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Happy anniversary, Creative Cloud. Now die.

2014 May 6
by Matt

Update: This isn’t really what I had in mind, though at the same time, it certainly doesn’t change my overall perspective…

Fear not, Adobe. I haven’t forgotten our anniversary.

It has been one year to the day since “the press release heard ’round the world,” which as one observer noted the next day took “689 words just to say” a phrase that I try to avoid using on this blog, too often, but can link to.

Where are we, a year on?

For me personally, nothing major has changed, really. I am still using Adobe programs, which I own (a perpetual license to use), and have so far not even seen the “Creative Cloud” versions let alone used or paid for them.

Meanwhile, in the larger landscape, it certainly appears that “the dust has settled” and Fort Creative Cloud stands, victorious. I haven’t seen anything explicitly conforming this, but I haven’t seen much of anything about Creative Cloud lately. I haven’t really gone looking, but I visit enough sites that would likely be reporting on developments were there any to report. The “Suck it Adobe” Twitter account has been silent for months. The protest petition seems to have topped out a bit shy of 50,000 signatures. It’s difficult not to imagine a handful of executives sitting around a table with cigars and scotch, basking in deep and rich “we got away with it” smugness.

Is there any reason they shouldn’t?

Yes and no, I think. Right now, it’s difficult to see any reason. From their perspective, at best the remaining unconverted “cranky customers” like myself are totally out of touch, and both corporate accounts and incoming Millennial designers are perfectly happy to replace old-fashioned ideas of “ownership” with subscription access at a predictable and consistent rate. At worst, my dissatisfaction is much more widely shared, but Adobe has its users over a barrel and needn’t much care about whether or not we like it. A couple of months ago, a frequent colleague referred in an e-mail to “the Creative Cloud (Adobe extortion)” … but the context was alerting me that his office will be implementing the software some time this year, anyway. It seems like that about sums  it up.

For now, I think it does. Yet…

…while I may just be grasping at straws, it’s difficult not to think that Adobe is ignoring a very relevant lesson from history. From its own history, in fact, given that their InDesign software was responsible for, per the headline of an ars technica feature earlier this year, “How QuarkXPress became a mere afterthought in publishing: In the early ’90s, Quark boasted 95% market share. In ’99, InDesign arrived…” This is a familiar story, but Dave Girard does a fine job reviewing it in depth. His conclusion also considers, more briefly, the almost inescapable relevance to Adobe’s own recent behavior.

Could Adobe repeat Quark’s flameout? I don’t know. Absent any details, I presume that the company is doing well right now. But then part of the lesson of Quark is that a firm can be insufferably awful for years and then suddenly find that unassailable market position crumbling one day, far too fast for a bloated and lethargic company to salvage it. I see little evidence that Adobe is deviating from the Quark path, internally.

Externally, though, it’s open to question who will play Adobe’s part in any remake of The Fall of Quark. Obviously not Aldus, nor Macromedia; probably not Corel, either. Quark itself seems unlikely to score a comeback. I’m not holding my breath for Apple or Google (and would, indeed, regard the prospect of being dependent upon the latter as just as unwelcome as Creative Cloud).

Can someone new step up? Since last year, I have had my eye on a company called Serif, and particularly their PagePlus product. They tout this as an InDesign competitor, though I have not tried it because it is currently Windows-only. Taking a look this morning, however, I find a note in their forums that Mac-native software is in development. Maybe we have a goer, here?

I will definitely keep my eye on them, although for my own part, access to Creative Cloud files seems likely to be a need even if other authoring software becomes available. It’s actually both encouraging and annoying how tenuous Adobe’s grip seems, here. I really only work with three Adobe programs. With Illustrator, I believe multiple other programs can open and edit EPS, PDF and to some extent even native .ai files. Much the same seems to hold true for Photoshop, plus, at least for my part, I don’t do a lot in the way of exchanging complicated documents here. Mainly that’s restricted to InDesign, and the hell of it is that InDesign actually has a file format that is not only backward compatible with older versions of itself, but so far as I can tell is remarkably open and accessible even if it is not technically an open standard. I discovered a while ago that the .idml compatibility format produces files that I can open up with a text editor to rather surprising results:

File structure of .idml file

Who knew??

I don’t know how much or if any other layout programs can interact with these files, but it sure seems like the possibility exists. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to see any reason why .idml has not become the native file format for InDesign, itself… other than the fact that the one, little extra step of “save as…” rather than plain old “save” is just enough to keep users producing files without backward compatibility, and therefore nudging “holdouts” to pay for the latest version. Which is still odd given that Photoshop, e.g., doesn’t work that way; I can only imagine that Adobe is large enough to contain subcultures with strikingly different traditions and attitudes and that some of their clashes on an issue like this have probably been quite lively…

For now, though, the “squeeze the users” subculture seems to be in the ascendant, on the whole. If this drags down the whole show at some later date, it will probably be years later. In the meantime, we go on living in a broken world where we have to make some or other unpleasant compromises to get on. For me, this may include paying up to “Adobe Extortion” at some point. Even then, I remain hopeful that I may be able to get by for a while with only a one-product subscription, for InDesign. (Unless of course they’ve killed that option as well, while I wasn’t looking.)

Meanwhile, I’m not sure how much more there is to say. Congratulations Adobe, I suppose; you have become yet another little exhibit for how what is generally described as “market capitalism” actually tends to consistent, colossal failings (and then bends seemingly rational adults into spouting blatant, childish lies about this).

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