Thoughts on Adobe’s Creative… um… Whatever

First things first: Gimp.

As someone who’s used Adobe’s products for over a decade, I’ve been trying to make sense of what’s been going on with that company lately. Like many of their customers, I have a love-hate relationship with the company. Their products are not cheap. The first version of their Creative Suite that I bought was actually an old version because the computer I had at the time didn’t wasn’t sufficient to run the version that was most current. I remember searching around for an old copy. Even still, it felt like an indulgence, a very expensive toy, because I was not, nor was I ever, a professional graphic artist. I had already been using a stand alone copy of Illustrator for a few years at that point. When I received a digital camera as a gift, I was the first person I knew, outside of the person who had given me the camera, to have a digital camera. At that point, the Creative Suite, bundled with Photoshop, made sense, or at least I could justify spending the money. It came with Adobe’s website editing software, GoLive. I had a bit of fun learning how to make a web page. Eventually, Adobe acquired Macromedia and its products like Flash and Dreamweaver. GoLive, which I preferred to Dreamweaver, was discontinued. However, that didn’t matter much at first because I wasn’t a web designer and I continued to use that old version of the Adobe Creative Suite until that computer went belly up and I had to get a new one.

Generally, I get a new computer when the old one is too dead to repair. I go as long as I can between new machines, which is about a year or two longer than the average. I rarely buy a computer simply because I want something shiny and new.

It’s hard to explain my behavior in terms of the paradigms used by marketing departments. When I was in my mid-thirties, I dated a marketing executive for a time. He told me that he originally wanted to be an engineer, but was rejected by the engineering school because his grades and test scores were not high enough. Instead, he majored in business. He was exceedingly amused by the fact that he now told engineers what to do and made tons more money than they did. Needless to say, he didn’t increase my respect for marketing people. I have been in every category of the Diffusion of Innovations theory. The funniest part of that theory is the ascription of personality traits to what should be functional categories. So the early adopters are “younger in age, have a higher social status, have more financial lucidity, advanced education, and are more socially forward,” while laggards are “focused on “traditions”, likely to have lowest social status, lowest financial fluidity, be oldest of all other adopters, in contact with only family and close friends.” I have been both, sometimes in consecutive years.

I was among the first non-tech people I knew to have a personal computer at home, and the first woman by several years. Consequently, when I don’t like a new innovation, like that jumping paper clip that totally freaked me out, and I’m told that I should accept it because “it’s the future” and my only reason for not embracing it is that I’m “afraid of technology,” I am not convinced. Clearly the person who is saying these things has no clue what he or she is talking about. By making sweeping generalizations about my personality, which I know to be untrue because, after all, it’s my personality, the writer is demonstrating that he or she has no interest in facts or analysis and is posturing for some reason that is beyond my ability to understand. Some of the people I know who are the least interested in touch screens, the most skeptical of “the cloud”, dislike terribly Windows 8 and don’t engage much in “social networking” are tech people. They are not afraid of technology. Mindless consumerism, however, doesn’t appeal to them much.

When Windows 8 was not installing correctly on my computer a few weeks ago, I looked on the internet to see if anyone else had had the same problem and if there was a solution. Instead of finding a discussion of real problems I found article after article of psychic psychologists masquerading as tech writers that helpfully offered that people having problems with Windows 8 were just laggards afraid of the future. Do these people even realize how stupid they look when they write that crap? Hello? You’re a tech writer and you don’t understand “Windows 8 operating system crashes” is not a choice I made?

Finally, I built my new computer, yes, a desktop, installed Windows 7, installed Slackware Linux (yes, I’m old), and took out my three-year-old disks of Adobe’s Creative Suite and installed it on my new computer. Considering that I just spent a load of money on hardware as well as paying for both Windows 7 and Windows 8 (yes, I’m unhappy about that) I wasn’t about to spend money to upgrade to the next version of Creative Suite, at least not right away. However, I tend to plan big purchases ahead of time so I can save up or adjust spending in other areas if necessary, so I looked on Adobe’s website to find out what version they were up to. Everything was Creative Cloud, Creative Cloud, Creative Cloud, as if they had only one product. So, when Adobe announced last week that they were no longer offering their Creative Suite and now only selling their Creative Cloud, it came as no surprise to me. Their website had been reflecting that decision for a few days at least.

So what is this Creative Cloud? First of all, it’s loved by Wall Street and deceptively named. If that doesn’t raise your suspicions right there, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

First of all, it has relatively little to do with the “cloud.” Just the other day, a friend of mine, a programmer, editor at a technology magazine and all-around knowledgeable guy, writing about a different subject, said to me, “Most people don’t know what they mean when they talk about the cloud. Marketing people are the worst. They call things the cloud that have nothing to do with it but it sounds innovative.” He wasn’t talking about Adobe’s Creative Boondoggle, but he may as well have been.

In “cloud computing” most of the resources do not sit on the users’ computers. This WordPress blog that I maintain is a great example. I access the dashboard where I do most of the work of writing, organizing and posting through my browser. None of this resides physically on my computer. The text files and image files are all stored on a server that is maintained by WordPress.com. I access all of WordPress’s wonderful bells and whistles via the internet.

