More thoughts about Adobe’s Creative Cloud

df_adobecloud_1Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that in June Adobe switched its access to software from a licensed ownership to a subscription model. After a year of offering both options – perpetual licenses and subscription – Adobe has decided to go all-in on subscriptions for the latest version of its creative tools, while continuing to offer perpetual licenses only for Adobe CS6 products. Adobe has branded these offerings under two divisions – the Creative Cloud (content creation software) and the Marketing Cloud (back-end web, marketing and analysis software). This move changes your interaction with Adobe’s software from one of purchasing a product to one of purchasing a service that includes software tools as part of the package.

Predictably, many creative professionals have been in an uproar, because continued access to your Adobe software-based project files means that you need to maintain a valid subscription for that software to function. There are many pros and cons in this argument and some users will find it a really good deal, while others could end up paying more per year, depending on their previous upgrade cycles. Let me try to clarify some of the issues. First, the term “cloud” tends to be misunderstood. In the case of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the software you choose to use is downloaded and locally installed on your computer. Any Creative Cloud application version carries the suffix CC instead of CS (as in CS6). There are additional cloud-based services hosted by Adobe’s servers that are available to subscribers, who are free to use or not use these as they see fit.

Just the facts, ma’am.

You do not have to maintain a constant internet connection to use the installed software, but it does ping Adobe’s authorization servers monthly to check your account status. Lack of a successful account check kicks the software into a trial mode for a period of time before the software is completely de-authorized and cannot be opened. In the case of people paying by the month, there’s a 30-day grace period. For those who have paid for a year in advance, it’s 180 days. Cloud subscriptions can be purchased for single applications or as individual, Team or Enterprise accounts. Individual users can install and simultaneously run any Adobe software on up to two machines (Mac and/or PC), while Team accounts are valid for only one machine per authorized user. Individual subscribers must download software separately to each machine; but, there is an option for Team and Enterprise users to install localized, server-based tools for simplified installation across multiple workstations.

For most people, the big plus to the Adobe Creative Cloud is access to the entire repertoire of Adobe content creation tools for web, print, photography and video. For the cost of the single subscription, you have access to use any of the applications formerly known as the Master Collection, as well as Lightroom. If you bought the Creative Suite 6 Master Collection today, that would run you $2,599 (plus Lightroom). Version upgrades have been in the $600 range and Adobe had been on an annual cycle of updates. Now with Creative Cloud, the equivalent software “bundle” costs $49.99/month without the initial outlay up front to own it. Of course, that’s the rub for many users, because when you quit paying, you can no longer open, edit or export legacy projects. The truth of the matter is that your software doesn’t just go “poof” and vanish from your hard drive. If you needed to re-activate a subscription six months later, then it would simply be a matter of renewing your account for as little as a few months to get you through your project revisions.

Advantages of the Cloud

There are several selling points to the Creative Cloud that have even skeptics coming on board. Up-to-date software is a big one. When you first install Creative Cloud, a new resident desktop management tool is installed, which replaces the former Adobe Application Manager. The Creative Cloud desktop application manages which software is installed and up-to-date, including both perpetual CS6 and subscribed CC versions. Adobe’s intent is to offer faster version updates, feature additions and bug fixes through the cloud delivery model.

If you are on a Mac, then pending Creative Cloud updates are also flagged through the OS X Notification Center. You control when to install an update. To date, Adobe has already delivered several updates with bug fixes and new features. The desktop application seems to work reasonably well, but I have experienced some download issues. My recommendation is to use it for updates or additional downloads only after a computer restart for best results.

By using this software-as-a-service model, Adobe is no longer bound by the arcane policies surrounding the timing of feature improvements, which are a by-product of the Sarbanes Oxley regulations. Instead, Adobe is free to update features when they are viable, rather than hold off to wait for quarterly revenue cycles.

Customers focused on one line of business, like only video or only photography, have a real advantage in this new scheme. For no additional cost, Adobe has now given you access to the software necessary to add new revenue streams. Want to add website design services? The Creative Cloud desktop application makes this easy. If you started with a handful of video apps and now want to download and add a few print or web applications, then simply click the additional software to install them.

Value added services

Aside from access to Adobe’s software, the Creative Cloud is an effort by Adobe to build a community and become a one-stop creative resource for its users. Not all of the options have been fully implemented yet.  Using the Creative Cloud desktop application you will be able to upload and share project files, sync application settings, install additional fonts and join the Behance design community. The latter is a portfolio site geared towards photographers and graphic designers. It supports video samples, but is not as well-known to video editors as YouTube or Vimeo. Adobe will also host up to five websites per account.

Adobe offers each user up to 20GB of online storage backed by Amazon. Unfortunately access to this storage hasn’t been integrated into the desktop tool and requires access through a web browser. You can store files there and allow others to download them, but video files do not play from within a browser. They must be downloaded and viewed locally. All-in-all, these services are a nice add-on. If your main focus is video, though, these are not yet an appropriate replacement for Apple’s old iDisk, Vimeo, DropBox or even a service like Sorenson360. Adobe is aware of this and has indicated that improving the Creative Cloud’s video-related services as a priority going forward.

Adobe has sought to respond to the flak surrounding software de-authorization when you end a subscription. Although a number of potential solutions have been posed – such as read-only access to past project files – there have not been any definitive announcements yet. Photoshop CC and After Effects CC do offer some backwards compatibility, but Premiere Pro CC is only forward-compatible. That means, you can migrate a project from Premiere Pro CS6 to Premiere Pro CC, but not in the reverse direction. Actual users of the Creative Cloud seem less concerned, but if this is an issue in your mind, then make sure to export your project in forms that ensure some compatibility, including XMLs, EDLs and superless, textless master files.

Conclusion

Whether or not the Adobe Creative Cloud is a good deal for you depends on many variables. Here are two anecdotal examples. A local college uses plenty of Adobe software across several departments, including graphic design, photography, digital media and film technology. That’s likely to be several hundred computers across several campuses. Four more licenses of the Creative Cloud just within the film program adds approximately $1400 annually to that department’s budget. Often upgrades of hardware and software are done via grants and don’t happen on a regular and predictable annual basis. Moving an entire school to a Cloud plan, means a big change in how such software is purchased, because it changes from being an asset to a monthly expense.

In example two, look at a company that forms around a single project. This is common of limited corporations formed to produce a single film and then close their doors when it’s done. Often they need software to edit and do effects, but also to cover they own print and web marketing needs. In this example, the Creative Cloud is perfect, because all of Adobe’s relevant software is available to them for a monthly charge. Simply put a small Team account in place for the year that the company exists and the net cost is much less than compared with the perpetual license model. For this type of client, there’s no ongoing value to the software as a tangible asset once the corporation is dissolved.

The Adobe Creative Cloud will come across as a good deal for many. It has afforded a lot of individual users the ability to “come clean” with legal access to all of Adobe’s content creation software on what, for many, amounts to one billable hour per month. Larger users, like production companies, broadcasters, ad agencies and corporate users seem very excited about being able to put any Adobe application on any computer in their operation (depending on their subscription plan). The extra Cloud services like Behance and 20GB of online storage are icing on the cake that can save money elsewhere by replacing other paid services. I suspect once the ruckus over the subscription model settles down, for better or worse, many other software companies will follow Adobe’s trek down this pioneering trail.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine

©2013 Oliver Peters

Advertisements