depth review of the Aviary design platform

Summary: I recently got the opportunity to sit down with Avi Muchnick and Michael Galpert, part of the team behind Worth1000, a company that has generated a lot of buzz around it's as-yet-unreleased Aviary suite (I've got a big screenshot gallery here). Aviary is a collection of design tools aimed at the hobbyist market.


AviaryI recently got the opportunity to sit down with Avi Muchnick and Michael Galpert, part of the team behind Worth1000, a company that has generated a lot of buzz around it's as-yet-unreleased Aviary suite (I've got a big screenshot gallery here). Aviary is a collection of design tools aimed at the hobbyist market. At first glance, the tools they've created look a lot like competitors to things Adobe has. There is a photo editor (Phoenix), a vector editor (Raven), a pattern generator (Peacock), and a 3D Modeler (Hummingbird) among many others. But after talking with Avi and Michael, I don't think Aviary is a competitor to Adobe at all and is actually an interesting new concept for designers. The full review after the jump.

Small screenshotI first became interested in Aviary when I found out that all of their tools were built using Flex. Having seen the demo it's even more impressive than I thought it would be. These guys, who come from a design background, have worked with some of the best Flex developers out there to create a powerful set of tools. But while the tools themselves are powerful the best thing about this idea is the community they're creating. At its core, Aviary is a platform and a marketplace. All the tools are web-based, and you will be able to publish your creations to the marketplace. You can set restrictions and prices on the things you create and then allow other artists to use them within those requirements. That community atmosphere combined with the tools is going to be a haven for designers. The low barrier to entry means that we'll hopefully see a lot of new designers jump in and take part.

Phoenix toolPhoenix - Image editor (Gallery images)
The flagship product is Phoenix, the image editor that looks and feels a lot like Photoshop. The work they've done is impressive. It feels much more like Photoshop than some of the other online image editors out there and has a number of powerful features you'd expect. It has layers, brushes that you can customize as well as a good number of filters that make manipulating photos easy. One of my favorite features is the clone tool that some of you may be familiar with in Photoshop. They've got that functionality so you can clone parts of a picture using your selected brush. The features are very robust and tie nicely back to Photoshop so that it would be easy for someone to jump from Aviary to Photoshop as their needs change.

PeacockPeacock - Computer algorhythm-based pattern generator (Gallery images)
This is my favorite application out of all of them because it allows you to create backgrounds and patterns that are really fun. Some of this pattern functionality is built into Photoshop, but Peacock focuses on it and does a very good job. You can start with clouds or some other texture and then manipulate the colors, and do things like blurring or tiling. It uses the same layer model as Phoenix which makes it very easy to hide a layer effect and really customize a pattern. Because of the platform-nature of Aviary, you can take these assets and share them across the other products.

HummingbirdHummingbird - 3D Modeler and skinner (Gallery images)
When I heard about the 3D Modeler built in Flex I didn't believe it would be powerful or performant, but I was wrong. They've created a genuine 3D tool that obviously won't replace the big guys, but as a free tool provides a ton of functionality and a great way to get into 3D modeling easily and cheaply. The interface is clean and allows you to import 3D models or create them from primitives. You can then manipulate the polygons and models by smoothing them out, dragging different polygons and skinning them. As the suite gets larger, it's going to be very cool to see the 3D assets move between tools.

I'm really excited about Aviary. I think it's going to be a great thing for the design community and the platform nature lends itself to an open community. Having the tools as an anchor should attract a lot of people and be a huge boon to the design world. These guys have built a great example of an RIA and are showing the world what the new generation of software is going to look like. You can sign up right now to be a part of the beta program when it launches. Some limited invites are going out Tuesday for Phoenix and I'm sure more reviews will pop up.

Topic: CXO

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  • Build applications on the appropriate platform

    I don?t quite understand what this company is doing. Wouldn?t it be simpler for the company to provide downloads of its applications to run on a person?s PC? This would allow the company to rapidly evolve its applications, and not worry about the limited headroom provided by RIA in-browser technologies. There are also of course performance issues related to a person?s Internet connectivity (which can vary), along with the prudence of forgoing a person?s available PC horsepower, and over burdening the company?s servers. In other words, it is far more efficient to use up the local power on a person?s PC using an installed application, then use the company?s servers to do things like display and share files among users, create community services, and maybe augment local processing through maybe server farms for serious power users.

