Adobe's move to the cloud: What it means, and why it isn't so bad

DNP Adobe's switch to cloudonly Photoshop what it means, and why it isn't so bad

In case you haven't heard, a chapter in the history of Adobe's venerated Photoshop (and other Creative Suite applications) has just snapped shut. That's because all future versions have been moved to the Creative Cloud and renamed "CC," meaning that the only way to grab anything after CS6 will be to sign up for an internet-only subscription. Now, many of Adobe's customers for those apps (at least those who actually pony up for it) are pros who use it for paying gigs, and as Apple discovered with Final Cut Pro X, they're a vocal bunch when they see any threat to their livelihoods. You may not be sure whether to get angry and look for an alternative (good luck with that), or to just go with the flow and regard the whole thing as inevitable. Luckily, we've been using the Creative Cloud since it came out and Creative Suite before that, so our rundown after the break should help you make up your mind.


Photoshop's been around since 1990 when version 1.0 came out exclusively on Mac, and Adobe's Creative Suite launched 10 years ago, bundling apps like Premiere, After Effects and Acrobat together for an attractive sum. The CS6 Master Collection suite, which contains virtually all of its content creation software, runs about $2,600 on Adobe's site (see the difficult-to-find purchase page at the More Coverage link). However, starting last year, Adobe began touting the Creative Cloud model for $50 per month (with a minimum 12-month commitment) to access nearly every app it makes on a Mac or PC, while still offering users the possibility of buying a traditional permanent license for all its suites and individual programs. Once fully downloaded, each app runs fully on your computer (you can have it installed on two, but only run it on one at a time) and the cloud itself is only used for updates and cloud storage -- no processing is actually done on the cloud. The cloud bundle also includes software not available in the hard-copy suites, like Adobe Edge, and in December, Adobe added the $70 Creative Cloud for Teams option with more flexible licensing and 100 GB of cloud storage per user.

Starting with the just-launched CC versions, future apps will no longer be available by permanent license. If you're okay to stick with Creative Suite 6 and all its apps, Adobe said you'll be able to buy full copies "indefinitely," either through downloads on its site or via other resellers and partners. The caveat is that you won't be able to update to a new permanent license as you could in the past, and you'll miss any of the goodies that Adobe will pass along to its Creative Cloud clients, apart from bug and security fixes. The price for a stand-alone copy of Photoshop CS6 will still run $700 for the foreseeable future, while the latest version of Photoshop CC through a subscription is now $20 per month -- meaning it would take just under three years to pay off a full-license version.

DNP Adobe's switch to cloudonly Photoshop what it means, and why it isn't so bad

Since it first announced the subscription plan, Adobe's tried to lure users to it with gotta-have features.

Since it first announced the subscription plan, Adobe's tried to lure users with gotta-have features like canny content-aware patching and Mercury graphics support for Photoshop CS6, a built-in warp stabilizer for Premier Pro CS6 and the addition of Lightroom and other apps never before available in any of the suites. When the new Creative Cloud versions arrive in June, Photoshop CC will pack an all-new smart sharpen that Adobe says will "minimize noise and halos," along with intelligent upsampling, for starters, while Premiere will finally support OpenCL on Mac and PC, ushering in ATI-accelerated graphics for that app. Those updates are in significant demand, ratcheting up the pressure for users to make the cloud switch, which is now the only way to grab them.

The concerns

Considering that this category of products usually has a one- to two-year product cycle, why are so many of Adobe's customers offended by the change? Admittedly, forums aren't the most balanced of sources, but so far it does look like a slight majority is unhappy with the new system. Typical complaints include:

  • "I'll be stymied from using the software on the road if there are licensing issues or no internet."

  • "I don't want to be bogged down with downloads chewing up my bandwidth."

  • "I don't want to get a bug-filled update that jams up in-progress work."

  • "I'll be forced to upgrade (against my will) due to new cameras and RAW incompatibility."

