Adobe's professional cloud push arrives at its final destination

Depending on your feelings about Creative Cloud, you're either going to want to pop the champagne or sharpen your pitchfork. The Creative Suite products go cloud-only, but get better integration and new features.

As part of the rebranding effort, Adobe redesigned all its marketing iconography -- called totems -- with decreased readability. Except for that unmistakable cloud graphic on every application totem.

In a move that's bound to tick off a lot of (probably formerly) devoted users, Adobe's finally made the jump we've been expecting to an all-subscription model for the applications that used to be part of Creative Suite. Adobe's not just rebranding all of its professional applications with the Creative Cloud moniker (except Lightroom -- so far). Now it's created a supercell composed of Photoshop CC, Dreamweaver CC, InDesign CC, so on and so on, ad infinitum. You'll only be able to get individual copies of those packages by subscription, though that individual-product subscription toll has dropped to $10 a month from $20. The updates will roll out to all CC subscribers on June 17.

The company says it will keep CS6 for sale (or "perpetual license"), but I doubt it will remain available for more than a year, if that much; once the company revs Adobe Camera Raw again, Photoshop essentially gets cut off from new cameras, and that's the linchpin of the suite. Adobe is also offering a price of $20 per month to encourage current CS6 owners to upgrade. (For more pricing information and marketing spin, see " Adobe kills Creative Suite, goes subscription-only ," as well as the full set of subscription plans.)

And based on the updates announced for many of those applications, it looks like the company's leaving its standalone users behind, too, funneling more attention toward the increasing-revenue-generation work group crowd. Sorry, lone-wolf designers. It's not you; it's Adobe.

("I don't want to hear the rant. I love the cloud. Just take me to the great news.")

This bonsai-tree approach -- clipping off a few branches in order to keep the user base focused, compact, and marginal-revenue-maximized -- might make sense as a business strategy, but Apple's Final Cut X debacle might also prove to be foreshadowing when it comes to the fallout. (And now all I can think of is this "Andromeda" episode.)

Adobe defends the move with disingenous statements like, "Overwhelmingly, when you compare the people who've complained about the new model to the people who loved it, it definitely skewed heavily to the new model ." I know all the surveys I've seen tend to bias toward people who've already adopted CC. If you buy into the model, Creative Cloud is really nice, offering lots of value and at times an overwhelming number of options. And during the keynote, I did see several tweets indicating that non-CC users were swayed by the presentation.

But for those who haven't already switched or actively don't want to -- and there are a nontrivial number of them, despite what Adobe says -- the move is huge. To quote a friend, "I don't even want to be in the house when [my significant other] finds out." Adobe is the landlord and it's kicking all the rent-controlled tenants out of its city in the clouds.

There's a big downside for some folks. The software needs to connect to Adobe's servers at least once a month to verify that you're paid up. On an extended working trip in the Amazon? Boot that satellite-based Internet connection just to be able to process your photos with Photoshop. Run into a little cash-flow problem like every freelancer does? After a short grace period, you lose access to the software that allows you to pay your bills. The company can also just cut you off: "Adobe may also terminate or suspend all or a portion of your account and/or access to the Services for any reason..." (See sections 15 and 20 of the Terms of Use.) Some of us don't think that's a necessary sacrifice just to use a couple pieces of software.

And then there are people who simply don't want to rent software. Or don't need or want the complexity of a cloud hanging over their heads.

To be fair, here are some things that are not downsides, just misperceptions: "Five myths about Adobe Creative Cloud."

This is a big opportunity for some competitors to pick up the users that Adobe clearly doesn't want anymore. (Feel free to recommend your favorite alternatives in the comments.)

More possible pitfalls

No fireworks for Fireworks. Fireworks is dead, with all of its features distributed across the various applications and Edge suite -- the goal is to make all the content you produce standards-centric. This may be a problem for people whose workflow this breaks, but Fireworks hasn't got much love from Adobe in a while.

The mobile/Web design mess. I think Creative Cloud has been bad for this aspect of Adobe's business; from the outside, it seems like there's no incentive for the company to make decisions in advance about what products and strategies are worth committing to. Remember the launch of its Touch apps ? Three didn't survive, and one even had reasonable potential (Proto). Edge Reflow, an otherwise interesting single-purpose CSS editor application, is now on its third preview and it still can't output an entire stylesheet for use with another program; you have to copy individual code snippets.

