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May 6th, 2013:

End of the Road for CS-in-a-Box

Big news today: Adobe’s CS6 product is the last one that you’ll be able to install “out of the box” from a retail copy. Much fuss is being made about a move that was lead-pipe predictable after Creative Cloud went live last year. Some of today’s new stories give you the impression that there’s some dazzling new browser-based whatchamacallit technology behind CC, but after reading the Creative Cloud FAQ I’m not sure there’s any radical re-engineering going on at alll. Creative Cloud is not a browser-based technology. It’s just a new release of a digitally delivered client-side app suite, with a difference: You have to connect to the Internet at least once every thirty days to authenticate it.

So calm down. It’s just stronger DRM, and a leakproof end-run around the First Sale Doctrine.

The DRM, like all DRM, is probably crackable. Having to re-crack it every thirty days will slow the pirates down a little, but I wouldn’t bet on it being impossible. DRM is less significant than then other half: You can’t resell bits the way you can resell discs. There’s a pathway to de- and re-registering an Adobe boxed product, but it’s a nuisance and I’m sure Adobe has wanted to eliminate the whole process for a long time. This’ll do it.

Going to a subscription model means that people will no longer be able to buy a box for $500 and then use it forever. Big shops may be able to justify the cost. Smaller shops may stick with old versions. Doesn’t matter. Adobe obviously wants to eliminate the perpetual-license home market, which has always cost more in support than it generates in revenue. Going to subscriptions means a predictable and mostly reliable revenue stream. Losing individual users and very small shops isn’t much of a loss, money-wise. I also wonder if this may be the end of the road for Adobe Resellers. CC may do for boxed software what self-published ebooks are doing for books: eliminating the middleman.

Now, one final point I haven’t seen others make so far: Without a boxed product for pirates to steal, Adobe will lose a certain number of sales from people who tried it illicitly, liked it, and then bought it. (Most people credit this model with giving Microsoft a lock on the office suite market back in the 90s.) This makes me wonder if the otherwise-puzzling release of non-authenticating copies of all CS2 apps back in January was intended to keep the piracy-driven sales channel alive. In a sense, Adobe provided a pre-stolen copy of CS for people to install and fool with, no risky cracking required. A certain number of those people will like it enough to sign up for CC for better apps and sync services. Also, don’t underestimate the value of skills developed in using a product line. Unlearning a product and learning a different product is a pain in the butt. (This is why student versions at breathtaking discounts make sense in the long run.)

And for all the talk about CC being the future of software, c’mon. There are maybe four software companies in the universe that can pull this off. The future for $20-$50 apps like Atlantis is bright, and open source software has never been better. Adobe has kicked itself upstairs. That leaves a whale of a lot more room for everybody else down here.