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article imageReview: Light and shadows: Living under Adobe’s Creative Cloud

By Jack Kapica     Nov 21, 2013 in Technology
It was bound to happen: By pitching its products to professionals, it appears Adobe is abandoning individual users. But the individuals must realize that their choices have changed dramatically too
Most of the dirt has settled in the dust-up surrounding Adobe’s decision to move its software to a subscription model in a suite called Creative Cloud. It’s been out for a few months now, and it’s time to take a cooler look at what has happened.
The updating tool for Creative Cloud
The updating tool for Creative Cloud
Adobe Systems
The company’s old product, the Creative Suite, which came in various configurations for photo manipulators, website designers and publishing professionals, was an expensive package to buy, though many people thought the price was worth it. For them, it was like buying a Rolls Royce at a great price — it made them feel good; it was a kind of badge of excellence they could show to others who didn’t use it — or couldn’t afford it. It didn’t matter if they used only a fraction of its features (this has often been boiled down according to the Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 rule, which says that 80 per cent of owners used only 20 percent of its features).
It’s immaterial whether the Pareto Principle really applies to Adobe products. What really matters is that customers had become accustomed to paying for a new version each time it came out, and were upset by the change to rental fees. It also matters that users are concerned that Adobe will start to muck about with the pricing, or that buying into the Creative Cloud would mean they would have to keep paying for it for the foreseeable future (in fact, Adobe already fiddled with its pricing from the outset, offering low introductory prices, to be raised to some unannounced price in the future). It also matters that if users couldn’t afford the Rolls Royce, they would have to become accustomed to driving around in economy cars. It also matters that many users had invested in a number of third-party plug-ins that had become integrated into various programs in the suite, and were worried that the plugins would become obsolete. It also matters that users who are facing a switch would suddenly face a steep learning curve with a competing product that doesn’t have the glamour of an Adobe product and does fewer things differently.
They’re all valid concerns. And, for what it’s worth, my heart is broken a little too.
From Adobe’s point of view, however, all these concerns are swept aside by the single understanding that the publishing landscape has changed, and has become so complex that it now encompasses both digital and analogue products in a balance the industry has not seen before. The arrival of tablets, smartphones and e-book readers, especially those that can also run apps, has created an immense opportunity for magazines and other published products, and there’s no end to this expanding market. The result is a booming digital publishing industry.
And that is one Adobe wants to dominate. That’s where the money is.
One way to understand Adobe’s attitude is to check the Creative Cloud FAQ posted by the company. It’s a complex maze of information that can be bewildering.
What, for instance, asks Adobe’s FAQ, is the creative Cloud?
“Creative Cloud brings together everything you need to create your greatest work. One simple membership gives you and your team access to the very latest versions of all the Adobe professional creative desktop applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, and more — plus new features and upgrades as soon as they're available. Cloud storage and file syncing capabilities allow you to reliably access your files wherever you are, even on your mobile device, and you can share concepts with clients or colleagues more easily than ever. Cloud-based services let you build and publish websites, mobile apps, iPad publications, and content for any medium or device. And with Behance integration, you can publish your customized portfolio on your own URL and plug into the world's largest creative community to get inspired, get feedback, and find new opportunities. With Creative Cloud, your entire creative world gets its own central dashboard to keep your ideas, files, fonts, settings, notifications, desktop applications, and team members in sync.”
Adobe s file-sharing and storage tool Behance
Adobe's file-sharing and storage tool Behance
Adobe Systems Inc.
Each sentence in that paragraph makes sense on its own. But try to match that information against your needs and your budget, and you’ll likely have a hard time trying to figure out what you want. You also have to understand that Behance, a company purchased by Adobe in 2012, “is the leading online community to showcase and discover creative work. Creatives update their work in one place to broadcast it widely and efficiently. Companies explore the work and access talent on a global scale. As a Creative Cloud member, you can now easily create a customized portfolio and post your work directly to Behance from Creative Cloud and the Creative Cloud desktop apps.”
What that tells you is that your membership in the Creative Cloud will be heavily skewed to corporate people wanting to share their designs with their clients and each other. It’s very much a business tool, certainly not for those who want to touch up family pictures. It also leaves individual users, hobbyists and dilettantes in a minority among Adobe’s customers. They’re the odd ones out.
But how are they left out? Adobe has created two versions of its photo-editing software in Photoshop Elements, a kind of Photoshop Lite for hobbyists that has most of the same features as its big brother, and Lightroom, which combines photo management and editing in one interface for photo professionals with smaller businesses. Both cover most of the bases that small-business producers or home hobbyists need. Their only drawback is that they’re not flashy Rolls Royces to attract the envy of others.
Adobe s Photoshop totem: A product being chased by competitors for  individuals.
Adobe's Photoshop totem: A product being chased by competitors for individuals.
Adobe Systems Inc.
And when you look at the rest of the image-manipulation industry, you see all sorts of competitors filling the demand of disgruntled Adobe users. One of them — Corel — has programs that closely resemble Adobe’s, including Corel Draw (a vector-imaging tool like Adobe Illustrator), Paint Shop Pro (like Adobe’s Photoshop) and Video Studio Pro (similar to Adobe’s Premiere Pro). For hobbyists and small-time professionals interested only in photo manipulation, there is a suite, from onOne Software, a company that has aggressively ramped up its development of an already solid and reputable product called Perfect Photo Suite. ACDSee, based in Vancouver, has an all-in-one package called ACDSee Pro, which has recently added digital asset management, RAW processing, batch processing and other semi-professional features ($199.99). And The Plugin Site, which makes add-ons for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Corel products and others, has created a package called Elements XXL, which adds 200 features to Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, most of them for users editing photographs. There are many others. Just look in Google and stand back as the results come pouring in.
