Adobe Creative Cloud announcement leaves users in a fog

by James Cook on November 17, 2011

See also: Adobe Creative Cloud: End of the Upgrade Roller Coaster? and Single Adobe Creative Cloud license will allow use of Creative Suite apps on Mac and Windows

Adobe recently announced Creative Cloud, which represents a shift in focus from software sales to a subscription model. For $49.99 per month subscribers will have access to the full range of Creative Suite programs as well as additional online services and community resources (additional price points for suites of fewer apps will be announced later). In my most recent posts I’ve shared my thinking about what Creative Cloud means to Adobe and my initial reactions to the beta of Cloud’s file storage, sharing and previewing service. In this article I’ll share my thoughts on how the transition from buying software to renting it will affect creative professionals.

What’s in Creative Cloud

Let’s begin by looking at what Creative Cloud will offer.

Desktop Applications: Cloud subscribers will have access to the full range of Creative Suite applications. The official list hasn’t been announced but a slide used in Adobe’s recent presentation to financial analysts included:
Adobe Creative Cloud Programs and Applications

  • Acrobat
  • Illustrator
  • After Effects
  • Bridge
  • Dreamweaver
  • Edge
  • Encore
  • Flash Builder
  • Flash Catalyst
  • Flash
  • Fireworks
  • InDesign
  • Lightroom (UPDATE: Adobe is currently offering a 30% discount on Lightroom to purchasers of Photoshop 5 or Creative Suite 5.5. This may be a further indication that Lightroom is being rolled into Creative Cloud.)
  • Premier
  • Photoshop
  • Story

It’s important to note that these programs will be run on your local computer not in the cloud. The only times an Internet connection will be required by the desktop apps are:

  • To download, install and activate the programs
  • To verify monthly that a subscription is valid and current.

Touch apps: Creative Cloud will include a series of new tools designed to work on mobile and tablet devices.

Touch apps are currently available for purchase for Android ($9.99 each) and will soon be released for iOS.

 Services: In addition, Creative Cloud will offer online storage (currently 20GB) of files and allow you to “View, access, share, and present your creative work any time, any place.” Creative Cloud is currently available as a free beta at https://creative.adobe.com/. In addition, Adobe has recently acquired TypeKit and promises to roll that service into Cloud as well.

Community: Creative Cloud will offer users pages to display and promote their work, share techniques and more. The range and scope of community services to be offered hasn’t been announced.

Integration: Future versions of Adobe applications (beyond CS6 which will be release next year) will incorporate tools that allow direct interaction with the Cloud services. The range of that integration has yet to be defined.

Cloud 9 for users?

Let's be positive, and take a look at the benefits that may flow to users if Adobe successfully manages the transition to Creative Cloud:

  • Bang for the buck: The full range of Cloud applications and services will offer users access to a far broader range of creative programs than they would likely be able to purchase.
  • Savings: Users of multiple Adobe products who upgrade each cycle will see savings by moving to the cloud.
  • Easy budgeting: Many users will find a monthly subscription fee to be easier to manage than a large upgrade fee on an irregular basis. In addition, there won’t be nasty budget surprises when a project requires an Adobe program you haven’t already purchased.
  • Timely updates: New features and bug fixes may be deployed on a timely basis rather than being postponed until the next release.
  • Targeted apps: Since Cloud users will have access to the entire suite of creative apps, Adobe may choose to reverse the trend toward feature bloat and refocus apps on their core functionalities.
  • Reduced redundancy: Cloud offers Adobe an opportunity to transform the Creative Suite from a bunch of loosely connected programs into a true Creative Platform where newly developed functions can be deployed consistently across the entire suite rather than developed independently on an app-by-app basis.
  • Synergy: Offering users the entire suite allows for more interconnectivity between programs. For instance, Illustrator might launch Photoshop for a specific task and transfer the results of that action back to Illustrator. While this kind of interaction has already been implemented in a minor way by some programs, Cloud dramatically increases the possibilities.
  • Collaboration: Documents stored in Creative Cloud will be available “in the cloud” and accessible anywhere allowing for easier collaboration within creative teams.

A dark cloud over users?

