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Gus Mueller Scales the Rocky Heights and Jagged Edges of Image Editing Software Knowing One Slip Could Turn Him Into the Name of His Firm: Flying Meat

As every climber knows, it is an inner fire which must be stoked in order to defy gravity and ascend the vertical path that leads to a summit.  And like every climber who is also a software developer knows, each summit represents only one milestone. The skyward journey is the real reward. The path that develops to complete the climb puts creativity and commitment to the test.

In the Northwest’s software culture, that same pursuit of adventure and passion has kindled many flames, cultivating sparks that turned into bonfires like DOS and Windows and Pagemaker, or the latter day Microsoft Office and Google Maps.  Today, it is being rekindled in the hearts (and hearths) of the independent software developer. The new era before us is a whole new age of highly functional, highly vertical apps, widgets and plug-ins as well as a new crop of cloud-based SaaS “app-ified” solutions being marketed via new, online outlets like the Mac App Store. The new age of the independent software developer is on the rise.

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When Gus Mueller, the founder of Flying Meat Inc., began his career ascent here, he never thought that the image editing program he would develop for the Apple Macintosh, named Acorn, would be compared to Adobe Photoshop or that he would write a digital storehouse, called VoodooPad, for saving thoughts, docs, multimedia and more, all intuitively hyperlinked together, for an iPad tablet.

As a virtual army of one, not counting his spouse and CFO, Kirstin Mueller, (another climber who offers tech support to Flying Meat customers and makes sure Gus remembers to pay himself (and to eat)), Gus creates the kind of software products that other companies hire hordes of programmers to complete.  So while products like Adobe Photoshop go through factory-like iterations that push the outer limits in price, Flying Meat’s “human-sized” image editor can offer many of the tasks people turn to Photoshop to accomplish at the major breakthrough price point of $49.99.  That’s less than fifty dollars to actually own the product (including updates), which is less than it costs to rent the current version of Photoshop on a monthly basis, Adobe’s latest business model.

While the comparison to Photoshop may seem inevitable, particularly for review editors who seem compelled to benchmark apps in the same meta-category, it is an unfair comparison.  In case it isn’t clear to anyone reading about the “Cold War” between Adobe and Apple, the San Jose software conglomerate has set out to build a “system” as opposed to “applications.” With each passing year, that system becomes increasingly complex, proliferating from “creative software suites” to integrated workflow processes. The change may have been most apparent when Adobe acquired Omniture for the rights to its search analytics software. Analytics software? For a digital media tools company?

In contrast, Acorn didn’t even begin as a planned graphics application. It started out as an update to another application Gus was working on called FlySketch, which is an acclaimed screen capture utility for taking screen shots. A huge “value-add” to taking a picture of your computer screen is having the ability to to edit or enhance what is on it.  So Gus built a set of vector drawing tools into FlySketch and, well, the update “just got out of hand,” said Gus. “So I turned it into a completely new app. It was purely accidental!”

A happy accident indeed. Macworld gave Acorn its top Eddy Award as one of the best Apps of the year, naming it an “Editor’s Choice.” The newly announced 3.0 version of the software features Layer Styles, Quick mask mode, Live Gradients and more.

Modesty aside, one of the key advantages Gus says he has as an Apple Developer (he will attend Apple’s upcoming World Wide Developer’s Conference for the tenth time this summer), is the core engine that Apple makes available for integration.

“There are some great graphic frameworks on [Apple Operating System] OS X, which Apple makes available, unlike any other platform I have ever seen,” said Gus. “For example, in the Core Image there are over 100 filters.  Called ‘Core Image Filters’ these technologies include dozens of built-in features such as blur and sharpen, as well as countless fills and patterns. I don’t have to spin my wheels writing all of these plug-ins all over again. It’s one of the reasons I was able to do Acorn in the first place. It’s because so much of it was there.”

Acorn has been dubbed “The Image Editor for Humans.” It is free to download and try out at the following URL: http://flyingmeat.com/acorn/

Visit Flying Meat at http://flyingmeat.com/.  [24×7]