By Stan Sholik
The Adobe Cloud model is here, as it has been for nearly a year, and it doesn’t look like it is going to go away. On March 14, Adobe announced that beginning May 1, 2013, boxed copies of all CS6 applications would no longer be produced or shipped except “under special circumstances.” What these special circumstances are have yet to be disclosed, although Adobe hints that if an internet connection is unavailable on any computer, that may qualify. Owners of the downloaded CS6 programs can request a Creative Suite Backup disc at a nominal cost.
Future Adobe programs that were a part of the Creative Suite will be known as Creative Cloud (CC) desktop applications, and this includes the forthcoming Photoshop CC. Lightroom, having never been a part of the Creative Suite, remains a boxed program for the foreseeable future, although Adobe promises that Lightroom will become available to CC members as well.
Actual membership in the CC is free, and you have access to 30-day trials of any or all programs, with limited access to other CC services. Along with the free membership there is a free version of Adobe Edge Tools and Services and the final version of Adobe Edge Animate 1.0, all for web developers. There are also 500 free Adobe Edge fonts and 2GB of online storage. Not much here for photographers.
So what is the Creative Cloud and how does it affect photographers? What it is not is a system limited to cloud storage of images, although 2 to 20 GB of storage is included when you join. It is also not a suite of web-based applications like Google apps. The Creative Cloud is a subscription-based plan that gives you access, depending on your subscription, to single programs from the previous Creative Suite, or access to all programs in the previous Creative Suite. You join the CC, download the single program or whatever elements of the old Suite you need, and work as you always have. As long as your subscription is active, you never know the difference, other than the advantages Adobe says you have from the CC.
Costs are kind of complex, but they always have been from Adobe. For current Photoshop CS3 or later registered users, the cost is $9.99 per month for the first year, with an annual commitment, for access to Photoshop CC. This offer is good until July 31, 2013. The regular yearly cost for a single program is $19.99 per month with an annual commitment, or $29.99 per month on a month-by-month. You are still limited to installation on two computers, but with the CC, one can be a Mac and one Windows.With a yearly commitment you must still “validate” the program when connected to the internet at least once every 99 or 189 days (Adobe is clearing this up at the moment). This validation can be done over dial-up, tethered, or connected to a mobile device, or at a wireless access point such as a coffee shop.
For access to all CC applications, the cost for existing CS3 to CS5.5 registered users of any individual program or the entire Suite is $29.95 per month and CS6 users for $19.99 per month, both with an annual commitment for the first year. This pricing is also available for a limited time, presumably until July 31, 2013, although that date has not been publicly announced. Regular price of the full CC subscription is $49.99 per month with an annual commitment, or $74.99 per month on a month-by-month basis.
Do you have a box to show for it? No. Are you leasing the software? Yes. Is this different than previous versions? Only in that if the lease expires, you no longer have access to the software. If you read the user agreement of your previous Photoshop software before you clicked “Accept”, you know you were leasing that also. For users who leased a Photoshop CS6 boxed version or who download the program, you have what Adobe is calling a “perpetual license”. Adobe promises support of Photoshop CS6 for at least the next major operating system (OS) upgrade by Apple and Microsoft, and further until CS6 would need to be rewritten due to OS changes. New features will not be added, but bugs will be fixed, and presumably Camera Raw will be updated periodically.
What are the advantages of signing up for the CC to Photoshop users? First is access to Photoshop CC. See Adobe's Photoshop CC Features page for details on the new additions to see if this is meaningful to you, and look for an upcoming hands-on review of the new features in Professional Photographer. Then there is future access to Photoshop CC updates. Adobe announced some tantalizing “sneak peeks” from Adobe Labs at Adobe MAX in May, but time will tell if they are relevant to your work. Adobe promises future updates, but without a set schedule, meaning you won't have to wait 15 months to get new features as you did with the old model.
Next is access to Bridge CC. Bridge as we have known it is no longer shipped as a part of Photoshop CC. Bridge CC is now a free download available with CC membership. At present, the Output Module has been stripped from Bridge CC, but it, too, may be available as a separate download from the CC. MiniBridge is shipped with Photoshop CC, but requires Bridge CC to function.
CC members also gain 2 to 20 GB of storage as stated previously. The CC also allows you to synchronize your preferences across multiple computers and share your images on multiple devices, or with clients, or to collaborate on projects. There is also a free membership in Behance ProSite (about which I am clueless) that is normally $99 per year. And you no longer need to worry about serial numbers or activation, and you can reset your two activations to other computers without contacting customer support.
What happens if you join the CC, use Photoshop and Bridge CC and the new features in Camera Raw for projects, and then decide to let your subscription lapse at some point and revert to an earlier version of Photoshop? If you saved your images as flattened TIFF files, they will open in any version of Photoshop, including 1.0, that supports the bit depth of your flattened file. If your images are saved as PSD or layered TIFF files, you will lose access to any features added since the older version of Photoshop to which you have reverted. This is no different than the situation at present if you try to open a CS6 PSD in CS5 with features that were added in CS6.
Will I join the CC? I shot film and resisted digital capture for as long as I could. Now innovations brought on by digital photography such as HDR, focus stacking, retouching, and compositing are profit centers for my business. And I can still shoot film for personal work whenever I desire.
Photographers, myself included, rarely welcome change, and like most humans fear the unknown. But we are creative—we learn to use new tools and techniques and turn them to our advantage, and we quickly adapt to changing situations. While Adobe will be fine-tuning the Creative Cloud for months or even years, it is here to stay. All of the wind in the photo blogs will not blow it away. Adobe claims 2.5 million CC subscribers in the 10 months the Cloud has existed, and it is clear to me that Adobe is honestly not interested in users who are reluctant to upgrade from earlier Photoshop releases. Adobe is interested in the revenue stream from the 2.5M CC members and in convincing you that is a good idea for you to join them. Me? I will take advantage of the $19.99 per month pricing for CS6 users for the entire CC suite of programs for a year and see what happens. If Adobe sticks to its word and updates Photoshop CC, Adobe Raw, and Bridge CC with features I can use, I’m in. If not, I’ve spent about the same as the cost of upgrading from Photoshop CS5 to CS6, and far less than starting with a new lease of a boxed version. I still have CS6 on a DVD.