Now the company has three completely separate tracks for mobile/Web design. There's the traditional, Dreamweaver do-it-all monolith for coders, and which Adobe tends to present as a feral dog that users of the other applications toss content at. As far as I can tell, the Edge Tools and Services are Adobe's way of stealthily creating a new application codebase from scratch, with the ultimate intent of being a stake through Dreamweaver's heart. (According to Adobe, "Web designers are looking for small, task-specific tools." Hence, the Edge suite.) And then Muse serves as a mobile/Web builder tool, which the company shoehorns into its design-applications silo because of its visual operating interface, but which has little useful integration with the other design applications. For instance, it's targeted at InDesign and Illustrator users, but you can't pull any InDesign or Illustrator files into it.)

On one hand, I see where Adobe's coming from. To nonprogrammers, applications like Dreamweaver and Flash Professional can be seriously intimidating. But, really. Adobe delivers three completely different interface metaphors for generating scalable Web pages (aka responsive design): selectable media queries in Dreamweaver's new CSS editor; draggable interactive breakpoints in Edge Reflow; and Alternate Layout templates in Muse. Yes, there's something for everyone. But it's confusing for users and likely not a sustainable business strategy. Someone's favorite tool will eventually get axed.

The great news

Goodbye, Adobe Application Manager, and good riddance. One of the most problematic and frustrating elements of the suite has been AAM, source of a particular howler of a bug in which some network connections resulted in it corrupting its own downloads, frequently sending users into an endless cycle of uninstalling, purging, downloading, and reinstalling. That's being replaced by a persistent local panel called Creative Cloud Desktop app that will function as an application launcher, font browser, and manager, and activity and notification feed for both CC and Behance, as well as an update manager. I like it in theory. Hopefully, the update manager doesn't have the killer code in it.

Finally, settings sync and migration. This is the moment I've been waiting for forever. I was chair-dancing when I heard about it. (Just try to unsee that one.) On the other hand, it's only available via the cloud; there's still no one-click backup and restore via local media. Furthermore, while you can sync your own settings, there's still no easy way to share settings, despite the rollout of CC Team at the end of last year, and despite the huge advancements in other types of collaboration. One of the Adobe reps posited that you might be able to create a free CC account that multiple people have access to as a workaround. Hm.

After Effects' implementation of settings sync makes it possible for people who work on clients' systems to wipe the settings when complete.
You can now sync Web and desktop versions of fonts, and all the applications have direct Typekit integration. Adobe

Pervasive Typekit integration. Till now, Adobe has concentrated on the Web font aspect of its Typekit acquisition. This update introduces a better type-browsing experience, support for the fonts across all the applications, and the ability to synchronize local and Web fonts for more-consistent cross-Web/print type handling. Font licensing is included as part of the CC membership.

Behancements. While not announced with the rest of these updates, Adobe recently rolled the Behance ProSite -- the custom portfolio site capability aspect of the Behance creative community that Adobe acquired last December -- as a no-fee option for Creative Cloud members. With this iteration you'll be able to post directly from Photoshop to your WIP folders, with similar support in other applications forthcoming.

Kuler for iOS debuts Adobe

Hello, Adobe Camera Raw 8. Though Adobe didn't make any fundamental changes to the core processing algorithms or interface, which usually accompany version updates to ACR, it's still getting a new generational and feature increment to keep in parity with the recent debut of Lightroom 5 beta. (New features include the radial filter, automatic distortion and perspective correction, and proxy editing.) Changing ACR versions has historically been an effective tactic to get raw-shooting photographers to upgrade. Buy a newly released camera? You've gotta upgrade to the latest version of Adobe software. (Editors' note: ACR policy updated for clarity.) According to a company representative, Adobe will update Photoshop CS6 with ACR8, and as long as that's the current version you'll be updated with new cameras; however, since traditionally updates cease as soon as the major new Photoshop version ships, I suspect that this policy will fall by the wayside once the CS6-to-CC upgrade numbers flatten or ACR9 rolls out, whichever comes first.

Kuler ain't dead. One of Adobe's coolest yet underutilized technologies finally gets the iOS application that was promised when the Touch apps launched a couple of years ago. You can capture a palette from a real-life scene via the camera, manipulate the color choices, and sync with the site. Of course the only applications that even marginally take advantage of the palette-design capabilities Kuler offers are Illustrator and InDesign.

