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Adobe to undo Lightroom change after customer wrath

It's rare for major software companies to perform such abrupt U-turns, but Adobe decided to heed the advice of customers who didn't like a significant new alteration.

Command Z: Adobe is undoing a tweak to Lightroom, after customers complained. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Responding to customer outrage, Adobe Systems has decided to undo a significant change it made less than two weeks ago to its widely used Lightroom software for cataloging and editing photos.

With a new version of the software, a popular application for photography pros, enthusiasts and amateurs, Adobe had overhauled Lightroom's mechanism for importing photos. The company was trying to simplify a process that its research showed to be dauntingly complex for people new to the program. The overhauled versions were 2015.10.2 for those who pay for Lightroom through Adobe's Creative Cloud subscription and 6.2 for those who paid for a perpetual license.

It's not clear how well new users liked the altered import process, but hundreds of existing customers complained loudly about features that were removed in the attempted simplification. Last week, Adobe apologized for making a change without consulting its users the way it had when Lightroom was in earlier development stages, and on Friday night it announced a plan to switch back to the old photo-import process.

"In our next...release, we will restore the previous import experience," Tom Hogarty, Adobe's director of product management for photography, said in a blog post. "I'd like to thank our customers for their patience while the team reviewed several options for restoring import workflows and addressing quality in Lightroom."

It's rare for software companies to make such an abrupt turnaround in regard to a significant feature. But doing so can help convert customers who feel angry into customers who feel they really do have some influence over a product.

In comments to Hogarty's post, dozens of users thanked him for the move to restore the old process.

"This totally makes my day," commented Holger Mischke. "I like the way you handled this whole thing. Making mistakes or being wrong is only human, but dealing with it shows what kind of person you are."

Customers often resist software developers' changes, which can make it hard for companies to adapt to evolving market needs. Not all change is progress, though, as Microsoft learned when it removed the Start menu from Windows 8 to try to make its operating system work better on touch-screen tablets. The company backtracked, restoring the menu in the new Windows 10 version.

Scott Kelby, a prominent photographer, speaker and Lightroom fan, disliked Adobe's change and said the situation was as bad as when Apple angered its customers with a major change to video-editing program Final Cut Pro. In a survey of his readers, only 12 percent thought Adobe's change would be helpful.

Adobe had based its decision in part on telemetry technology that shows how frequently Lightroom customers use different features. Many users disable that telemetry, however, meaning that their preferences are invisible to Adobe.

"I, like many others (likely on the more 'seasoned' side of LR users) disable reporting my utilization patterns back to the Adobe mother ship. I can appreciate how that may unduly influence internal product decisions," commented one customer, Forrest Gibson. "In-app analytics needs to be augmented through some other method."

Adobe is trying to convince its customers to switch from perpetually licensed software, which customers buy once and then use for as long as they want, to Creative Cloud subscription plans with small but recurring payments. Under a photography-specific subscription, it costs at least $120 per year to use Lightroom and Adobe's flagship Photoshop software. Access to the full range of Adobe's products, including its tools for video editing, animation, webpage design, and illustration, costs a minimum of $600 per year.

Lightroom has grown popular enough that Apple in 2014 scrapped its own competitor, Aperture. Adobe updates the software regularly, but much of its recent programming attention has been devoted to trying to extend the Lightroom software to Apple's iPhones and iPads and to competing mobile devices powered by Google's Android software.