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Adobe program rivals Apple's Aperture

Lightroom, still in beta, offers many of the same photo management abilities as the Mac maker's tool. Photo: Lightroom beta debuts

Adobe Systems has launched a test version of Mac software that is seen as a rival to a professional photo program that Apple Computer launched last year.

Adobe on Monday offered up a public beta of Adobe Lightroom, a program to help avid shutterbugs manage the work of processing, selecting and editing their RAW-format images. Apple introduced a similar concept with its $499 Aperture software that shipped late last year.


Adobe noted, however, that it has been working on Lightroom for some time, although the final version is not expected until "late 2006."

"We first showed an early version of Lightroom at the Adobe Ideas Conference in April 2005 to demonstrate a new streamlined digital photography experience, from capture to print," Adobe President Shantanu Narayen said in a statement. "Even in beta form, photographers will find world-class technology that complements Photoshop."

While the initial test version is Mac only, Adobe said it expects to eventually offer both Windows and Macintosh versions of Lightroom.

Though the test version should be useful already, the program does not yet have all its features, said Kevin Connor, a senior director of product management at Adobe.

"Certainly, you can do productive work, but there are many things that we plan to add," he said. High up on the list is the notion of "stacking" together related photos--a feature that is in Aperture as well as Photoshop Elements, but not yet part of Lightroom.

Among the key features already in the product, Connor said, is a "lights out" tool that lets users hide the program's editing tools and look only at the photos in question. There is also an option for photographers to add their own branding to the software so that they can better use the program to show off their work to clients.

The company plans to show off the software at its booth at Macworld Expo, which gets into high gear on Tuesday. The beta is also available free from Adobe's Web site.

Adobe is recommending that those who want to try out Lightroom have a system with at least a 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 768MB of memory and a 1,024-by-768 pixel screen. It won't run on systems with less than 512MB of memory.

Though beefy, those requirements are less than those mandated by Aperture. For desktops, Apple's software requires a G5-based iMac or Power Mac with a 1.8GHz processor. It also works on a 15-inch or 17-inch PowerBook G4 with a 1.25GHz chip or faster. The software calls for at least 1GB of memory and 5GB of disk space just for the program and its related files. Apple's recommended system for Aperture is even heftier, with the company pushing a dual 2GHz Power Mac G5 and 2GB of memory.

Apple representatives were not immediately available to comment on Adobe's move.

Connor said Adobe wanted Lightroom to run on a wide variety of devices, including the typical notebooks that photographers have while on assignment. "You shouldn't have to reconfigure your hardware setup to bring in a new piece of software," he said.

The company said final system requirements and pricing have yet to be determined.

Connor did say he expects the price to be somewhere between its $649 Photoshop and its $99 Photoshop Elements, though clearly that leaves quite a bit of pricing room.