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A short introduction to the Processing software and projects from the community.
On August 9th 2021, we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the first Processing software release. Through this time, we’ve promoted software literacy, particularly within the visual arts, and visual literacy within technology. Initially created to serve as a software sketchbook and to teach programming fundamentals within a visual context, Processing has also evolved into a development tool for professionals. The Processing software has always been free and open source and has always run on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux.
Processing continues to be an alternative to proprietary software tools with restrictive and expensive licenses, making it accessible to schools and individual students. Its free, libre, open-source status encourages the community participation and collaboration that is vital to its growth. Contributors share programs, contribute code, and build libraries, tools, and modes to extend the possibilities of the software. The Processing community has written more than a hundred libraries for computer vision, data visualization, music composition, networking, 3D file exporting, and programming electronics.
From the beginning, Processing was designed to be as simple as possible for beginners, knowing that its simplicity would also benefit more experienced users as well. It was inspired by the immediacy of earlier languages like BASIC and Logo, as well as our experiences learning to code, and teaching coding to a wide range of backgrounds. The same elements taught in a beginning high school or university computer science class are taught through Processing, but with a different emphasis. With its focus on creating visual, interactive media, students new to programming find it satisfying to make something appear on their screen within moments of using the software. This motivating curriculum has proved successful for leading design, art, and architecture students into programming and for engaging the wider student body in general computer science classes.
Processing is used in classrooms worldwide, often in art schools and visual arts programs in universities, but it's also found frequently in high schools, computer science programs, and humanities curricula. In a National Science Foundation-sponsored survey, students in a college-level introductory computing course taught with Processing at Bryn Mawr College said they would be twice as likely to take another computer science class as the students in a class with a more traditional curriculum. The Processing approach has also been applied to electronics through the Wiring and Arduino and projects. These projects use a modified version of the Processing programming environment to make it easier for students to learn how to program robots and countless other electronics projects.
The Processing software is used by thousands of visual designers, artists, and architects to create their works. Museums such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco use Processing to develop their exhibitions. Projects created with Processing have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and many other prominent venues. Processing is used to create projected stage designs for dance and music performances; to generate images for music videos and film; to export images for posters, magazines, and books; and to create interactive installations in galleries, in museums, and on the street. But the most important thing about Processing and culture is not high-profile results – it’s how the software has engaged a new generation of visual artists to consider programming as an essential part of their creative practice.
We started the Processing Foundation in 2012 to support our software development and to empower people of all interests and backgrounds to learn how to program and make creative work with code, especially those who might not otherwise have access to these tools and resources. We do this by developing and distributing a group of related software projects and facilitating partnerships and collaborations with allied organizations and individuals, to build a more diverse community around software and the arts. There’s more information about the Foundation on the Processing Foundation website.
When we started Processing in spring 2001 we were both graduate students at the MIT Media Lab within John Maeda's Aesthetics and Computation research group. Development continued in our free time while Casey pursued his art and teaching career and Ben pursued a Ph.D. and founded Fathom Information Design. Many of the ideas in Processing go back to Muriel Cooper's Visual Language Workshop, and it grew directly out of Maeda's Design By Numbers project, developed at the Media Lab and released in 1999. We welcome you to read our longer history of Processing on Medium.
— Ben Fry and Casey Reas, updated 14 September 2022