Cloudy Days

(commentary)

Having had two long bus rides yesterday staring into the looming clouds, I have a few more words to write about Adobe's move to Creative Cloud applications (see Monday's story, below). I probably got more email on Adobe's change than any other subject in recent history; I'm still digging through it. Thanks for the feedback, it has helped me focus my own thoughts a bit more.

First a clarification/update: Tom Hogardy sent me an email while I was traveling to clarify the ACR/Photoshop CS6 relationship. I had quoted him as saying there would be one more ACR release for CS6 users. He wrote "I intend to provide Camera Raw updates for as long as we continue to sell CS6." Of course, we don't know how long Adobe intends to sell CS6, so this is still a bit of a vague promise, but it's still potentially better than the way I originally wrote it. Thanks, Tom, for the correction.

Now, onto my further thoughts:

  • Current pricing — Some are pleased, some aren't. This is part of the problem with making a major disruption like this. The ones that are pleased tend to be users of multiple Creative Suite applications. The more Adobe applications you use, the more you tend to be pleased, mainly because the pricing is essentially "one app = x a month, two or more apps = 2x a month. Adobe's key accounts--businesses, bigger agencies, etc.--are likely to be pleased because the pricing is on the favorable side for them and they can turn "seats" on and off at will, which is great when you have temps, interns, and other folk that come and go in your organization. 

    It's really the individual users that are mostly upset with the change, and for quite a few reasons. One is just timing. Before, I could advance or delay my update based upon my cash flow. Now, once you're in the cloud with Adobe, it's "pay every month or we shut you down." That, more than anything, is the bad takeaway that individual users seem to have: they no longer have control over if and when they update, and they've just added YAMP (yet another monthly payment) to their growing stack of those (phone, cable, mobile data, etc.). 

    Overall, the pricing is at least initially acceptable: US$10/month for Photoshop is US$120/year, or about US$180 for "a typical Adobe upgrade cycle." That's reasonable. But it goes up to US$20/month after your first year. Now we're at US$240/year or about US$360 a previous typical upgrade cycle. That's close to what a lot of people have been paying, more than others have.

  • How many? — Obviously, Adobe must have studied this change to death in order to commit to it. Note that there will certainly be people who value the change from boxed product to cloud. Those people will tend to be multiple product users who need to stay at the forefront of the software categories Adobe includes in the cloud. They're essentially getting a discount, they'll see more frequent updates, they have a predictable "per seat" cost that can be turned on and off as they add or lose employees, and much more. The cloud program has an advantage for multi-platform users, too, as you can switch between Mac and Windows at will. I don't at all question whether or not there will be people that are happy with the change. There will be many. 

    The real question is how many will be negatively impacted by the change, and what will they do? Given that there aren't a lot of deep, broad replacements for Photoshop, I suspect that most Photoshop users will move to the cloud in order to keep up with the latest features. But Adobe just put a target on their back, and the incentive for an independent software shop to try to pick off those dissatisfied users is now in place. Whether that will happen or not, I don't know. But for the near term, Photoshop is more vulnerable to competition than it has been in the recent past. As I note below, Adobe has slowly lost me as a customer for most of their products, with Lightroom/Photoshop really being the only ones I'm likely to continue using.

  • Adobe's legacy — They invented PDF, but the last several versions of Acrobat not only suck, but they're simply so terrible that suck no longer a strong enough word. They invented Flash (actually they bought it), but it was always a pain, buggy, and never really deployed to mobile devices well. They bought Pagemaker, killed it. They bought Framemaker, killed it. They bought Dreamweaver and managed to not make any substantive changes and it still has legacy bugs that seem to never get fixed. They bought other Web products, as well, killed them. For a long time they dropped Macintosh support for a key product, Premiere, suffered the consequences and were forced to get back on the platform. 

    About the only product that has had a long, relatively smooth history at Adobe is Photoshop. And now it's taking on some rough water during this transition.

