Dodging The Storm (Creative) Cloud
May 17, 2013
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The backlash caused by Adobe’s announcement that it was moving its Creative Suite to the cloud has been intense. Twitter was abuzz with people ready to jump ship. Online petitions have been created claiming that Adobe is “robbing small business, freelancers, and the average consumer.” Adobe and its champions, such as Scott Kelby, have tried to explain the change and to convince the masses that the world is, in fact, not ending. Apparently, people do not like change.

I’ve remained open-minded and silent, mostly because I wanted to wait for the dust to settle so that I could get a clearer picture of how the move to the cloud affects me. Right now, I’m running Adobe Lightroom 4, the Lightroom 5 beta, and Adobe CS 4 Production Premium. Nearly 99% of my workflow is in Lightroom, and I only jump to Photoshop for more intricate touch-up work. I dabble with Adobe Premiere and After Effects, but rarely make use of any other tools that are part of the suite.

Two things about the announcement are in the favor of the semi-pro photographers…at least for now. First, Lightroom 5 is coming out and it will be available as a standalone application. Tom Hogarty also said there are no plans to take away the standalone version of Lightroom. I suspect there will be features that will require a cloud subscription, maybe even the iPad “Lightroom Touch”. But even with Lightroom 5, they’re introducing some powerful new features that are available in Photoshop, so I’m hoping the plan is for that trend to continue, meaning more people can stay in Lightroom more often, depend on Photoshop less, and not need a cloud subscription to have a truly powerful workflow.

The second piece is that Lightroom 5 will still integrate with earlier versions of the Creative Suite, so we’re not being forced to upgrade to the cloud. While I’ve already lost some of the “clean” integration between the tools because of the diverging of the Camera Raw versions between Lightroom and CS4, it’s manageable and only comes up in those rare cases when I need to go in to Photoshop. Certainly if your workflow is more Photoshop heavy, it could be more of an issue, but if you have a new version of Creative Suite, the impact is less. Eventually, though, even CS6 users will notice as Camera Raw continues to evolve with the Creative Cloud.

Do I need to upgrade? Not really. While the tools get better with each version, there’s nothing that I can’t do with what I have. There was a lot of press around content-aware fill, for example, and it looked cool, but I didn’t need it. That’s the case for a lot of the features in the new upgrades. There are new features, and performance improvements, and bells, and whistles, but for a lot of people (myself included), those benefits aren’t always worth the cost, and we do just fine being a version or three behind.

If I wanted to jump to the latest pre-cloud version of the tools, since CS4 is not upgrade-eligible for CS6, I’d need to buy the full version of whatever suite I opted for; Production Premium is $1,600.

In terms of comparing the cost of jumping to CS6 versus CC, when they show the math of buying the major upgrades compared to what it would cost to always have the latest and greatest in the cloud, the figures are a bit misleading. While Production Premium is $1,600, the upgrade price has traditionally been a fraction of that, and upgrades went back one or two versions. So it’s $600 a year for Creative Cloud, or $400 – $700 every year or other year to upgrade Creative Suite. The same type of math works even if you are just interested in Photoshop. Of course, there won’t be anything to upgrade to in the near future, other than Creative Cloud, so the version skipping doesn’t really apply anymore.

That brings me to what I see as the biggest drawback for me with the Creative Cloud, and that is that if I subscribe to it for a few years then decide to stop, maybe because business declines and I can’t afford it, I have nothing. No subscription equals no access to the tools I would need for my business. At least with Creative Suite, if I decide to skip an upgrade or two, I can still use the tools. Whether this is the future of software or not is to be decided, but that’s a scary proposition. It’s like the mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in.

Is the cloud the worst thing ever? That depends. The cloud makes sense for professional photographers and creatives, especially those that upgrade with every version. They get access to the latest version of every tool for a flat fee, making accounting and tax returns easier and likely at a lower cost than upgrading major versions every year.

For the rest of us, even with the single application membership, it probably looks like less of a good deal. I think the new model is going to push more semi-pro and amateur creatives out of the cloud. But given the roadmap for Lightroom and the features they are adding, it continues to be a nice, soft place to land.

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