For much of the past decade, Adobe has rolled out new versions of its Creative Suite every two years or so. Each time, designers had to weigh the benefits of added features against the substantial upgrade cost. Some faithfully forked over the cash with each new release. Others waited, skipping a version or two.
Adobe blew up this model on May 6, when it announced the new “CC” versions of Photoshop, InDesign and other graphics tools. To get the latest software, you have to subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud service and agree to pay a monthly fee. You can no longer purchase a perpetual-license that lets you use these programs for as long as you’d like; that option is available only for the older Creative Suite 6. In Adobe’s new vision, its users are renters, not buyers.
This move has been controversial, to say the least. I’ve been a Creative Cloud subscriber for the past year. I pay for it out of my own pocket, and I’m generally happy with it. On the other hand, I think the folks complaining about Adobe’s move make some valid points.
Whether you like it or not, the Creative Cloud changes the cost-benefit analysis that accompanied previous releases. Subscribers can download full versions of Adobe’s entire creative toolbox, including the video-production and web design programs. This is what Adobe used to call the Master Collection, previously costing a whopping $2500. You also get additional programs and services. And rather than releasing a massive upgrade every couple of years, Adobe will add features to each program as soon as they’re ready for primetime.
So it’s no longer a question of whether or not to upgrade. Automatic upgrades are part of the deal. The question is whether or not it makes sense to join the Creative Cloud. For most creative professionals, I think the answer will be a qualified yes. I’ll explain my reasoning later in this article. But first, let’s look at these new versions and how they stack up against Creative Suite 6.
Photoshop CC isn’t an overwhelming upgrade over CS6, but adds a handful of features that many designers will find useful:
- The redesigned Image Size dialog box now has a preview that makes it easy to see how the enlargement or reduction affects image quality. And a new Preserve Details option for image enlargement provides better results than the old Bicubic Smoother option.
- The Smart Sharpen filter has also been redesigned, and now provides much-better results by reducing noise and halo effects.
- The Rounded Rectangle tool now permits precise control over the corner radius via the Properties panel.
- A new Shake Reduction filter reduces blurriness caused by camera movement.
- You can now run Camera Raw as a filter from within Photoshop.
On top of the features added in May, you also have to consider the “Creative Cloud exclusive” enhancements that Adobe introduced last December. These features were made available via automatic updates to Creative Cloud subscribers, but are not part of CS6. Web designers in particular will appreciate the new ability to load colors from web files and extract CSS properties from graphics.
Recent versions of Photoshop have been sold in two versions: Photoshop Standard and Photoshop Extended, the latter with 3D-editing tools. With Photoshop CC, Adobe has eliminated the distinction: All features are now provided in one program.
The latest version of InDesign has been rewritten to support 64-bit processing. This should improve performance with certain kinds of files, though I’ve never considered speed to be much of an issue with the program. Adobe says the performance improvements will be most apparent when printing files or exporting PDFs.
More noticeable is the new dark user interface, similar to the one introduced with the CS6 versions of Photoshop and Illustrator. As with those programs, you can adjust the darkness via Preferences. And all three programs (plus Dreamweaver) now support the MacBook Pro’s Retina display, providing a sharper look to the interface and better detail in graphics.
But in my view, the biggest enhancements to InDesign CC involve fonts — designers will find that the new version makes it much easier to apply fonts and experiment with different font combinations:
- You can filter the font menu by entering parts of the font name, such as “bold” to show only boldface fonts. Or you can enter “sans” to show sans-serif versions of fonts, as long as those letters are in the name. Previously, you were limited to entering the first part of the font name to filter the list.
- You can preview how fonts will appear in your layout by selecting type and then scrolling through the font menu with the up and down arrow keys.
- You can designate fonts as “Favorites” by clicking on a star next to the font name in the menu. A checkbox lets you limit the font menu to those favorites.
- All members of a font family are now grouped under the family name in the menu. For example, by clicking on the disclosure triangle next to Minion Pro, you can see all the available versions of that font: Condensed, Bold, Regular, etc. This also makes it easy to see which fonts are available only in a single version.
You can further explore font enhancements in this tutorial video.
