OK, I have to admit, I at first didn't 'get' alpha. As a PS user, I was unimpressed by its anemic functionality and simply didn't understand why my friend raved about it. Turns out, the way I used it was like using scalpel for welding. The results were accordingly. Alpha is nothing like PS, and I found out the hard way. Alpha's value comes from two unique features: it's use of real-time transparency (*blush* for not making the connection with the name for over a year), and resolution independence (this was the first thing I got wrong as a PS user): alpha can generate multiple resolutions of the same artwork in seconds - really useful for designers who need to create web, brochure, and poster art at the same time. This is where I save a lot of time.
Once I understood the basic premise, alpha became an entirely different beast. It's *not* a pixel editor and I don't know why I thought it is. It's a layout tool the likes of which I haven't seen before. Everything in Alfa is geared towards this: you round up pictures, drop them on the canvas, and then start arranging them. The built-in functionality to crop, zoom, pan and distort images seem lifted straight from QuarkXPress, and work really nice. The real fun comes when you switch to the blend manager - there are built-in generators for almost any regular blends that work in real-time. No longer do I need to create a layer with a gradient and apply as mask - alpha does in real-time what I need minutes to do in PS. THAT is alpha's strength. Plus, you can - also in real-time - change the way it combines images with whatever is beneath: multiply, subtract, dodge.
Something I didn't realize at first, but which I now wish PS could emulate is due to the way alpha works with images: it works completely non-destructive, a neat trick that looks like it was lifted from FinalCut. Anything you do you you can undo. The images you import into alpha remain untouched, and all effects you add are added to local copies. Plus, changes you make to source images automatically flow into the alpha document.
Then there are the other objects that work *exactly* like images. I was thunderstruck the first time I applied a '3D curl' effect to text and the app automatically generated the transparency mask for the *curled* letters. Now, *that* would have taken a lot longer in PS. Plus, text remains editable. OK, curled text is ugly, but as a tech demo it is excellent :)
Alpha comes with many image effects, and perhaps that is why I initially thought that it was a pixel editor. Effects are always applied to the entire image, and effect control is rather limited. Many effects are 'meh', most are OK, and two or three are outstanding. But effects-wise the app is nothing special.
Having raved about Alpha, there are a couple of issues, though:
-first and foremost according to cf/x it's a 32 bit application, limiting the canvas to somewhere around 12'000 pixels (40 inch @ 300dpi). Anything larger, and it takes a dive off the deep end. Related to this is that excessive grouping (the way I like to work) can also quickly lead to memory exhaustion. This can become very annoying with complex scenes.
- Then there are no layers. You can lock individual objects against changes, but they can be selected and e.g. accidentally be included in groups. Adding layers would be my strongest request.
- No multiple undo - not a biggie, since it is non-destructive, but still - it's 2013 and a single undo is a blast from 1995.
- No built-in color separation. I have to use Apple's Color Sync or PS on the result.
- Alpha has a steep learning curve and since it works almost exactly opposite to what I am used to, this was very frustrating. I recommend a 'PS transition mode' for designers who come from that direction.
All in all Alpha is a tremendously powerful tool - once you learn to use it right. I've seen people lamenting about the price. Now, admittedly, I got it during a MU promo, but as a professional tool the price is great for what it does, and once it saves you three or four hours of work, it's paid for. Non-professionals will have greater difficulties justifying the purchase. Oh - and if you are a photographer: download the demo, load the SED template and drop a few images. Now isn't that *way* cooler than using QX?
[my reviews seem to get longer and longer...]