  • Teaching — I've been considering doing a number of workflow videos for the new site (coming Real Soon Now, as Jerry Pournelle would write). But Adobe's change puts a hesitation in my step, and I'm sure others might be thinking the same thing. If enough individual users (my typical site visitor) balk at the change to the cloud, the number of people interested in a Photoshop-centric workflow falls. This is both an opportunity and a curse. It's an opportunity because it opens up the road to start exploring and demonstrating new workflows, and plenty of others will be looking for how they replace Photoshop. But the problem is curse is that there isn't a great replacement for Photoshop that bridges both major OS versions and does all the things a user wants to do. 

    Scott Kelby's Q&A about the change was mostly supportive, but somewhat subdued (note the answer to "So have you talked to Adobe about all this new pricing stuff?). With 70,000 NAPP members, a magazine devoted to Photoshop, and two PhotoshopWorld expos a year, I'm sure he's at least a little concerned about whether the Adobe change will have impacts on his company and all the Photoshop training products it has.

  • This is an opportunity for Nikon. The "opportunity" for Nikon was to make good software in the first place. They tried and failed. They tried again and failed. They tried some more and failed. What makes anyone think that another try will succeed? 

    Beyond that, Photoshop is not the same product as Capture NX2. Capture is essentially ACR, not Photoshop. ACR is built into Lightroom and Lightroom runs rings around View NX2 and Capture NX2 in design, stability, updates, integration with other software, performance, and feature depth. 

    Is Nikon happy about Adobe's change? Probably. But Nikon is delusional when it comes to their software ability and quality to start with. There's no new opportunity here for Nikon, just the same one they've had for nearly 20 years now: write good software that solves photography workflow problems.

  • The change solves piracy. I doubt it. I'll bet that someone will figure out how to break the "check in" process, and then we'll have people subscribing for a month to get the product, stopping their subscription and running a cracker on the install. And that will eventually end up on Torrents, just like every other cracked piece of software. So I don't think this was a DRM enforcement move, at all. If it was, like all DRM attempts, it will be broken.

  • Don't I need lots of bandwidth for this? Probably not for most of you, unless you're saving documents into the cloud. The full program(s) is (are) downloaded to your computer. The only Internet need is to check at least once a month for monthly subscribers, once a quarter for yearly subscribers. Adobe does plan to make program updates more frequent now, but I doubt that this is going to be bandwidth hog for most of you. Adobe's announcements and marketing weren't exactly clear on this point unless you read down into the details. While it was demonstrated in the cloud, the product manager tells me that, when deployed, the function will run on the desktop. Still, the Internet connection need is going to disrupt Department of Defense users, amongst others.

  • What will Thom do? Frankly, I don't think I need any updates to InDesign. I'm already moving away from Dreamweaver due to Adobe's neglect. Acrobat isn't part of the Creative Suite, so it doesn't matter in the decision. I don't use Flash. I did use After Effects, but not very often. I stopped using Premiere and went back to Final Cut Pro X once Apple fixed a few things. I don't use Flash or any of the other suite tools. Basically, Adobe is going to lose revenue from me, as I'll simply move from upgrading the suite to subscribing to one product, Photoshop. I'm pretty sure that wasn't Adobe's hope in making this change. They're hoping that people will go the other way: move from updating one product to subscribing to the suite. But there you have it: I'm swimming downstream, and I suspect quite a few others will, too.

  • What do I recommend you do? Here's the only pragmatic way I see of looking at it: take Adobe up on the US$10/month price for Photoshop CC. Essentially, you're getting the next update to Photoshop for US$120, which is a bargain. But there's a catch: the product stops working 365 days from when you do that. Essentially you've bought a short term solution on the cheap while you contemplate what to do next. You may decide that it's worth US$240/year moving forward, or you have twelve months to figure out what your new workflow will be. That seems like a reasonable compromise for now. 


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