Photoshop’s JPEG compression has a confusing setting that I can’t let slide

Adobe apparently thinks "great" is better than "excellent," and that's demonstrably false.

by | Jun 16, 2021 | Feature, Humor

“Did you see that? That was excellent!

“Nah, man. That was better than excellent — that was great!”

said nobody ever.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but a recent update to Adobe Photoshop changed the labeling of JPEG compression options in a very questionable way: it put “great” above “excellent.” That is to say, if you want to export the highest-quality file, you should select “great,” not “excellent.”

This is pure inanity. Nothing that has ever gone from good to great has passed through excellent to get there. That’s like saying on your way to becoming a millionaire, you’ll become the gross domestic product of a medium-sized nation.

How could such an excellent — ahem — great company like Adobe make such a mistake? Is “great” commonly used as a superlative within the programming community? Did Tony the Tiger join the Photoshop team?

You might be thinking these two adjectives are interchangeable synonyms with nebulous-enough definitions that placing either above the other is perfectly acceptable. You are wrong.

Great – of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average.

Excellentextremely good, outstanding.

I don’t know about you, but “outstanding” sure sounds more impressive than “considerably above average” to me. Complicating matters further is the common colloquial use of “great” to mean “definitely not great.”

“My mother-in-law is coming over for dinner.”

“Oh, great.”

“Excellent,” on the other hand, evokes images of a young Keanu Reeves and a radical guitar riff. There should be no question about which word is superior.

But even entertaining for a moment that there is a debate worth having here, it’s rendered moot by the obvious alternative solution: the word “best.” This simple superlative would clear up all of the confusion. Sure, “excellent” is certainly a greater word than “best,” but it is impossible to use the former to one-up the latter. Best is best, end of story.

Am I taking this too far? Does any of it matter? Of course I am, and of course it doesn’t. But for every one of my Photoshop pet peeves that Adobe fixes, they seem to introduce a new one for no good reason. What was wrong with using percentages to choose your compression quality? Nothing. Nothing was wrong with that.

Look, Adobe doesn’t employ idiots, and I can openly admit that the inner workings of advanced features like Content Aware Fill would go way over my head. But I know a thing or two about words, and just as fats and sugars command a higher position on the food pyramid over fruits and vegetables, “excellent” sits comfortably above “great” in the grand order of adjectives used to describe something that’s better than good. Photoshop’s confusing reversal of this natural relationship is a strange blunder on the part of such a smart company.

Great job, Adobe.