Tim Downs: Adobe Creative Cloud Review, War on You

Does Adobe Creative Cloud suck for designers. Here’s what our Tim Downs has to say about — Adobe Creative Cloud review. It’s a war on you, really …

aNewDomain.net –Adobe started this war but designers like our NYT best-selling author and illustrator Tim Downs will end it.  If it’s not too late. Adobe drew its battle lines first, Tim says, after last week’s release of its Photoshop CC, InDesign CC, Illustrator CC and other print and digital design tools. That’s because Adobe’s new Creative Cloud software subscription service will change how designers and corporations buy and use Adobe’s products (um, services) forever more.

Read on for Tim’s Creative Cloud review …

Cue the ravens if you got the “forever more” reference. Adobe’s Creative Cloud is just the first salvo in the new licensing war propelling designers toward an Orwellian future run by evil, evil software overlords. And the news gets worse. Here’s my Creative Cloud review.

Let’s start with this. In Creative Cloud, designers no longer are able to buy Adobe software with a license that will last in perpetuity. Never again will we be able to plunk down our — yikes — $1,500 and walk away with software we own. Software that leaves us free to thumb our noses at new releases for years or as long as we want to, or until Apple yet again upgrades its operating system software to render our applications unusable. Whatever comes first.

This is all such a big deal because Adobe Creative Cloud is a subscription-0nly service. This is the whole pivotal point for this Creative Cloud review. It’s for digital licensing of Adobe’s popular design applications, including Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and other great tools that have become the gold standard in the many realms of digital and print design. Will anyone go for this? Here’s a graph I created based on data from a CNET study.

Image credit: Tim Downs for aNewDomain.net 


The subscription requires members to sign up for annual $49.99 or monthly $29.99 usage plans that entitle the designer to download the suite of software to his or her computer and use any or all of the tools. You can license individual applications a la carte, too.

Of course, there’s a higher price point for team licensing for corporate use, and there are discounted plans for teachers and students. Each subscription model comes with a small amount of online storage for sharing and posting documents —  but that’s where Adobe’s so-called cloud computing concept ends.

The system downloads the applications to your computer — you max out at two installations on two devices, and not simultaneous installations. After that, Adobe checks membership licensing periodically with an online check. If it turns out you cancelled your subscription, Adobe will disable the software on your computers until you reinstate membership.

And you no longer have access to your files unless you had religiously saved them back to earlier versions of the software, a tedious and often damaging process.

There perhaps is a demographic in the design community for which Creative Cloud is a godsend, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons for various kinds of users. Starting with …
The Hobbyist

Few hobbyists ever bought the full Creative Suite. They were more likely to struggle along with Photoshop effects or possibly purchased a single copy of Dreamweaver, Illustrator or InDesign over the years. Weekend photographers, newsletter designers and people who dabble with web design for personal use are the kinds of hobbyists I mean. Some of these folks will dig deep to buy a version of one of these packages or, more likely, will be using the student version they bought in college years ago.

Pros: Crickets. Zip.

Cons: You won’t use it enough to  justify the monthly payment.

Freelance Designer

A freelance designer already regularly utilizes some or most of the main design applications — InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver. But he or she will get the new version of Creative Suite only when absolutely necessary. It’s too pricey. Shelling out $1,500 every 12 to 16 months to keep up with Adobe’s aggressive upgrade cycle just doesn’t fit into the realistic economics of the full or part-time freelancer. You’ve got to pay the rent first.

Pros: Well, the CC quiver of arrows is pretty full, allowing designers to explore software they couldn’t afford before. That means access to all new features as soon as they are available. Also, there will be no more worrying about Adobe eventually finding out about their illegal pirating of the software for the past  five years because they couldn’t afford the price tags. Wink.

Cons: When forced to choose between food and CC, most designers will choose food, or at least espresso. So, in a tight period they’ll be forced to cancel the Adobe Creative Cloud membership. That will render all their work  effectively useless and non-editable, unless they backed it up to work with previous versions, as I described above. Plus, every freelance designer is used to her clients being at least one or one and a half versions of Creative Suite behind them. So the fear of investing money into CC when their clients won’t be able to open documents is bound to be mortifying.

The Design Studio, Ad Agency and High-end Corporate Designers

Well, look. These designers all have mega IT departments to control all things on all computers with an iron fist — plus the technical understanding of the needs of a designer that rivals even that of your great uncle Ralph. Maybe. Lots of pros for this group, if you consider ease of installation and setup, global software configurations and deployment, and the end of pesky CDs to lock in the closet safely out of the hands of irascible art directors.

But alas, the Cons: YIKES. Cost. Workgroup membership is $69.99 per seat. Using the example of a medium-sized design firm with 30 workstations equals more than $25K a year to rent design software. Adobe will purportedly make updates available as fast they come out, which is an IT nightmare, since each update will need to be tested to make sure they are compatible with non-Adobe font management, CSS or other software on each designer’s machine before implementation.

