Cloud cover: What Creative Cloud means to you

Are you pissed off at Adobe yet? If the answer is yes, then you're not alone.

If you use at least one of the company's professional software packages derived from the late, great Creative Suite, then your life is about to change. Some 14,600 of your compatriots are so unhappy about it that they've officially put their names—often alongside an assortment of scathing comments—to an online petition that seeks to convince Adobe to back off its plan to transform its Creative Suite from traditional licensed software to a cloud service, and go back to the old way of doing business. Knowing that will never happen is at least partially fueling that customer rage.

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Adobe used its Max 2013 creativity conference to announce plans to end the sale of its popular creative software—including Photoshop, InDesign, and Premiere Pro—in favor of a cloud-only subscription service.

By itself, the switch was not surprising. Ever since Adobe launched Creative Cloud last year, and outlined an elaborate subscription strategy that covered nearly every segment of the market, it seemed only a matter of time before everything went to the cloud.

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But few observers expected Adobe to act so quickly. People dislike being forced to fix things that are not broken, and they especially rebel when they feel they're paying extra for the privilege. It’s not just the money. (A subscription costs $50 per month for individuals and small shops, though there are numerous discounts for the first year.) Users also freaked out at the restrictive pay-for-play and the uncertainty of recourse when things go wrong online—which they often seem to do. They fret about long-term access to their own creative work and the specter of being locked into monopolistic, cable-TV-style price hikes—forever.

And that's if they can even get the software in the first place. Downloading a Creative Suite Master Collection is no picnic without a T-1 line; for users with inferior broadband connections, it might not even be possible. However, Adobe stresses that it is not necessary to download everything at once, and that per program downloads are fine.



Narrowed pro audience

One byproduct of Adobe's move will be to separate the prosumer/hobbyist crowd from the professional users whose livelihood depends on Adobe's pro apps. The change could move the suite back to its original professional roots. Not only does it offer access to the entire suite for everyone, it seeks to promote cloud-based collaborative services targeted specifically toward creative pros—such as immediate software updates, sharing, syncing, fonts, community resources, storage space, and training.

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What about the many professional and highly skilled users who only need a single package—Photoshop or InDesign, for example? For them, a single app costs $20 a month for a year's subscription and includes a wealth of collaborative features and cloud advantages.

It was not lost on the company that over half a million people signed up for the fledgling subscription service this past year, and that most were individuals and small shops.

Choice and file access

No one likes to feel that corporate changes deny them the freedom to choose how they work, but for many users, Adobe’s actions will do just that.

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Ironically, in order to accommodate folks who do not want to switch to cloud services, Adobe is continuing to sell perpetual licenses of CS6 in its entirety. It promises to continue supporting CS6 with updates and bug fixes—everything but adding new features—through the next major updates of both Mac and Windows operating systems. If that reassurance was designed to calm everyone down, it didn't succeed because people are viewing this as a long-term transaction.

As software ages, and operating systems advance, desktop software struggles with backward compatibility. The prospect of losing access to precious work because of not paying the cloud fee for the most recent update is scary, especially because Adobe has not worked out all the details yet. However, there is evidence that Adobe has taken this into consideration. As Scott Morris, Adobe's senior marketing director, explains on Macworld's podcast, Adobe is continuing to evaluate how to handle expired licenses and is seeking user feedback on the issue.

According to Adobe's FAQ, if you cancel your paid membership in Creative Cloud, you still have access to a free membership with 2GB of storage space. Moreover, Adobe says there will be a 99-day period between the time subscribers have to actually be online to validate subscriptions, in consideration of photographers in the field without Internet access. In response to the community's vocal opposition, it also says it is evolving on the idea of extending that grace period even more. Adobe agrees that no one should lose access to their files with this conversion.

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The Lightroom and Elements

One alternative for photographers to a Creative Cloud subscription is Lightroom. Lightroom is available as part of Adobe's cloud subscription, but it is a hybrid product that is also available as a traditional license. Because so many image editing operations can be performed in Lightroom, casual users may get similar functionality to Photoshop, but at the much lower cost of $150. Competition from Apple's Aperture or Corel's After Shot Pro, could provide professional photo management.

Adobe has also acknowledged the persistent interest in a special photographer’s bundle or photography cloud package, and says it is actively exploring such offerings—perhaps pairing Photoshop and Lightroom.

Adobe also markets powerful advanced consumer software in Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements. If image editing is a hobby and not a business, then you might also consider those—or Acorn, Pixelmator, or the free GIMP—as much less expensive alternatives. Then again, you may not be so willing to switch after you've settled into years of using Photoshop.

Other options

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So many people have expressed outrage at Adobe's business decision that it's beginning to sound like Quark all over again. Nonetheless when it comes to pro level competitors in various fields, pickings are slim: QuarkXPress is the closest InDesign alternative out there for pro users, though there are many more consumer oriented packages available. Final Cut Pro X could replace Premiere Pro, while Avid offers a number of professional video and finishing software packages, including Media Composer. Apple's Logic Pro is comparable to Audition while Avid's slate of audio software, such as Pro Tools HD, could assist in the transition. Apple's motion graphics package, Motion, could possibly replace After Effects while, depending on your needs, you could turn to Sketch as a refuge from Illustrator, or to Hype as a substitute for Flash. KompoZer is a visual Web design tool that might replace Dreamweaver.

These alternatives are somewhat analogous to their Adobe counterparts in terms of classification, but not necessarily in workflow or interoperability. Those differences will dictate that users think hard before making a switch. If you're really unhappy with the cloud alternative, and are thoroughly offended by the concept of a subscription, then it might be best to hang with what you have now, while you investigate your options before making a switch. For its part, Adobe says its policies continue to evolve as it listens to community concerns.

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