As you select objects in the Illustrator document, the corresponding CSS code appears in the panel. You can copy the code and paste it into an HTML editor, or generate a CSS file and link it to your HTML. This goes well beyond the Copy CSS feature in Photoshop CC.
Illustrator CC also adds a new Touch Type tool that lets you transform individual characters within a type object without converting it to outlines. When you click on a character, you can rotate it, move it or scale it proportionally or disproportionately. The text may be edited even after you’ve applied the transformations.
The new “Images in Brushes” feature lets you apply raster images to the Art, Scatter and Pattern brushes. When you apply an image to the Pattern brush, you can create borders that consist of repeating versions of the image. You can even choose automatically generated variations of the image for outer or inner corners. When applied to the Scatter brush, the feature lets you create effects in which multiple versions of the image are scattered around a path. Watch the video for more details.
In addition, Illustrator CC incorporates most of InDesign’s font menu enhancements; all that’s missing is the ability to designate Favorites.
As with Photoshop CC, you also have to consider the features that Adobe released exclusively to Creative Cloud members last August: links panel enhancements, the ability to unembed images and a “package files” function that lets you collect all linked files and fonts for a project into a single folder.
The biggest enhancement in Dreamweaver CC is the CSS Designer feature, which replaces the old CSS Styles panel and makes it much easier to create and manage styles. It’s neatly divided into four panes: Sources, @Media, Selectors and Properties. Sources lets you navigate among the internal or external style sheets associated with the current document. @Media displays the media queries associated with the document or a specific CSS source. The Selectors and Properties panes let you view and modify specific CSS properties. If you select a page element, the Selectors pane shows a computed set of selectors that apply to that element.
The Properties pane has been redesigned to simplify navigation among CSS properties. Handy icons at the top let you jump to properties for layout, text, borders and backgrounds. A “Show Set” checkbox lets you limit the panel display to properties included in the selected style.
The new panel reflects a larger effort to streamline the program’s user interface. Adobe says it has removed 10 panels, 14 dialog boxes and 62 menu items. Some of these changes remove redundancies; others remove features that Adobe says are no longer widely used. The latter are of primary interest to developers, and Adobe has provided extensions to restore or replace most of these features for users who want them.
Also gone is BrowserLab, an online service that allowed Dreamweaver users to preview web pages as they would appear in different browsers. Adobe shut down the service in March; it’s no longer available to users of any Dreamweaver version. The company explained its reasoning and suggested alternatives in this blog post.
Other Programs and Services
In addition to the programs covered here, Adobe has rolled out enhancements to other Creative Cloud components, including Muse, Flash Professional, Premiere, After Effects and the Edge family of web-design programs. Subscribers also have access to Acrobat XI Pro, Lightroom and Business Catalyst.
But Adobe is also positioning Creative Cloud as being more than the sum of its parts. For example, users of Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere, Flash and After Effects can sync settings, including preferences and presets, from one computer to another. This can include computers you own, or those used by clients as long as they’re also Creative Cloud subscribers.
Soon, you’ll be able to access fonts from Adobe’s Typekit service and sync them to your desktop apps. And you’ll be able to sync files between the cloud and desktop.
The Behance Connection
Creative Cloud subscribers also have access to the premium features in Behance, a social media platform for creative professionals that Adobe acquired last December. You can share projects with other Behance users from within the Creative Cloud even if they’re not Creative Cloud subscribers, and get feedback on works in progress. Photoshop users can upload projects from within the program; Adobe says it will add this capability to other Creative Cloud applications in the future. You can also set up a website to showcase your work using Behance’s ProSite service; projects uploaded to Behance can be automatically synced to the website. These sites, such as this one, can appear under your own URL. Learn more in this video.
You manage your subscription through the Creative Cloud website or through an app that you download and run on your Mac or PC. The app lists all of the programs available for download and informs you of new updates. It’s generally a smooth process, making it easy to install the programs and keep them up-to-date. My only complaint is that the software prompts me to enter my username and password more frequently than I’d like. Sometimes it happens at system startup; other times when I’m launching one of the Creative Cloud programs. It’s a minor inconvenience, but I’d advise using a password that’s easily remembered.
