More on the Coming Lightroom in the (Creative) Clouds
When Adobe Creative Suite was first introduced a decade ago, not everyone was happy about the licensing model change. Adobe's move to the new Creative Cloud licensing has resulted in similar reactions. Until now, Lightroom has remained beyond the fray, but that appears to be changing.
I wrote last week about Adobe's announced Creative Cloud Photography plan that includes Photoshop Creative Cloud plus the current version of Lightroom. Although the subscription price is greatly reduced when compared to other CC plans, not everyone is jumping to sign up. Understandably, if you already bought Lightroom 5 and have already decided not to go for Photoshop CC, there seems little reason to pay Adobe an additional $9.99 a month. But as I pointed out in that article, I think Adobe is tipping their hand as to their future intentions with this plan. After thinking about it more myself and receiving quite a few emails and messages from folks who read what I wrote, here are some additional things to consider.
First off, as I alluded to above, this isn't the first licensing model change Adobe has made over the history of Photoshop. When Photoshop 7 was replaced by Photoshop CS rather than Photoshop 8, it was more than just a name change. The new version was installed on your desktop just as the older ones had been, but this time we had the dreaded scourge of "activation" to contend with. It wasn't enough that you had a valid serial number when you installed the program, the program itself reached out to Adobe servers over the internet to verify that serial number. And the Creative Suite products periodically did this again when you ran them, long after the successful installation completed. If you moved your copy to a new computer you had to "deactivate" it on the old computer or risk being prevented from activating it on the new one. The licensing limits were no longer a matter of good faith and trust; the tallies of what you had a right to use were enforced by the servers in Adobe's data center.
Some users worried about what would happen if they weren't connected to the internet when the used Photoshop. Others worried about what would happen if Adobe's licensing servers went down or if Adobe itself ceased operations for any reason. Change is never easy. Even with Adobe's assurances that all would be well, I believe it was only the passage of time and the resulting track record of minimal disruption that allayed the fears and concerns of photographers who relied on Photoshop for their digital darkroom needs. Undoubtedly Adobe lost at least some users who never returned back when Creative Suite licensing took over, but most were eventually convinced that Photoshop CS wasn't evil incarnate. But it's worth noting that it is this same Creative Suite licensing that people long to keep with the move to Creative Cloud, at least for Photoshop. Granted, Lightroom didn't even exist yet when CS began and still remains outside the world of Creative Suite activation, but most Photographers still use at least some version of Photoshop for those things Lightroom can't yet do.
So now Adobe has announced the Creative Cloud Photography plan. It's always baffled me why Lightroom has remained so distinct from the other Adobe products branded with the CS moniker, especially when the official name for Lightroom is indeed "Adobe Photoshop Lightroom." With no CS bundle including Lightroom, I had to two separate upgrade cycles to budget for. It seemed that all the Creative Suite bundles featured a bunch of stuff I wanted along with at least one or two things I really didn't care much about. I've given Adobe criticism before for not having a bundle geared more for photographers. Not everyone is a web designer or print professional. Photoshop has long been Adobe's flagship product and yet they never really gave photographers their due. Now that the world of photography is fully within the digital camp, every serious photographer needs software tools.
It pleases me then just to see the word "Photography" used to describe an Adobe software bundle. Getting Photoshop and Lightroom, the two Adobe products I care most about for what I feel is now a reasonable price pleases me even more.
With this CC Photography announcement, Adobe has quietly updated their website to redirect the links to purchase Lightroom to point to the Creative Cloud site. From there, you are encouraged to choose a plan – the list of course now including the Creative Cloud Photography plan that includes Lightroom. Indeed, from what I can tell, the Adobe website no longer offers any way to purchase the standalone Lightroom product, either boxed or via download. You can still download the trial version of Lightroom, but the licensed version has disappeared from the Adobe site apart from the Creative Cloud plan version. You can still purchase it through retail channels, but Adobe itself won't sell it to you stand alone anymore. Try it for yourself and see.
As I say, Adobe has strongly indicated what the future of Lightroom looks like. Back when Creative Cloud debuted, they assured us that Lightroom would remain a standalone product for the foreseeable future, but it would appear that the future is here, and that things will be changing going forward.
So what about those users who don't have a permanent connection to the internet? What about when those of us who do travel? In a way, this is similar to one of the concerns raised with activation back at the beginning of the Creative Suite era. Back then, Adobe assured us that so long as we connected "often enough" all would be well, even as they refused to be pinned down as to exactly what often enough meant. Over the past decade of Creative Suite usage, I have had I think two occasions where activation caused me problems, but both of them related to upgrades or crashed hard drives rather than connectivity concerns. Even when travelling, Photoshop kept on working on my laptop as expected.
Many believe that Creative Cloud is a huge step further on the road to internet dependency, but I don't think that's really true. It's not as if the CC applications now run in a web browser or anything. The software itself still runs on your computer just as it always did. Updates still download when available, but that too has long been the case. There's an update for Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw every couple months I get prompted to download. The plan comes with a respectable amount of online storage you can use, but nothing forces you to. Your Lightroom catalog and images still live on your computer the same as always. The online storage is just a bonus for backup and to help sync images to Lightroom mobile. You can pay for a Creative Cloud subscription either month-to-month or on an annual basis. Especially if you pay once a year, Adobe shouldn't need to check all that often to make sure you aren't overdue.
But what about the problem of seemingly losing access to your images if you ever stop paying for your subscription? After all, Lightroom edits are non-destructive and live merely as a series of editing instructions to be applied on the fly to the underlying base images. If you can't run Lightroom anymore, you would lose all those edits, right? It seems Adobe listened to us photographers on this point as well. According to Tom Hogarty on the Adobe blog, a change was made starting with Lightroom 5.5. At the end of your subscription, the program will block access to additional edits in the Develop module, but it will still run, and you can still access your existing image assets. If you also use Lightroom Mobile, it will stop working, but the core software program on your desktop will still let you at your images. That seems to be a fairly reasonable compromise to me.
At any rate, whether you've come to terms with it or not, the future is the Creative Cloud. And that will include Lightroom too. Whether this all turns out to have as little practical impact as the shift to Creative Suite activation turned out to be a decade ago remains to be seen of course. But Adobe needs happy customers, so if there are any wrinkles I expect them to at least try to iron them out in a timely fashion. Living in the clouds though is the future, and the future starts now.