Of course there are also plenty of reasons for consumers to worry about Cloud as well.

  • Expense: Many users, perhaps the majority, will find Cloud to be more costly than buying or upgrading applications on an as-needed basis.
  • Difficult budgeting: Some users may find making required monthly payments more difficult than planning for a large annual or semi-annual upgrade.
  • Desktop apps: The creative applications in Cloud aren’t really in the cloud. You’ll have to download the apps to your computer and use them as you currently do. You’ll be limited to deploying them on two computers under terms similar to the current licensing agreement (UPDATE: A single license will allow you to install the suite on one Mac and one PC). So the idea that you’ll be able to access your apps anywhere at anytime is just a pipe dream for now.
  • No guarantees:As my liberal use of qualifiers like “should” and “may” suggests, there is a lot of uncertainty about Cloud. Here are just of few of the many questions Adobe will need to address:
    • In the future will any programs be dropped from the package?
    • What happens if you integrate Cloud services such as WebKit into a personal or client project and later drop out of Cloud?
    • Will pricing remain level or increase each year?
    • Upselling: What will prevent Adobe from introducing programs and services in Cloud and then charging extra for them after they become widely used? Will Adobe eventually introduce a higher-priced, Pro version of Cloud?
    • Support issues: In my experience, Adobe’s support system is – to be kind - less than optimal. Cloud will increase the demand for support as users migrate to the service and have access to more applications. Will Adobe be able to meet that demand? Will support be included in Cloud or will it be an extra cost add-on?
    • Slowed development: Currently the bottom line drives the upgrade cycle and the upgrade cycle drives Adobe’s development efforts. Cloud breaks that chain. With a steady stream of subscription dollars flowing, what will motivate Adobe to develop and improve programs that are already dominant in the marketplace?
    • Zombie programs: Adobe has a history of allowing programs that fall from favor to languish with little or no development effort (Director anyone?). Will Cloud become a collection of a few actively developed programs and a number of Zombie programs that are not actively supported but never quite allowed to die?
    • Proprietary tie-ins: Adobe is already integrating proprietary Adobe services such as Business Catalyst into its programs. Will Adobe accelerate this trend, favoring its own solutions over competing (and often better technologies)?
    • Failure: Creating and managing a large cloud-based service is a major undertaking. What happens if users lose access to their documents or - in the worst-case scenario - their applications? (Apps will reside on your local computer but will have to be validated online on a regular basis so validation errors are possible.) Will Adobe customers be willing to bet their livelihoods that Adobe can manage the Cloud platform successfully?
    • Takeover: Adobe has been the subject of fairly regular takeover speculation. A poor consumer response to Cloud could drop the stock price and make Adobe an attractive target. What will happen to Cloud and Adobe customers if that occurs?

Looking forward

A former boss of mine was fond of saying there are no problems, only opportunities. If that’s the case Adobe, has one heck of an opportunity on its hands. Creative Cloud will fundamentally change users’ relationships with the company and a lot of users probably aren’t going to be happy.

Nevertheless, David Wadhani, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Adobe’s Digital Media Business Unit, stated at the company’s 2011 Financial Analyst Meeting that Adobe’s goal is to “…drive 100% of our base to the Creative Cloud."

We’ll learn more about what that means in the months leading up to the Creative Cloud launch. In the mean time, it’s critical for the creative community to become fully informed about our options. Adobe is reevaluating its relationship to us and we, in turn, should evaluate our ongoing relationship with Adobe, our use of its products and the alternatives (if any). Then, when Creative Cloud launches, we’ll need to take a cold, hard look at our bottom lines and decide if software subscriptions make financial sense – whether we like the idea or not.

Next up: Buy, upgrade or subscribe?

Barry McDaniel November 18, 2011 at 8:43 am

Jim,

I recently downloaded Adobe’s Creative Web Suite. They have a nag on the buy me page that lists a subscription fee of $90 a month. I wasn’t interested at that price but at almost half of the I may consider it.

You probably know this but just in case

Barry

dwcourse November 18, 2011 at 8:55 am

Barry, there aren’t details yet but Adobe plans to move existing subscribers to the cloud service when it launches.

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