Changes for Fireworks
One casualty of the new release is Fireworks. Creative Cloud users can download Fireworks CS6, and Adobe will continue to offer security updates and bug fixes. However, the company does not plan to add new features. The program had considerable overlap with Photoshop and Illustrator, and Adobe says it is developing smaller tools focused on specific web-design tasks. This philosophy is already reflected in the company’s Edge products: Edge Animate, Edge Reflow, Edge Code, Edge Inspect, etc. Adobe’s web authoring team explained the move in this blog post.
A Creative Cloud individual membership costs $49.99 per month if you agree to subscribe for a full year. This entitles you to the entire suite of creative products and services, including 20GB of online storage. Or you can pay $74.99 per month without a full-year commitment.
You can also opt for a Single App membership plan for $19.99 per month per app. However, there are no subscription plans comparable to the old Design Premium or Web Premium packages, which provided subsets of the applications for print or web designers.
Each subscription entitles you to install the software on two computers, such as a desktop machine in the office and a laptop that you take home. You’re not limited to a single hardware platform; the license allows you to install one copy on a Mac and another on a PC.
Creative Cloud for teams costs $69.99 per user, each of whom gets 100GB of online storage. That plan also includes centralized administration features and enhanced technical support.
Adobe is offering promotional pricing for users of earlier versions, as well as students and teachers. Get the details are here.
When Adobe introduced the subscription model in CS6, we had a choice. You could buy a perpetual license with the knowledge that you’d have to pay for future upgrades, or opt for monthly payments and get new features as they became available. Adobe gave no hint that it would remove the perpetual licensing option. Then came May’s announcement of the new CC apps and the subscription-only pricing model, leading to outrage from much of the company’s user community. An online petition imploring Adobe to return to perpetual licensing had gathered nearly 40,000 signatures as of early August.
The Creative Cloud Is Complicated
Some of the concern was fed by misunderstandings. Contrary to early comments by some users, you don’t run the applications through a browser, and you don’t have to be continuously connected to the Internet to use them. The Creative Cloud software periodically checks to make sure your membership is current, but you can run the applications offline.
Other complaints have more merit. Users who skipped Creative Suite upgrades to save money will find themselves paying more under the subscription model. Some fear that Adobe will raise the subscription fees over time; right now, the company is guaranteeing the current pricing for 12 months. What if you commit to a subscription, only to find that your business dries up in the future? If you opt for the annual plan and cancel your subscription, Adobe says it will charge you 50 percent of what you would have paid for the rest of the year. You’ll still have access to files stored on your computer, but in some cases you won’t be able to open them with earlier versions of the programs.
Underlying these complaints is a loss of control. When you purchase a perpetual license, you have permanent access to the software. Under the subscription model, Adobe has the power to block that access. There’s also a sense that Adobe is using its dominant market position to force this on users; if the company had serious competitors in these categories, I think we’d still have a perpetual licensing option.
Ultimately, Adobe is asking its users for a great deal of trust: Trust that it won’t arbitrarily raise the subscription fees, and trust that it will continue to add useful new features to these programs. Many users have made it clear that they are not willing to offer that trust.
Yet it’s easy to see why Adobe chose this route: The subscription model guarantees a steady stream of revenue, which makes investors happy. It also allows for a smoother development process, because each product team can add features at a more sensible pace rather than rushing for an arbitrary annual or biennial upgrade.
But what about the users? If you make your living as a creative professional, and these programs are part of your workflow, getting a steady stream of new features is a big plus. This is especially true if your work involves interactive media. It’s a fast-changing landscape, and Adobe has already shown itself to be fairly adept at offering tools that take advantage of new standards such as HTML5 and CSS3. It’s nice that we can use these tools as they become available rather than waiting for a major upgrade a year or two later.
The latest release is a bit underwhelming in terms of new features, but even small improvements in productivity can pay dividends if you use these programs on a daily basis.
The pricing side of the equation is more complicated; the cost-effectiveness of a Creative Cloud membership depends on how frequently you upgraded the Creative Suite and how many of the applications you used. Most heavy-duty users will find that it’s a good deal, especially when you factor in Typekit integration and the new Behance services.
Personally, I like the Creative Cloud, and I think most creative professionals will like it as well. Still, I think that Adobe made a mistake by removing the perpetual-licensing option so suddenly. If nothing else, the company has created a big PR headache for itself, and it will be interesting to see how it responds.
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