Propelled by new tools to extend AJAX and make the Web even more interactive, the worldwide market for digital content creation products is expected to grow from $US3.04 billion last year to $US4.95 billion by 2012, according to a market research firm.
The market includes 2D and 3D modeling and animation products from firms like AutoDesk, digital video editing products from Avid Technologies, graphics and imaging software such as Adobe System Inc.'s PhotoShop and audio software such as Apple's GarageBand.
All told, the market is expected to grow by an average of 10 per cent per year, according to an analyst at Jon Peddie Research, Kathleen Maher.
Most of the money is -- and will continue to be -- made by sales to professionals such as Web designers or professional photographers. But in terms of units sold or shipped, the growth is among increasingly savvy consumers, who are routinely editing their digital photos and home movies to put up on sites like YouTube.
Even once purely high-end vendors are starting to take notice. "Whenever I talk to AutoDesk's CTO, he tells me how much they love playing with those AJAX tools in the lab," Maher said. "So I think they are certainly looking at the possibility of going broader."
The move of formerly expensive and proprietary technologies downmarket is creating a golden age of digital content creation tools that was enabling things such as the virtual website, Second Life, Maher said. That was in stark contrast to an era such as the mid-1990s, when 3D Web browsing failed to take off because tools using Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) were expensive and hard to use.
But Maher warned that the consumer market, while expanding, was also a something of a mirage. Most consumers were conditioned to getting limited or trial versions of content creation software bundled free with new PCs or DVD-Rom drives. And most remained superficial users.
"Even the vast majority of pro photographers are only doing five things with their photos; a consumer is doing even less than that," she said. "I'm surprised that consumers buy as much as they do."
The already-low price for most consumer photo and DVD editing software is also being undercut by freeware such as Google's photo editor, Picasa. As a result, even respected vendors such as ACDSee, which made well-known photo organizer software, were barely keeping their heads above water, Maher said.
The firms that were doing well, she said, were firms such ase Nero and Sonic Solutions, maker of Roxio, which were bundling graphic, image and low-end video editing features into all-in-one suites.
The segments that remained most immune to price pressure were professional video and sound editing products, Maher said, because they still tended to require specialised hardware.
On the more lucrative professional side of the market, Adobe remains the market leader. Maher praised Adobe's Apollo software, which, though still in alpha, promises to help developers create interactive websites and services that continue to work when users are disconnected from Internet access.
Microsoft remains a small player, though it has ambitious plans for its new Expression line of design tools. The Expression tools create graphical objects that use Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) code underneath. That, according to Microsoft, will make it easier for developers and designers to collaborate on interactive and multimedia projects.
Maher said Microsoft had to overcome past failures to make a dent in this market with products such as FrontPage that were ultimately limited in their usefulness to those with professional aspirations or credentials. "There is a perception of a lack of commitment by Microsoft," she said. "The tools were good as far as they went, but they rarely went far enough."