Creative Cloudy with a Chance of Upgrades? The Continuing Saga
I continue to hear of photographers contemplating what to make of Adobe's recent Creative Cloud subscription plan announcement. Truth be told, I've been in the same quandary myself. Here's what I decided to do about it.
First off, I know I wasn't alone in sticking with CS5 when Adobe released Creative Suite 6. At the time, it was just too expensive for what it offered. And with successive versions of Lightroom were proving capable of performing an increasing amount of what I needed to do in terms of image management and optimization I passed on CS6.
And now comes Adobe Creative Cloud rather than Creative Suite 7. And rather than being a standard upgrade with a perpetual license as we've come to expect from Adobe, the entire model has changed to be subscription based. You must continue paying if you want to continue using Creative Cloud applications.
Licensing has been a bit problematic ever since Adobe started bundling their applications under the Creative Suite moniker of course. Prior to that, you could upgrade any of your Adobe products whenever you wanted to without having to upgrade them all. But if you switched to licensing the original release of Creative Suite, you had to continue to upgrade the entire suite of products. You could no longer upgrade to every new version of Photoshop while choosing to skip some upgrades the Adobe products you used less often. It became an all or nothing deal. And since no edition of the Creative Suite ever matched anyone's needs exactly, you were always paying for applications you really didn't need to upgrade every time. Yes, bundling did save when compared to licensing everything individually, but not as much as it cost by forcing you to upgrade everything every time.
With the switch to subscription based software licensing though, Adobe has many users longing for the "good old days" of Suite bundling. Yes, you can subscribe to just a single Adobe Cloud product, but if you use even a couple of Adobe products, you all but have to subscribe to the full deal now. And once you start, you can't stop. If you do, the software will stop working when your license expires. You become a junkie who has to keep paying for their ongoing Adobe fix.
We all subscribe to any number of services in our lives of course, from basic utilities like electricity and trash pickup to subscriptions that are purely a matter of choice such as magazine subscriptions, cable TV and Netflix. "Software as a Service" could be viewed as being no different if it weren't for the fact that we're all accustom to it being otherwise.
At any rate, one option I had would have been to stick with CS5 as I had been and just pretend nothing had changed. But I had always planned to merely skip CS6 and upgrade to CS7 when it came out. Now that I can't, my original plans became unavailable. I could still do so of course, and what with Adobe Lightroom taking on an ever increasing percentage of my focus, that would have been a viable option even if not what I thought I was getting myself into by skipping CS6.
I know some photographers looking more to Photoshop Elements to handle those pixel-based tasks beyond what Lightroom can do. The history of Elements is that it eventually gains most of the features that debut in the full version of Photoshop, but it does so a year or more later, and not always completely. Adobe even adds some features such as red-eye reduction first to Elements, only later porting them to Photoshop proper. Elements is cheaper anyway, and at least for now remains licensed as traditional software rather than by subscription, so it should be viewed as legitimate option for some. I wasn't comfortable myself with going that route though simply because I find some of the "consumer oriented" mindset of Elements frustrating. The Elements Organizer is a pale imitation of Bridge or certainly Lightroom's Library module.
The world of open source software continues to improve as well and the lack of cost is certainly tempting. GIMP, the leading free image editing application, now supports a reasonable set of color management functionality including soft proofing with the release of version 2.4. Only limited support for non-destructive editing is provided via GEGL in the current 2.8 release, and other weaknesses remain although impressive progress continues to be made. It is conceivable that Photoshop users willing to brave the frontiers of open source could make the switch to GIMP. At this point, I'm going to start keeping a closer eye on GIMP, but I'm not willing to give up on Adobe quite yet.
Since CS6 will apparently be the last of the versions with a perpetual licensing option I was curious as to the prospects of upgrading my current Design Premium CS5 to CS6 at a reduced rate. Since the Creative Cloud announcement, I've noticed that Adobe has been revamping their site to feature it prominently and, at the same time, to remove CS6. Even the longstanding URL adobe.com/creativesuite redirects now to Creative Cloud. You have to go out of your way to find remaining references to Creative Suite. In the end though, I found I could upgrade to Design & Web Premium CS6 for only $350 (click on the "Buy" link for your version and then change the options to upgrade). Given that I spent $600 each for the matching CS4 and CS5 upgrades, the CS6 upgrade price is a bargain. Before the chance to do so disappears completely, I went for it. As a member of NAPP, I got an extra 15% off too.
Upgrading to CS6 after all may just be a delay tactic on my part, but it seems to make sense given the reality of where things are at now. Down the road, I'll have to decide again of course, but even at the reduced subscription rates for current CS customers, I would pay more for Creative Cloud in the first year than CS6 cost me perpetually.