A Community of Skeptics
Designers in general are quick to adopt new technology, but they are always going to be hesitant to do so if they sense the change won’t benefit them. Despite Adobe’s recent marketing attempts to spin CC as a community building platform for artists and designers to share ideas and work more efficiently, in a recent CNET poll, 76 percent of Adobe users said they plan to stay on Adobe Creative Suite 6.0 indefinitely —  rather than upgrade to Creative Cloud. See my chart above. Just 11 percent said they will eventually move to Creative Cloud. I am a designer and I will tell you there is a widespread feeling in the design community that Adobe has created CC as a way to squeeze as much money as possible from an already-squeezed-out market.
Once we’re in the bucket, what are the odds we’re going to able to jump out? And once  it’s got our fifty-dollar bill each month, what’s to keep Adobe from raising it to $75 next year or more? Think about it. It amounts to more than money. It’s about trust.

There is no argument their print publishing applications like InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop are still the best products in the market and will likely keep Adobe as the one horse in a one-horse race.  Sorry QuarkXpress and Freehand — you had your shot in the 1990s.On the other hand, the web development landscape is filled with viable options, Dreamweaver’s dominance is waning — especially over the past few years — and thanks to Apple, Flash was gone almost overnight. Apple mobile devices also have created opportunities for a ton of other HTML editors and animation packages to flourish.
The Road Ahead
Ever since the release of Creative Suite 5.5, Adobe has made great efforts to stretch from being the leader in print and digital design software to being the leader in tablet and digital publication publishing with their Digital Publishing Suite and new functionality for InDesign to aid in digital publication building.Worth noting: In a surprise move last month,  Adobe announced its new foray into the data collection and analytics realm dominated by Google. It’s a natural pairing considering its dive into digital publications and marketing. And it’s a clear deviation from the business of software publication that put them on the map. Strange. Then again, look what is possible — my work, unimaginable to create a desktop just a decade ago.timdownscreativecloudrevieworiginalart

Last Words

Most of us have seen the Adolf Hitler Creative Cloud parody by YouTube’s Evil Edison. It is fairly offensive and profane, but this particular one does accurately express the sentiment the design community is feeling over the move Adobe is forcing upon generations of designers — to go from licensed products they pay dearly to own to rented software that is ridiculously expensive. I hope you’ll take this Creative Cloud review into deep consideration before spending a dime.

And though yes, we will yell and scream and hate Adobe for this, the reality is this: Until someone builds competing products we should and will actually use, eventually we’ll all line up and pay our 50 bucks every month for the rest of our careers. So Adobe has started the war? Is it already over? You tell me. For aNewDomain.netI’m Tim Downs.

Based in San Diego, Tim Downs is a technologist, reviewer, commentator, and senior art designer at aNewDomain.net. He’s also the NYT best-selling author and illustrator of the New York Times best-selling How Computers Work and other award-winning and NYT best-selling books.  He is a lifelong curiosity monger, a geek, an explainer, a top tier and award-winning graphics artist and, to put it mildly, a pop culture genius. Email him at Tim@aNewDomain.net.


  • Paul Bonner here. Can’t say that I agree with you on, well, just about anything. Sure the all-cloud announcement was a shock, but, to cite one of your examples, I don’t know any freelance designer who wouldn’t be better off paying $50 a month to gain access to the entire Creative Suite than being forced to come up with $1,500 or more every couple of years because a client, or a printer, or a short-term collaborator is working on the latest CS version and can’t deal with someone being two versions behind. (I can say that with the confidence of a fairly large sample size, since I was married to a freelance designer/art director for 27 years.)

    Frankly, I still don’t see a downside to this for anyone working in the design business. Having seen lots of designers sweat over having to purchase a few typefaces, or fret over not being able to afford the full Creative Suite, access to everything Adobe produces for $50 a month should seem like a godsend. And if it’s not — if Adobe starts to jack up its prices, or all its products turn to crap overnight, there are always alternatives. Tons of purely cloud-based offerings like Creately, Pixlr, etc. Of course, free cloud-based apps tend to come and go without notice. And desktop alternatives. Don’t feel like paying $50 a month to mostly work in Photoshop? Maybe it’s time to see how productive you can be with GIMP.

    On the other hand, if you want software from a company that innovates constantly, and pays its programmers, and has technical support, and fixes its bugs in the same decade in which they’re discovered, you’re going to have to pay for it one way or the other. And Adobe’s $50 a month still sounds like a bargain to me.

    Paul Bonner

  • Well stated Tim! And don’t get me wrong, I like my brick and mortar software too! But I think it may be a losing battle. This is just another perfect example of how the internet and computing are being hijacked by HUGE corporations. They get what they want and then tell CBS This Morning to complain about the Government monitoring of email transactions (not emails themselves but just the transactions) when they get to see everything we do online. Try changing your Facebook preferences to a 100 year old female and sit back and enjoy the sidebar ads. Lately I love how the crap I buy at the grocery store now shows up in ads within hours of purchase. And thus this is why they want you to be Cloud based. They want to know exactly how you plan to use their software.

    Wait now that I think about it, Neo became aware in the 7th iteration of the Matrix! I wonder which iteration this is?