How, exactly, does Adobe define its “Creative Cloud”? All of Adobe’s users are being encouraged to store their work in the cloud, where Adobe’s products are also stored, including Lightroom and the new Muse web-creation system. Signing up for the Creative Cloud means installing a program on your computer that allows you to download and install the applications you signed on for, and install all new application upgrades as they become available. Bundled with this is 20GB of cloud storage and access to a lot of online collaboration, showcasing and digital publishing tools.
Now some people will balk at the smallish amount of system resources the Creative Cloud app takes up as it constantly checks in with Adobe to see if there are any updates, and with Adobe checking in periodically with your machine to see if you’ve got the correct applications and have the right to use them. It tries to authenticate with Adobe’s servers every 30 days; the suite can be used offline for up to 99 days.
Creative Cloud’s software will run concurrently on two computers, which acknowledges the professional’s need for a desktop machine and a smaller portable device.
An example of Adobe Photoshop s ability to handle difficult lighting conditions and come out with a ...
An example of Adobe Photoshop's ability to handle difficult lighting conditions and come out with a good-quality photo
Adobe Systems Inc.
Of course, little of this will soothe hardline individual Photoshop devotees. They will grouse — with my deepest sympathy — but I’m sure their numbers will dwindle, ultimately to obscurity. Adobe is just too big to be cowed by customers complaining of changing business models.
What is particularly interesting about Adobe’s new direction is the sheer number of new products and services being offered. And most of them, you will note, are directed at users who range from small professionals to big-studio operations.
The Creative Cloud software will run concurrently on two computers, which acknowledges that professionals will often work both on big computers at the office and on smaller machines on the road, which should soften the impact of the new software-as-a-service system. Moreover, Adobe will also continue to sell CS6, its last for-purchase suite, “indefinitely,” and support it with bug fixes and security patches, though with no new features.
Adobe Illustrator s type tool in action.
Adobe Illustrator's type tool in action.
Adobe Systems Inc.
New features for individual apps offer a grab-bag of features to make both single users and professionals drool or scoff at. For instance, Photoshop has a new algorithm for enlarging pictures, which is a major improvement over its past process, which left a lot of jagged pixels and a lot of “noise.” Until now, may competitors have been producing better blow-up algorithms.
There are new tools in Photoshop for drawing vector-based rectangles and ellipses, like Illustrator does, and include colours fills and strokes. There are new Conditional Actions that automatically jump into your work process under certain circumstances, great for batch jobs. The program also handles Camera Raw tools, for high-definition resolution photos, as well as new perspective and healing tools that are also seen in Lightroom 5.
The audience gasped two years ago when Adobe previewed a new shake-reduction tool at Adobe’s Max event. But in my tests it was a bit of a let-down. It seems to work better when it’s the camera that moves, but is less effective when people or things in the photo are moving. There are enough clues here to show that shake reduction is little more than simply sharpening the image and then reducing the noise in it.
Illustrator CC has focused largely on type, which helps the user with a search dialogue that filters fonts by name, and a feature called Touch Type, in which you can stretch, rotate and change the colour of individual letters in a text object. Illustrator CC also offers a CSS Properties (Cascading Style Sheets) panel for use in creating websites, which displays a description of the selected object, including colours, strokes, gradients and typefaces for easy pasting into a website editor. Illustrator also offers updated packaging and multiple-file placing abilities, for use in designs that use a lot of external bitmaps or fonts.
The CSS panel also makes its first appearance in Dreamweaver CC, an improvement over the pop-up window. The old Spry widgets have made way for Javascript routines called jQuery, which can run slick controls directly onto a Web page. The jQuery Mobile controls are used heavily by those designing websites for smartphones and tablets.
For its part, InDesign, which is a page-design and layout tool, now supports Retina screens, which is good for all those shops that have stayed faithful to Apple products. Like Illustrator, its improvements are with typography, including the font-search utility, allowing users to move up and down the list with the cursor keys, which offer an instant preview.
Adobe has also been tinkering under InDesign’s hood. In a 64-bit native version of the application, large documents can make full use of your live memory, if you should have equipped your machine with a professional level of RAM.
Premiere Pro CC has had some interesting tweaks, such as the ability to use the right-click mouse click to add and remove tracks; a double click will expand or collapse tracks. There is also a mechanism for detecting duplicate frames, alerting you if part of a clip appears more than once. There are new synchronization procedures for synching multiple cameras, based either on time code or audio.
If you have survived reading through all these new features, you will see a definite trend toward a more professional customer, either solo or in a large group with a corporate structure.
That alone should give pause to some of Adobe’s original customers, the ones who wanted to be seen driving around in a Rolls Royce. This is a parting of the ways for amateurs and professionals. The professionals will get a host of welcome new tools and a way to get them without having to download and install updates individually. The amateurs, however, will simply have to buy a different editing, publishing and document-creation tool, and learn it.
It’s just a matter of swallowing their pride.
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