So how about a 400 page book on sharpening? I'd buy one ... seriously. I have an interest in the topic, which is behind my response to the original query.
Real World Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop CS2 should hit stores late summer if I meet my deadlines, mid-fall in the worst-case scenario. It won't be 400 pages in the first edition but it won't cost $50 either.
The Capture Sharpening presets and Creative Sharpening presets really are just starting points. In Capture Sharpen, you can adjust the layer opacities of the light and dark contours, and in Expert mode you can also edit the masks. Unfortunately, that's not something that the Automate SDK lets us do in a preview—you need pixels open in Photoshop. When you combine that with the length of time it would take to calculate a preview (as long as it would take to run the actual routine), my feeling is that it makes more sense to make a richer set of presets that are tailored to specific camera types than to spend resources on generating a preview that can only be a starting point.
With the Creative Sharpeners, a preview makes even less sense. The brushes don't do anything until you brush, and the SDK simply doesn't allow brushing on previews. And again, the preview would take as long to calculate as the actual routine.
I'm acutely aware that the current Capture Sharpeners lump images into some very large buckets. For Sharpener 2, my main focus is to put the images in much smaller buckets automatically (we'll keep the old routines for those who find they serve them well). We plan to use metadata to identify the camera model, run an analysis routine to automate edge width selection, and tweak the mask generation to make it sensitive to working space gamma, among other things, but these should all help to make the presets much better starting points than they are today.
The Creative Sharpeners are what they are. If I ever find a way to automate creativity I know a fairly large number of people who'd want to kill me...
Other than adding some larger sizes for the Web/Multimedia output sharpeners, I haven't seen a reason to do anything to the output sharpeners. I've printed 10s of thousands of images through these, and I've only changed the layer opacities in a handful. Unlike all the other relationships we have to deal with in the capture and creative sharpeners, the relationship between input pixels and printed dots is fixed for any given print process, and hence is totally predictable.
I have no problem with people using or building free alternatives—in fact, I've published a great deal of the information people need to do so, both on creativepro.com and in Real World Photoshop—and I AM actively working on improving the software. But when the choice comes down to what I know I want vs what someone else thinks they want, I'm going to go with what I know I want. That's just the way we do things, and I'm not under the illusion that it will work for everyone. But I draw some small comfort from the demonstrated fact that when it works for me, it works for a fairly large number of others. If Jeff appeared to be blowing off the points you've raised, it's probably because they've been beaten to death by us internally, and he tends to forget that others weren't privy to those very long discussions, which often provoked a lot of testing that went nowhere.
Last but not least, if any of us considered you a schmuck, we wouldn't be writing at such length. I value your feedback, and it all gets factored into the mix. That doesn't necessarily mean that we'll build the product you want, but such is life. If I sell someone a piece of software that ends up being shelfware, I regard that as a failure rather than as a sale, which is why I tend to harp on the 7-day demo and 30-day MBG.
With that, I'd like to return the thread to its original topic, which was sharpening on a layer...