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Adobe Creative Cloud 2014: Progress and pain in the usual places

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Comment Remember when software product upgrades were a big thing? Balloons, keyrings, parties? Today, they’re slipped under the door furtively like a pizza takeaway price list. And so it is with Adobe’s announcement today of what’s new in Creative Cloud: lots of PR singing by email, but no actual dancing seems to be taking place.

When Adobe initially rebundled its disparate creative applications into a suite – Creative Suite, no less – users loved it and it made great PR. Instead of having to spread its many product upgrades incrementally across the year as they become available, the company could hit users with an almighty bang every 18 months.

However, in doing so, Adobe had built a rod for its own back. With Creative Suite, the company had to co-ordinate all its development teams and pre-release programmes to hit precisely the same launch date. It wasn’t just difficult, it was inconvenient and occasionally pointless for some of the applications in the suite that didn’t warrant an upgrade at the same time as the others.

Creative Cloud goes a long way toward solving the challenges of such development logistics. Putting aside the controversial financial aspects of the subscription model for a moment, Creative Cloud makes good sense for users who want the best and latest that Adobe can offer. No longer do users have to wait 18 months for major upgrades and core-code updates nor keep their eyes open for minor bug-fixes to appear on obscure support pages. With Adobe CC, the various fixes, updates and upgrades just turn up whenever they’re ready.

For Adobe, though, CC presents a major marketing challenge. It’s difficult to justify hiring a nightclub to celebrate the fact that your company distributed ad hoc updates across a dozens of products (including all the CS6 versions) at scores of irregular dates throughout the year. So it would be a little unfair to point out that the CC 2014 ‘launch’ appears to be a kludge of new-but-minor product features, a recap of some of the enhancements we already saw earlier this year and some blah about a $200 pen that looks like a party-bag Toblerone.

On the surface, there is nothing new in flagship Photoshop CC or heavyweights such as After Effects and Premiere Pro that would have convinced anyone to invest in a traditional package upgrade. InDesign CC now supports fixed-layout ePub? Well, golly gosh.

What’s really happening is Adobe reminding us what good value Creative Cloud can be if you are a creative multi-media power user. Unfortunately, those who use only a handful of the CC applications – such as the traditional Photoshop + Illustrator + InDesign + Acrobat brigade for whom the old Creative Suite was ideal – will find it very difficult to justify the subscription cost.

More worrying still is Adobe’s insistence on implementing much of CC’s newest features as cloud services. Yes, it’s in the name but Adobe spectacularly demonstrated a month ago how badly cloud-based services can go wrong by locking everyone out of their Adobe IDs. This is a problem when all of Adobe’s products depend upon users being able to sign in online merely to make their desktop applications run.

Adobe’s dismissal of the nightmare, in which they threw users out for some 36 hours in mid-May, as a “minor incident” is shameful. So, too, is the utter contempt in which they apparently hold their own customers: one Adobe evangelist at the recent CC pre-launch press briefing suggested that it was the users’ own fault for logging out of their Adobe IDs when they experienced sign-in issues instead of following a convoluted workaround that no-one except Adobe knew about.

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