Adobe's Creative Cloud – Some Good, But Mostly Not


I imagine most of you have heard of Adobe's launch last year of the new "Creative Cloud" (CC) versions of the programs within its Creative Suite (CS) line. When it first came out, I wasn't particularly concerned. I figured it was aimed at specific markets, like big business that might want to have the latest/greatest at all times and could afford the subscription fees. There were rumors at the time that Adobe would go all CC, rumors I tended to write it off as paranoia. Adobe itself made it sound like CC was totally optional and if it wasn't for you, you could continue on with the desktop versions like always.

Suffice to say Adobe lied and I now those owe those folks an apology, so I'm sorry. Yes, Adobe announced at Adobe Max 2013 that it is effectively killing off the CS desktop product line. New versions will only be available from Creative Cloud. If you go to the Adobe CS6 site now now, you see a lovely notice that it's the last of the traditional software versions for any of the creative suite products and encouraging you to "upgrade" to CC, which will essentially be where what would have been CS7 will be released in June (with new, really crappy, barely readable icons, IMHO)

So what is the Creative Cloud thing and what does it really mean? There are lots of myths going around, like that it only runs through your browser, but they are myths.  Despite having "Cloud" in the name, the CC applications are all desktop-run applications. You download and install them the same as you would any of the existing CS 6 stuff. They don't run over the Internet or through your browser or any other such thing (thank goodness). In this regard, they really are no different from the existing CS products.

The big change that is causing lots of uproar (and even a fairly pointless petition) is that you are no longer buying a perpetual license for the applications you are using, instead you are on a month-to-month lease; i.e. it is all subscription-based. While your computer does not have to be online 24/7 for the apps to run, the computer will start prompting you after 30 days of not being able to get online and kill the software after 90 if it can't check the license periodically. On the good side, you can now use your "license" for two computers regardless of OS, versus the old license which only allowed for two computers with the same OS. You also get all upgrades/updates/etc as desired, without extra cost and can easily sync settings and even share files across multiple systems. Having CC is essentially like having the Master Collection of CS6 with some perks, like the option to have files on the cloud that can be accessed from all your comps, and access to a few non-CS apps, like Muse and their iPhone app Kuler, and features like the Behance collaborative social network.

Still, the subscription-based methodology isn't cheap. For an individual subscription, it runs $49.99/mth or $599.88/year to have access to all applications on Creative Cloud. If you already have any CS3 or above product, it drops to $29.99 for the first year ($359.88) or you can choose to subscription to individual apps for $19.99/mth/app ($239.88/yr/app). If you qualify for an educational discount, that $49.99/mth also drops to $19.99/mth.

Now, I use currently three applications from the CS suite with any regularity: Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and PhotoShop. I qualify for the educational discount through my job, so I'd be paying $239.88/yr on CC. The normal retail price for the Master Collection with educational discount is $999.99 (I've always said, Adobe does do some darn generous educational discounts). It would take just over 4 years of using CC before I start paying above what I'd have paid retail.  Without the educational discount, the Master Collection retails at $2599.99, so again just over 4 years before the CC subscription goes beyond the outright price. 

For students who only really need it for 1-2 years or even just a semester for classes, it is an awesome deal, much like text book rental versus buying.  If you are someone who has to upgrade every year, it really isn't a bad deal.  Presuming Adobe keeps up with their hype, you'll be on the next versions of all your apps (if you want) before you've "fully" paid for the current one you're on.

For business and organizations who do not qualify for educational discounts, the team pricing of $69.99/mth/person is still fairly good, as it is still 3 years before you meet the outright purchasing cost, per person. There is an educational team discount (though it is buried in the site and not easily findable on the main price chart), which bring it's down to $39.99/mth.  So $479.88/person/year – so only 2 years.  Many such insitutions, being non-profit with limited budgets, are more inclined to wait 3-4 years to upgrade, so that significantly more expensive. True, they can just do individual licenses for way less, but they it forces them to forgo the "team membership" benefits like extra storage, centralized deployment, easier seat reassignment, and 2 one-on-one consultations per person per year.

And if you only needed a few of the applications, you likely wouldn't buy the Master Collection to begin with. It would be like buying a Hummer to transport you and a mouse. More likely you'd get Design Premium, Web Premium, or Design & Web Premium, all of which are much less expensive.  So that 4 years of "cost recover" drops to around 2-3 years, depending on which one you would have usually purchased. And none of that takes into account the discounts you'd get upgrading from an older version to a new, versus buying full retail, when you upgrade.