In contrast, Adobe’s Creative Clouding the Issue is comprised of core programs, the same programs you know and love to hate like Photoshop, that sit on your computer. So, you may reasonably ask, what’s the difference between Adobe’s Creative Suite and their new Creative… uh… uh… you know. Mainly, the difference is pricing. Instead of a one time cost, you will now pay on a monthly basis. Whereas the Creative Suite was last released in several different versions that catered to different groups, contained a different set of programs and  were priced accordingly, there will be only one level of subscription which costs $600 a year or $80 a month. Currently, you can buy an old version, Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium 5.5, on Amazon for $569.98 for the Mac version and use it until your computer conks out. Adobe maintains that the Creative Cluh… Cluh… Cluh… Thing will be less expensive than purchasing the current version of the Creative Suite Master Collection, their most expensive, most complete offering, and updating to newer versions regularly. Okay. But I didn’t do that. The Creative Suite Master Collection is currently available at Amazon for $2,149.75. When choosing which creative suite to purchase, I would try to decide which programs I would really use and choose accordingly. Now, if I was rich….

Hell, who are we fucking kidding. If I was rich…. If I was rich I would be the female goddamn Tony Stark. My computer wouldn’t be running Windows, or Linux for that matter, it would be running my very own operating system, you know, the one with the AI interface that gets my sense of humor. My “office” would look like the bridge to the Starship Enterprise. I wouldn’t be driving a cute little economy car, I’d have a Maserati. Yeah, I know I never go over the speed limit because I’m super-duper law-abiding, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have lots of plans for my spare cash, the spare cash that Adobe is eying so greedily.

Perhaps it was just bad timing for me to learn about this. As I’ve described else where on this blog, I just spent a lot of money putting together a computer. I went through a literal nightmare with Windows 8. I have so many thoughts racing around my head about all the garbage I’ve been reading, it’s hard to get it out in a coherent fashion. I’m just getting to something of a saturation point with hearing people proclaim, “It’s the future!” as if this is supposed to be a meaningful statement. It reminds me of when I was young, living in New York City and spending far too much time in bars and nightclubs. I never read fashion columns. I never read about what was “hip”, “cool” or “trendy,” because I knew that things were hip, cool or trendy because of me and people like me. The lifestyle journalists were reporting on our collective behavior. It’s stupid to do something because it’s cool. You do it because it’s fun, or you like it and, if enough people agree with you, lifestyle journalists will declare it a trend. So, when CEOs of tech companies declare something “the future,” they have it backwards. They get to offer products to the public, and we declare what the future is. Let’s also not forget that the future may very well be more than one thing. We have both motorcycles and eighteen wheel trucks, and vehicles of almost every conceivable size and shape in between.

As my mother likes to say, “That’s why there’s vanilla and chocolate.” However, reading tech news these days is like watching people proclaim “the future is chocolate!” It doesn’t seem to occur to them that some people will choose to not have ice cream. I last owned a television on which I could watch broadcast t.v. in 1998. I just didn’t watch it enough to replace it when it broke. Some people do opt for “none of the above.” More and more the web feels to me like t.v. with an order form attached, a future that I think would suit corporations just fine.

The future is the cloud. The future is mobile. The future is touch. The future is software as service. These are nothing but marketing slogans by hucksters with a product to sell. It may be a good product, or maybe not, but they’re still nothing but marketing slogans. I really can’t believe apparently functional adults take these statements seriously.

I’m apparently not alone in feeling uncomfortable about Adobe’s Creative Accounting. There’s actually a petition on Change.org objecting to Adobe’s new pricing scheme. I don’t expect any of these companies to “reverse” their decisions. After all, technology rarely, if ever, moves backwards. However, I think it will move forward in a different direction. Here’s the bad news for Adobe and Microsoft: I am your market. If you don’t please people like me, you’re in trouble.

Some final thoughts about where Adobe’s heading: Tossing up a word salad that makes Sarah Palin sound like Shakespeare, David Wadhwani of Adobe explained the company’s direction to Digital Arts magazine.

The way we do that isn’t necessarily to take what we’re selling now and make it cheaper and cheaper because I think there is an inherent value that what we’re creating gives creatives some of the new value we want. However, I think that there are decided opportunities that we can take some of the technology that we have now and surface them in different ways that are more affordable and more approachable to a broader set of customers. And so if you’re asking: am I interested in leveraging this new platform and the flexibility it gives us? Then the answer is absolutely yes.

“…there is an inherent value that what we’re creating gives creatives some of the new value we want….” What on earth does that even mean? What does it mean to “surface” something? Admittedly, I’m one of those stick in the mud people who can’t stand the word “gifting” when “giving” would work perfectly well. This puts me in mind of what Fred Vincy in Middlemarch calls “shopkeeper’s talk.”

It’s also important to note that Adobe has ventured into social networking and hardware. I can’t help wondering if they fancy themselves a total creative ecosystem.

Here’s some lists of alternative software:

LifeHacker: Build Your Own Adobe Creative Suite With Free and Cheap Software

Inconsequence: It’s time for a change: Adobe jumps the shark

I’ve used Gimp and like it a lot. If you don’t have to collaborate with other people who use Photoshop, I really recommend trying it. Inkscape, at least when I last tried it, doesn’t hole a candle to Illustrator. I tried Corel Draw a very, very long time ago and thought it was comparable to Illustrator, but it was so long ago I can’t vouch for it. Illustrator, not Photoshop, has been the main program tethering me to Adobe.

 

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