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Why Adobe (and other vendors) should give away older software

For the moment, Adobe CS2 continues to be available free of charge. Here's why it always should be, and why other software vendors should follow suit.

Is Adobe CS2 really free? It certainly seems to be.
Is Adobe CS2 really free? It certainly seems to be.

No doubt you heard earlier this week that Adobe is giving away Creative Suite 2, an older version of its popular (and pricey) image-editing and design bundle.

Then it turned out that, no, the software wasn't free; Adobe's Don Isaacs wrote that the company was merely "terminating the activation servers for CS2," and that the download page was only for those who already owned licenses for the product.

Ah, but it was too late: the story had gone viral (big time), and it appears Adobe has decided not to try stuffing the genie back into the bottle. As of now, you can download the whole of CS2 (for Windows or Mac) or individual components (like, say, Photoshop) free of charge, and unlock them using the serial numbers provided right on Adobe's download page.

There's nothing there to indicate you need an Adobe account, an existing software license, or anything else. There are no warnings about who's allowed to use the software or for what purposes. It sure looks like a freebie to me. Indeed, I downloaded and installed Photoshop, using Adobe's provided serial number, and no police have arrived at my door.

Good for Adobe. The company may not have intended to give away this old, discontinued product, but think of the goodwill they'll earn by doing so. (The company could use some, as users of Photoshop Elements are incensed about Adobe's discontinued support of Think how many users who would never try, say, Illustrator or Premiere Pro that now have the chance to do so. And if they try it and like it, they're at least a little more likely to pay for the latest version, CS6.

This is not an unprecedented move. For the past couple years, SoftMaker Software has given away SoftMaker FreeOffice, an older (but still very capable) version of its office suite. It's a great way to introduce customers to their products (and, hopefully, get them to upgrade) by giving them something of real value.

Can you imagine if Microsoft did something similar? I'd love to see the company release, say, Windows XP free of charge. Give it away to people running older computers, making clear that it's provided without support, and watch as former Microsoft haters turn into Microsoft lovers. At the same time, how about making Microsoft Office 2003 a freebie? It can't be generating much (if any) money for the company, yet it's more than sufficient for many users -- especially those with older PCs.

Maybe it's just me, but if Microsoft actually gave me something like that for free, I wouldn't have such a bad taste in my mouth when it came time to buy Office 2013.

Indeed, I'd love to see more software vendors step up and give away their discontinued wares. (Actually, you can find a ton of "oldware" at, but most of it was freeware to begin with.) How about it, Intuit? And Corel? And Apple, and Symantec? This might be just the scheme you need to compete with the mountains of freeware and Web apps out there.

Your thoughts? What software would you like to see "go free"?