For me, access to their high end video stuff without buying Master Collection would be a nice perk as I've always wanted to dabble in it.  But if I was buying my software stuff myself versus it being employer supplied, I sure wouldn't be upgrading every 3-4 years and I wouldn't be using FIreworks or Photoshop, I'd have just gotten Dreamweaver.  And I'd run it into the ground until it just can't run on my system anymore or no longer meets my needs, like I do most anything else. I use Quicken 2007 because it works – no reason to pay $50-100 for the newest version when the current works just fine. No, I can't download bank stuff anymore, but I couldn't in older versions either and I pay more attention when I have to reconcile myself.  I run Office 2003 because it works perfectly for my needs as is (plus I abhor that ribbon crap with a passion that was shoved into Office 2007 and up).

For folks, like my photography loving sweetie, who primarily just needs PhotoShop for photo editing and only upgrades very 5-10 years, CC is insanely expensive versus buying the retail version: $1,199.40-$2,398.80 over the course of those 5-10 years versus $699.99 for full retail or $199 for upgrading from an older CS edition. It cost less to upgrade previous CS editions than he'd have to pay for a single year on CC! And, for the most part, the software is good to go out of the box unless, again, you do an OS upgrade that can't run it, or for PhotoShop, when it can't handle the RAWs if you upgrade to a new camera.

There is also no guarantee the monthly prices won't start going up once they stop shipping CS6; their license only guarantees your price is fixed for the term of each annual commitment.  Considering Adobe already did a switcheroo regarding CC, I'm not particularly inclined to trust them saying that ever version of every app that goes on CC will always be available/usable.  Nor do I trust their saying you'll never be forced to upgrade.

If an updated version no longer meets your needs or works for your system, you could find yourself out in the cold.  Adobe could decide to ax a product all together and you'll be stuck trying to make your new versions backwards compatible with whatever older traditional desktop version you can find. And if Adobe goes belly up one day, you're stuck with hundreds, maybe thousands, of proprietary formatted files for apps like PhotoShop that will be rendered completely useless because that cloud-based subscription app will commit suicide 90 days after the server goes offline. In short, they offer consumers no exit strategy at all.  If you don't want to subscribe anymore, then all those proprietary files are useless! Yes, the PSD format is publically documented, but what about the rest? And what programs can really read and write them reliably besides PhotoShop?

The only bit of really good news, for me, is that not all of their products are going to the Creative Cloud model, like Lightroom.  At least, not for now.  For Adobe, the "foreseeable future" could just mean until the end of the year and they change their mind to go 100% subscription-based on that as well. As for me, I'll be sticking with CS 5.5 until I'm forced to upgrade my systems to a new OS or the like and it all just dies, and I'll be making a dozen back up copies of the installation download until then, just in case.  And when that day comes, that will be it for me with Adobe and the CS line.  Likewise, if my Dreamwaever CS 5.5 becomes too outdated to use, I guess I'll be trying out some of those IDEs mentioned in a previous post. Until then, I'm certainly no longer inclined to recommend anything from the Creative Suite/CC line, even though Adobe has long been the "boss" for image and video editing for as long as I can remember. 

To me, Adobe seems to be sending a clear message that they no longer want "lay", casual, hobbyist, or new users, only big, high budget organizations/companies or folks with money to burn that can afford a subscription-based plan (or who don't do the full math and just look at the "low" monthly fee).  They realize they are the best of the best and want to milk users for all they have got, confident in the lack of alternatives for many of their products.  Sadly, they are right, though maybe the advent of the Creative Cloud will be enough to get some new names out there trying to pick up those left behind.

As for Lightroom, I'm currently running version 3. Regardless of Adobe's new moves, I still love it, just like I still love Dreamweaver.  Fortunately, for me I don't have to have "shiny and new" all the time…my software and things don't stop serving my needs just because a new version came out.  And Lightroom 3 works great for me as is.  I'm not adverse to upgrading to 5 when it comes out, so long as it isn't butched to CC, for the improvements to the editing tools and being able to make videos from stills (versus having to dump them over to move maker), but I can also just live with 3 until I just can't run it anymore. Unlike Dreamweaver, the only threat to it getting out dated is if I get a shiny new camera that has a RAW format not supported by the software (which is unlikely – my camera also works just fine).  And it will be the one Adobe product I'll still recommend it, 'cause it rocks, but those recommendations will come with a caveat about Adobe's new business model.

That's my three pages or so of rambling about CC…how about you?  Do you love it, hate it, or somewhere in the middle?