C. David Tobie: Adobe Angst and the Creative Cloud
May 2013 08

The saying is that you can’t stop progress. And yet we aren’t always happy about it. Many of us live in towns or neighborhoods which once were quite self sufficient, with services from barbers and hairdressers to hardware and grocery stores. Now most of us have to travel miles to reach larger, more impersonal, alternatives to these long-gone local shops. That’s progress.

The digital revolution has been a main focus of progress in the last couple of decades, and many of the professions that have been “digitized” have suffered as a consequence. Unless your digitally impacted line of work is licensed and mandated, you probably earn less, and have less job security, than in the analog days.

Photographers and graphic designers have been hard hit in this manner, and at the same time that their livelihoods have been impacted, their responsibilities have mushroomed. They learned a range of new and foreign computer skills, studied everything from prepress standards to color management, and those that survived have developed some type of balance in the digital world.

The description above attempts to set the stage for the angst that has rocked the photo and graphics community since Adobe, King of imaging software, announced that it is moving virtually all of its graphics, photo, and video applications to a subscription-only model. Adobe did not do this lightly, nor without research and testing. Its not something that user response it likely to change: Adobe has seen the future, and this is their response to it.

And the plans Adobe is offering are not unreasonable, for many users. One or another option will meet the needs of many at reasonable prices, and are actually a very good deal for some. But end users have still been very troubled by the change, and have been expressing their angst in various on-line forums in quite colorful language.

I will apologize in advance for using this term, but there is really no other description for what Adobe is doing than “paradigm shift”. Its a change in the basis underlying the whole field of imaging and design. It feels, to many, as though, after years of owning their own homes, officials have knocked on the door and told them that home ownership is no longer allowed, and that they will need to pay rent in the future. Those who firmly believe in ownership, of not owing anyone anything, of buying what you can afford, as you can afford it, and making your purchase decisions carefully, may certainly find this troubling.

I have no intention of pitching the Creative Cloud options to Adobe users, not today at any rate. Nor do I plan to raise my voice in protest; I believe Adobe is sincere, serious, and probably right in what they are doing. But I did want to address the angst I am hearing in the voices of many users. Much of this is a matter of how we think about things, and if some concepts from me can easy anyone’s concerns, than I’ll consider that enough.

We have never actually owned our software. We bought it, and in some cases even the right to resell it, under a “shrink-wrap license agreement.” Software is written, like a novel, and unlike most things we buy, is covered by copyright, on the basis of it being written. The fine print in your license agreements have long told you that you are licensed to use this software under certain terms; this is not ownership in the sense that you can own a horse or a baseball bat.

Owning software has always been a cooperative venture. I have recommended against purchasing products from companies in financial difficulty, which might not be around to provide bug fixes, updates, and new versions over time. Adobe recently publicly released the source code of Photoshop 1. I downloaded a copy. Its availability underscores the fact that what Photoshop was then is not of much use now, it’s the movement forward, and all the versions in between (which I sometimes awaited in agony, when my workflow didn’t really work until a new feature or function was released) were a work in progress. “Owning” Photoshop 1, which I now own in a far more concrete manner than I did in its heyday, since the actual source code is in my hands, means nothing today, except as a curiosity or an educational tool.

The future of design and photography, more so than most other fields, depend on the prosperity of Adobe. If Adobe disappeared tomorrow, videographers would complain, as they moved up to Avid, if they could afford it, or down to Final Cut X if they could not. Non-Adobe options for graphic design, vector art, page layout, and photography are far weaker, and we would all prefer that Adobe remain in business, even if we would simultaneously hope for some competition to keep prices reasonable and features moving forward.

We are in danger of losing our best newspapers, with their failure to transition to a digital subscription system that people will accept. Adobe’s position in photo and design is bigger than any one newspaper. In fact, without InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop, the remaining newspapers would have quite a scramble to continue producing papers. So the financial health of Adobe, and its move forward into the type of financial model that appears to be the future for higher value applications (as opposed to low cost Apps) is important for all of us that have drives full of InDesign Layouts, Catalogs of Lightroom adjusted RAW files, Layered Photoshop files, Adobe Postscript fonts, and Illustrator images.
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C. DAVID TOBIE has been involved in color management and digital imaging from their early development. David has worked to see affordable solutions put in place for graphic design, prepress, photography and digital imaging, and then taught users how best to utilize them. He has consulted internationally for a wide range of color-related companies, and is best known by photographers for his writing and technical editing of texts and periodicals for the photo industry such as Mastering Digital Printing, and Professional Photographer magazine, and his seminars on color and imaging at photographic workshop around the globe. David is currently Global Product Technology Manager at Datacolor, where he develops new products and features for their Spyder line of calibration tools. His work has received a long line of digital imaging product awards including the coveted TIPA award, and a nomination for the Spyder line of calibration tools. Much of David’s recent writing can be found at his photography blog: cdtobie.wordpress.com, and his samples of his photography can be seen at: cdtobie.com.