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Inside Adobe's Creative Cloud: The Concept, the Customer Response, the Real-World Experience

9/23/2013 12:45 PM Eastern

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that in June Adobe switched access to its software from licensed ownership to a subscription model. After a year of offering both options—perpetual licenses and subscriptions—Adobe has decided to go all-in on subscriptions for the latest version of its creative tools. (Adobe continues to offer perpetual licenses only for Adobe CS6 products.)

Adobe Creative Cloud creative tools

Adobe has branded these offerings under two divisions: the Creative Cloud (content creation software, including Premiere Pro) and the Marketing Cloud (back-end web, marketing and analysis software). This move changes your interaction with Adobe’s software from one of purchasing a product to one of purchasing a service that includes software tools as part of the package.

Many creative professionals have voiced concerns about this model, because continued access to Adobe software-based project files means that you need to maintain a valid subscription for that software to function.

There are many pros and cons in this argument. Some will find the subscription model a really good deal, while others could end up paying more per year, depending on their previous upgrade cycles. Let me try to clarify some of the issues.

First, the term “cloud” tends to be misunderstood. In the case of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the software you choose to use is downloaded and locally installed on your computer. Creative Cloud applications don’t run in a web browser.

Any Creative Cloud application version carries the suffix CC instead of CS (as in CS6). There are additional cloud-based services hosted by Adobe’s servers that are available to subscribers, who are free to use them or not as they see fit.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Adobe Creative Cloud tools for video

You do not have to maintain a constant Internet connection to use the installed software, but Creative Cloud does ping Adobe’s authorization servers monthly to check your account status. Lack of a successful account check kicks the software into a trial mode for a period of time before the software is completely de-authorized and cannot be opened. In the case of people paying by the month, there’s a 30-day grace period. For those who have paid for a year in advance, it’s 180 days.

Cloud subscriptions can be purchased for single applications, or as individual, team or enterprise accounts. Individual users can install and simultaneously run any Adobe software on up to two machines (Mac and/or PC), while team accounts are valid for only one machine per authorized user. Individual subscribers must download software separately to each machine, but there is an option for team and enterprise users to install localized, server-based tools (Creative Cloud Packager) for simplified installation across multiple workstations.

Value-added Creative Cloud services: online services for file sharing, collaboration, and publishing apps and websites

For most people, the big advantage to the Adobe Creative Cloud is access to the entire repertoire of Adobe content creation tools for web, print, photography and video. For the cost of the single subscription, you have access to all of the applications formerly known as the Master Collection, as well as Lightroom.

If you bought the Creative Suite 6 Master Collection today, that would run you $2,599 (plus Lightroom). Version upgrades have been in the $600 range and Adobe had been on an annual cycle of updates. Now with Creative Cloud, the equivalent software “bundle” costs $49.99 per month without the initial outlay up front to own it.

Of course, that’s the rub for many users, because when you quit paying, you can no longer open, edit or export legacy projects. The truth of the matter is that your software doesn’t just go “poof” and vanish from your hard drive. If you needed to re-activate a subscription six months later, then it would simply be a matter of renewing your account for as little as a few months to get you through your project revisions.

Advantages of the Cloud

Announced at IBC: A new Direct Link Color Pipeline between Adobe Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC provides an integrated workflow that allows users to move multitrack timelines seamlessly back and forth.

There are several selling points to the Creative Cloud that have even skeptics coming on board. Up-to-date software is a big one. When you install Creative Cloud, a new resident desktop management tool is installed, which replaces CS6’s Adobe Application Manager. The Creative Cloud desktop application manages which software is installed and up-to-date, including both perpetual CS6 and subscribed CC versions. Adobe’s intent is to offer faster version updates, feature additions and bug fixes through the cloud delivery model. (Adobe leaves it up to the user to decide whether to apply updates to a particular app.)

By using this software-as-a-service model, Adobe is no longer bound by the arcane policies surrounding the timing of feature improvements, which are a byproduct of the Sarbanes Oxley regulations. Instead, Adobe is free to release updates when they are viable, rather than hold off to wait for quarterly revenue cycles.

Customers focused on one line of business—only video or only photography, for example—have a real advantage in this new scheme. For no additional cost, Adobe has given you access to the software necessary to add new revenue streams. Want to add web site design services? The Creative Cloud desktop application makes this easy. If you started with a handful of video apps and now want to add some print or web applications, simply select them in the Creative Cloud desktop application, download and install.

Value-Added Services

Announced at IBC: The Mask Tracker in After Effects enables video professionals to create masks and apply effects that track automatically frame-by-frame throughout a composition to save countless hours of tedious work.

Aside from simplifying access to Adobe’s software, the Creative Cloud is an effort by Adobe to build a community and become a one-stop creative resource for its users. Not all of the options have been fully implemented yet. Using the Creative Cloud desktop application, you will be able to upload and share project files, sync application settings, install additional fonts and join the Behance design community. The latter is a portfolio site geared toward photographers and graphic designers. It supports video samples, but it’s not as well known to video editors as YouTube or Vimeo. Adobe will also host up to five web sites per account.

Adobe offers each user (individual account) up to 20 GB of online storage backed by Amazon. Unfortunately, access to this storage hasn’t been integrated into the desktop tool yet and requires access through a web browser. You can store files there and allow others to download them, but video files do not play from within a browser. They must be downloaded and viewed locally.

All in all, these services are a nice add-on. If your main focus is video, though, these are not yet an appropriate replacement for Apple’s iCloud, Vimeo, Dropbox or even a service like Sorenson 360. Adobe is aware of these comparisons and has indicated that improving the Creative Cloud’s video-related services is a priority going forward.

Adobe has sought to respond to the flack surrounding software de-authorization when you end a subscription. Although a number of potential solutions have been posed—such as allowing read-only access to past project files—there have not been any definitive announcements yet. Photoshop CC and After Effects CC do offer some backwards compatibility, but Premiere Pro CC is only forward-compatible. That means you can migrate a project from Premiere Pro CS6 to Premiere Pro CC, but not the reverse. Actual users of the Creative Cloud seem less concerned, but if this is an issue in your mind, then make sure to export your project in forms that ensure some compatibility, including XMLs, EDLs and superless, textless master files.


Whether or not the Adobe Creative Cloud is a good deal for you depends on many variables. If staying current on your software is important, then it’s hard to beat Adobe’s approach. Since the launch of the Creative Cloud applications, Adobe has already released two major updates focused on the video market. That includes an October update with new After Effects features and a direct link between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC. The link enables complete, renderless round-trips between these two applications. In addition, Adobe has been fine-tuning pricing models, with a new package for photographers who are interested in only Photoshop and Lightroom. (See Adobe’s Creative Cloud Membership Plans web page for specifics on pricing.)

The Adobe Creative Cloud will come across as a good deal for many. It has afforded many individual users the ability to “come clean” with legal access to all of Adobe’s content creation software on what, for many, amounts to one billable hour per month. Larger users, like production companies, broadcasters, ad agencies and corporate customers, seem very excited about being able to put any Adobe application on any computer in their operation (depending on their subscription plan).

The extra Cloud services like Behance and included online storage are icing on the cake that can help users save money elsewhere by replacing other paid services. Once the ruckus over the subscription model settles down, I suspect that, for better or worse, many software companies will follow Adobe’s trek down this pioneering trail.   

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