The realities

DNP Adobe's switch to cloudonly Photoshop what it means, and why it isn't so bad

Adobe has addressed many of those issues through a FAQ, but as for the first issue, this writer can attest to having the licensing manager pop up under deadline pressure demanding a licensing renewal in order to continue -- which involved an overly difficult process, to top it off. As for the other complaints, we were bothered very little after six months of use:

  • You can choose when to update apps, so bandwidth shouldn't be an issue for most users.

  • Though it wasn't always the case, Adobe's recent software updates have been fairly solid in our experience.

  • Adobe said that it'll continue to update CS6 for camera RAW updates, though also said it "didn't have a timeline for how long this camera RAW support will continue for Photoshop CS6."

One dubious class of users that may not be thrilled with the changes are pirates who skip the whole "legal buying" thing.

One dubious class of users that may not be thrilled with the changes are pirates who skip the whole "legal buying" thing and just skim apps via The Pirate Bay and other torrent sites. Though Adobe didn't address that issue directly, its subscription system is likely a way to get a handle on that issue once and for all by making it much more difficult to run illegal copies while dangling the carrot of a digestible payment plan. Though all the previous versions can still be stolen, at least users of future versions can content themselves with the knowledge that they're not competing for business with overhead-free pirates.

The math

However, that raises the biggest complaint we saw from the anti-cloud faction: cost. Many feel that the CC option will be pricier than the previous scheme, but is that the case? Let's take a look at the numbers. A Master Collection suite with a permanent license for CS6 costs $2,600 through Adobe, with a stripped-down CS Design Standard version running $1,300, while an individual app -- let's take Photoshop -- will ding you $700. If you count on two updates during that period, those costs would bump to $3,600, $2,100 and $1,100 for permanently licensed copies of each, respectively. Making the same buy via the cloud over four years, you'd be looking at $2,400, $2,400, and $960 respectively -- since you'd need to get the $50 / month Creative Cloud for either of the suites. Looking at those figures, we can get a sense of who will be the most upset by the changes: if you only run two apps, like Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop, for instance, the new deal is a wash, or even a loss, depending on how frequently you upgraded before. Individual app users won't see much difference either way, but for users of multiple apps, you actually pay much less by going the cloud route.

As far as existing CS owners go, let's say you purchased the CS5 Master Collection and upgraded it to CS6. If the system continued as it had, you would've paid $2,600, plus $900 to upgrade to CS6. If you upgraded only once at the end of the four year period, it would've run you an additional $900, taking the total to $4,600. Switching to the cloud starting with CS6, on the other hand, would cost you $4,640 during the same period, including your original purchase (the first year on cloud subscription for CS3 and later customers is $20/month until July 31st). As before, single app Photoshop users would fare worse, paying $1,660 on the cloud versus $1,100 for the old way, but either they or the suite owners would've had the latest tools during that period, rather than just at the end. Upgraders would still have a permanent license at the end of those scenarios, albeit from the last Creative Suite version of their app or suite.


DNP Adobe's switch to cloudonly Photoshop what it means, and why it isn't so bad

Adobe's managed to move over 500,000 cloud subscriptions in just under a year, so they've decided to ignore that hue and cry.

That's the crux of most of the complaints -- they primarily seem to be coming from users who don't wish to have every upgrade, or those who don't need an entire suite of apps. However, Adobe's managed to move over 500,000 cloud subscriptions in just under a year, so they've decided to ignore that hue and cry -- despite the fact that those users are starting to grumble loudly while eying the pitchforks, torches and online petitions. As far as we're concerned, many of the new upgrades are too good to resist, and spreading out the pain over time lets us invest the bucks elsewhere -- like the inevitable hardware updates required to keep such software running smoothly. And if you decided that you bit off more than you could chew and want to move on to other things, you can always cut your subscription off after a year -- and you'll have shelled out far, far less money at that point than if you had bought it the old way.

Update 1: We added that all of Adobe's apps run in standalone mode on your Mac or PC, and don't the need cloud to run -- it's only used to check the licensing (every 30 days), for upgrades to apps and to give cloud media storage.

Update 2: For existing users, we added a comparison in the Math section to see how you'd fare if you have to upgrade, using the case of a full suite or a single app (Photoshop).