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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.


  1. William Meyer says:

    Adobe’s new model certainly will lose me. Software houses move further in the direction of subscriptions; I reject those altogether. A few years ago my lovely wife showed me that subscriptions–small ones–were killing me. It was a matter of accretions, and it took some time to remove them all, but we did, and life is better for it.

    I am ever more likely to commit my time and energies to TeX, and have found that Libre Office may be a decent alternative to MS.

    I had grown accustomed to using several virtual machines (VBox) which each ran Windows 7, and a couple with XP. At some point Windows Update broke the Win7 machines, as they were all the same license, and some phone-home action made that apparent to the mothership. My view had been that as they were used in the spirit of the old Borland “just like a book” license, there should have been no harm and no foul. So it seems that the otherwise excellent alternative of VMs is now–for Windows, at least–open essentially to those who pay either for multiple licenses, or for MSDN.

    The “pay me, again and again” model leaves much to be desired. It has been marginally acceptable in the world of printers, where the hardware sells at a loss, or close to it, and the supplies provide the profit. But even there I wince.

    With software, I think the model went off the rails pretty much at the outset, with the notion that we license its use, and do not buy it. Adobe may achieve a higher degree of license compliance, and a higher percentage of income per unit, but I rather suspect the total units in use will be down, even at corporate level.

  2. Erbo says:

    I say: Bring out…The GIMP.

  3. I’ve never managed to make GIMP do what I want, but for less than a hundred bucks, Photoline 32 does, including using a great many of my photoshop filters.

    I’m with Wm. Mayer above, for the most part, except that if I really, absolutely must have photoshop, I’ll rent it for a month. My usage of the thing runs in gusts anyway. If I have to actually learn typesetting, then I’ll probably go the TeX route.


  4. Jeff: Adobe’s new model will be just the ticket for me. I want all the new features, and I already pay them more than the subscription price for upgrades every couple of years anyway. This way I get to use all the other products as well (I own CS at the “standard” level, ie just PS, AI and ID) and I get the new features as and when they’re released. All in all, cheaper.

    And the new web design stuff (Edge) is just worth the price of admission on its own.

    Cheers, Julian

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