Application updates

In addition to the increased cloudiness of its applications, Adobe introduces some really useful tools for each member of its family. Note that these are new capabilities as of the last round of updates unless otherwise indicated.

Photoshop: You've probably already seen the preview video of the new Shake reduction filter, which algorithmically searches and corrects for a blur path in the image, but that's only one of a handful of important updates. My favorite -- and the most frustrating -- is the Camera Raw filter. You know how you wish Photoshop had ACR's highlight/shadow adjustment, one-click white balance, post-crop vignetting, and lens/distortion correction tools? Well, now the entire ACR module is available as a filter to apply to layers within a file. I'm really glad for the capabilities. What would make me gladder? If rather than kludging it as one monolithic filter, complete with redundant features, Adobe integrated each of the capabilities into the program where it belongs. A highlight/shadow adjustment layer. A one-click white-balance adjustment layer. A standalone Upright filter.

Photoshop's resize and Smart Sharpen algorithms now allow you to compensate for chrominance and luminance noise, which ostensibly helps reduce halo artifacts. Adobe

There are also some big changes in the Smart Sharpen filter and upsizing algorithm, thanks to some noise-aware enhancements. It's also one of the tools with a new interface, featuring scalable dialog boxes and a fly-out loupe.

Illustrator: There's quite a bit new here for a midterm upgrade. Falling into the "it's about time" category, Illustrator's Touch Type tool finally allows you to transform and manipulate individual letters in a word without resorting to converting them to outlines or losing editability. Not a great name for the feature, which oddly seems to stem from the also-new multitouch editing support, but definitely glad to have it. On the typography front, another long-missed feature is the ability to convert between area and point type, and a usable font-search interface, which not only makes it easier to find a particular font, but lets you search by attributes, such as bold and italic.

Adobe

You'll also be able to load raster images into art, pattern, and scatter brushes, and Adobe has improved corner handling -- with autogenerated corners -- in pattern brushes. Plus it adds the ability to place multiple files.

The program also gains a CSS properties panel, with the ability to generate CSS files from an illustration; it exports the images as well as the code.

InDesign and InCopy: The big news here is InDesign's port to 64-bit, which will hopefully help with some of that application's sluggishness. In addition, the interface has gone dark to match the gray scheme of its sibling applications; as with Illustrator, though, it doesn't really make much sense the way it does with Photoshop. InDesign has also picked up the same excellent font-searching engine as Illustrator, in which you can favorite fonts, search by attribute, and preview the font live as you scroll through the list. InDesign also benefits from the Kuler syncing. And InCopy finally leaves the bench to join the team on the field.

Dreamweaver: As was shown in a sneak peek video recently, Dreamweaver gets a new CSS Designer panel, complete with interactive object scaling to set properties within the panel. It looks quite nice in some ways, but I like the way Edge Reflow handles breakpoints better for seeing where intermediate cases will fall. The overall user interface has also been decluttered.

Edge Animate becomes a grown-up animation tool with the introduction of Bezier motion paths.

Muse: The big addition to Muse is the ability to quickly create parallax-scrolling-based designs by setting stop points and specifying horizontal and vertical vectors. (Don't know what that is? Here's a dizzying but effective example. And a boatload more.)

It also introduces in-browser editing, which allows people to perform updates of site content within a browser and optionally sync it back to the original Muse file. This made me flash back to Dreamweaver's InContext editing, which Adobe migrated to Business Catalyst-only subscribers in 2010. It's the next generation of that, and requires a Business Catalyst-hosted site.

Video tools: All the new capabilities that were sneak-peeked at this year's NAB show are now official. In Premiere Pro, interface changes are grouped under the moniker "Editing Finesse," including more keyboard-centric operation in the timeline. The video applications also seem to integrate cloud operation more than the others. For instance, Adobe Anywhere makes it possible to edit video streamed from anywhere in your ecosystem, and it streamlines the ability to edit from other seats by signing into a project to access remote assets. PP also integrates a little better with SpeedGrade, giving custom Looks an Effects folder all their own and shot-matching capability. Finally, After Effects' round-tripping with Cinema4D and the addition of Photoshop's Refine Edge tool while rotoscoping are the big news for that product.

Ultimately, I think there's a lot here to make users of Adobe's pro products squee, myself included. But there will be fallout. I hope Adobe has issued some armor to its public-facing employees.

 

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