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Aviary's creative suite is more than a pretty Flash app

Application suite from the creators of Worth1000 aims to upturn the economics of design while greatly simplifying the games of "Photoshop tennis."

I finally got a chance to catch up with Avi Muchnick, the CEO of Flash software maker Aviary and of the art contest site it spun out of, Worth1000 (a Webware 100 winner).

Aviary is an ambitious project to create a full suite of online applications for creative professionals. The first application, the image editor Phoenix, is now in private beta (read to the end of this post to get an early invitation). The second, pattern maker called Peacock, was recently added.

Coming up after these applications will be Toucan, a color swatch program for designers (like Kuler on steroids), a 3D-sketching program and modeler, a vector-based editor, and a smart image resizer.

Who needs software? This is a layer-based image-editing application running in a browser window. It's pretty snappy, too. Rafe Needleman / CNET

After the graphics applications get some traction, the team plans to ship video and audio editors as well.

There are two goals driving Aviary's development. The first is Muchnick's belief that design tools need to be more collaborative. He's trying to build a Google Docs for designers, it appears. While you can't yet do simultaneous editing in Aviary applications, the fact that all the files are stored online, along with all the raw graphics materials that went into them, can greatly simplify the games of "Photoshop tennis" that designers, artists, and their clients have to deal with during the design-and-review process.

The second is economics. Muchnick is trying to bring Photoshop-quality tools to all designers. He points out that the high price of Photoshop--the Design version of Creative Suite 3 retails for $1,799--is "not fair" for freelance designers, most of whom make less than $35,000 a year. Also, the wikilike versioning and revisioning capabilities built into the Aviary suite will enable all contributors to a media project to get their due credit and, if appropriate, to get their share of revenues from a project.

Everybody who sees the Aviary product calls it ambitious. But the ambition to build a Flash-based competitor to Adobe's tools is only half the story--and half the ambition. Muchnick is trying to enable a new economic system for creative professionals. I think that he's onto something and that he's reflecting the reality of creative work today, rather than trying to ram through his own utopian vision.

Internet economics are changing other creative endeavors: music, photography, and writing. The graphic-design field is also in turmoil, and it needs not just new tools, but also new systems.

Aviary is still in private beta testing, but the first 200 people to sign up here can get priority access to the tools. Note that you must click this link from Webware.

Previous coverage: Flash apps are taking over. Phoenix is proof.