The license that killed

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Above: Promotional art for Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription product. Image courtesy Adobe.

BitDepth#1149 for June 14, 2018

For decades, Adobe’s Photoshop image editing software has been the 800-pound gorilla in the room for photographers.

The software that kickstarted the digital photography revolution predated commonly available digital cameras and was born as the computer front end for an early scanner.

Since then, it has faced down competitors of all kinds, grinding them all into the dust of history by adopting their best characteristics and innovations and continuously improving the core software.

Ever heard of Live Picture? Collage? Digital Darkroom? XRes? SuperPaint? Heck, even KidPix is gone now, all of them gristle in the massive gears of Photoshop’s almost continuous improvement since it became a commercially available product in 1990.

My engagement with the product dates back to that fateful year with version 1.07, but our relationship has become much rockier in last decade.

Somewhere around their CS1 version of the product, Adobe metamorphosed from a company that was the subject of widespread piracy into one that simply didn’t want my money anymore.

The next two versions were difficult to acquire via digital download, but I persevered. Eventually, the company would no longer sell me its product online. I relapsed once into buying the boxed product (CS5) then had a friend buy it online for me when it hit the final perpetually licensed version with CS6.

Since then, the company has adopted a subscription model for its flagship product and earlier this year, announced that Lightroom, its market dominating tool for photographers, would also become subscription only.

While there’s a part of me that stoutly resists the idea of paying rent on software, there’s a ruthlessly rational aspect that depends on these code packages to continue working.

But Adobe doesn’t seem to know or care what happens in the Caribbean and makes signing up for their Creative Cloud product a challenge for users who want to work with properly licensed software.

As a result, instead of just stealing Photoshop, almost everyone I know has a hacked copy of the entire Adobe suite of products, a package that once cost just shy of US$2,500 when it came with a license in a box.

The benefits of actually paying for the software you use to earn a living are subtle but crucial. I’m currently monitoring two active support discussions with different developers who are puzzling over issues that I haven’t been able to solve on my own.

I may not need an IT department for my business, but there’s something powerfully reassuring about having the people who actually wrote the code I’m working with in my corner when things go wrong.

I use the last non-subscription versions of both Photoshop and Lightroom daily. Both are continuously open on my workstation and form the core of an refined workflow that I’ve become quite comfortable with.

But already there are cracks appearing in this nirvana.

The version of Photoshop CS5 installed on my laptop will crash if I try to view image metadata on the newest version of MacOS X.

One by one, these tools will age ungracefully in the face of software updates and if I don’t want to pay Adobe’s rent, I need alternatives.

It’s been two decades since I looked at another image editor. The last time I did, I wanted something faster, smoother and better able to run on much feebler hardware. It didn’t end well.

I don’t want to start dating strangers, But Adobe doesn’t want me around the house anymore, and I can’t wait until the door finally slams in my face to make my move.

Next week I’ll be taking a look at what’s available if you’re ready to break up with Photoshop and Lightroom.