    I believe instead of using Flex to build its applications, the company should use Flex to provide a first rate community service that pulls people in to use its desktop products and online services. It just doesn?t make any sense to me to try and build powerful applications on a platform that cannot support it.
    P. Douglas
    • RE: Build applications on the appropriate platform

      I thought the exact same thing until I played with it. I think one of the things it does really well is show off how powerful a platform Flex is. These apps perform very well and there isn't much loss in using a browser technology. I think they're working on an AIR version that would give them the desktop functionality you mentioned, but I haven't played with that et.

      I think one reason they went this route is Flex made it easy to develop the suite. And the fact that it's online ties nicely with their platform idea.
      • How much can applications grow?

        My main concern is how far the can company can evolve its applications on the Flex platform. The applications may work fine now, but just how much can they grow before becoming unbearably slow to work with?
        P. Douglas
        • RE: How much can applications grow?

          Totally valid. I think all of these RIA platforms are going to grow in scope and capability as the needs arises. I don't see that as an issue, but I'm kind of an optimist :)
    • Making a buck

      If the apps were made computer platform specific, they run into competition with zillions of other apps and get lost.

      The number of various raster and vector apps out there is rediculous. Even in something like 3D effects you can download a flavor of Open Office and use its very good drawing tools. How does a new software suite, with no market legs, compete with free?

      They'd also have to create for Mac and Windows because, in the graphics area, Mac is huge and cannot be ignored. That increases costs.

      This whole RIA thing is new and people are trying to come up with a way to make money from it. This is one example. Maybe it will be successful, maybe not.
      • There are other ways to do so

        Maybe the company can attract people through its community and other online services. Maybe the company can figure out how to integrate advertising into its free or discounted desktop products in a way that is not annoying to its users. Maybe the company can alternately figure out a way to offer various community and online services for Adobe and other graphics software ? and forgo producing any whole graphics software of its own. Maybe the company can do a combination of the above wherein it provides desktop software for Windows, as well as supporting online services, in addition to providing online services for other desktop graphics software on various platforms. I just don?t see how the company can significantly evolve its applications on Flex, before running into serious performance problems.
        P. Douglas
      • RE: Making a buck

        I think that's a great point. How do these guys compete? One is by building a platform around their software, but the other is to stand out by doing everything online.

        Great comment.
    • You don't get it, man!

      It's web 2.0!!

      Reminds me of when I was working for a now bankrupt company. They told me what they were planning on doing, and I said, "Cool, you're a logistics company."

      Their reply was a vehement denial. "No, we're an web company." At that point, I knew it was only a matter of time...
      • Yes I do

        [i]You don't get it, man!

        It's web 2.0!![/i]

        What don't I get? The fact that everyone is rushing to build houses on swampland? If the browser cannot support the building of ever increasingly complex applications, then it can?t, and it is foolish to try and do so. It is important to distinguish fads from sea changes, and trying to migrate complex desktop apps to the browser is just plain silly.

        A lot of people are hailing the death of the desktop, when the desktop can easily cream the browser by providing superior Internet related application functionality. Web 2.0 guys are a bunch of guys who have whipped themselves into a frenzy over browser based apps, and have not stopped to look carefully at where they are going. In as much as most consumers are unimpressed with browser based apps like Google apps, do not think that consumers will pass over well crafted connected desktop apps for their browser based counterparts, just because browser based apps are supposedly more hip.
        P. Douglas
  • No patents broken here... right?

    Say yes.. cause i am interested..
    • RE: No patents broken here... right?

      As far as I know they didn't break any patents but I wouldn't really know either. I assume they kept that in mind.
  • Look into Adobe Air

    Not sure if any of the aforementioned criticisms have looked at Adobe's AIR platform. It allows you to run flex /flash apps on your desktop, faster and more stable than your browser with all the web functionality you'd expect. Aviary is being built with that in mind.

    I know most of you support free-desktop based apps which are great and I use a few. Problem is when they often don't offer the accessibility to new users. I can't think of any paidware replacements that are more user friendly.

    These guys are targeting that market straight out and then integrating features that even paid or freeware don't offer.

    Good luck to them Adobe's got a little too big and complacent.
  • The Effect Generator

    For editing Flash content online, check out The Effect Generator, with it's open language FXML: