Grabbing a warm, steamy cup of Joe, I thought I would settle in and wax on with a few more thoughtful insights against subscription software, specifically software geared towards photography and image editing and offer some questions you may not have thought to consider. Now I wrote an earlier blog post on "The Case Against Subscription Software" that covers much of my thoughts on the topic, along with some tasty historic information about the origins of the image editing saga, but I've recently had a few new ideas about it and want to share with you briefly here.
When I got started with Adobe and Photoshop in a serious way I worked on other's computers which had a Photoshop license. When I could finally afford my own copy of the $599.00 software I started with the then current CS2 version. I skipped the upgrade to CS3 and upgraded to CS4 when it came out. At the time Adobe offered the same discounted upgrade pricing for up to three versions prior (I miss those days!). I skipped the next two upgrades (CS5 and CS5.5) since they didn't offer enough bang for the buck to me and I figured I was safe to skip at least three versions and save money. When CS6 was released in May 2012, I did upgrade, though I don't recall how much I paid to do so. Adobe had raised the full price of Photoshop as a stand-alone product to $699.00, but by then they had also changed their upgrade policy to only apply to the single previous version before. Adobe has a history of leaving a bitter taste in their customers mouths!
This was life with Adobe before "The Cloud Cliff" as I call it: the move to a subscription software model. Before committing to a subscription only software you have to be ok with always renting, never owning, the software. The next questions, and they are biggies, are: "What happens when I stop subscribing? Will I lose all my work? Will I lose my images? Will the program simply stop working altogether?" With Photoshop, it will simply no longer work. If you also likely have Adobe Lightroom, the answer is a bit more interesting. Besides Adobe which only offers a subscription to their software, there are currently two other photo software companies offering a subscription model alternative along with a full price perpetual license: OnOne Photo RAW and Capture One Pro. Whether they'll choose in the future to go with a subscription only is anybody's guess, but you have to at least entertain that possibility. Their policies on what happens when you choose to end your subscription is less clear, so it is a big consideration.
Another consideration is in the course of a year's subscription run for you, what new features have been added that you find really useful, and worth the cost? I'm not talking about routine fixes and speed improvements that are free updates with perpetual license software, but genuine feature rich tools and upgrade features. Do you really need them? Are they worth the price of subscription? The current cost of an Adobe subscription for the Photoshop/Lightroom combo runs you $120.00 per year. I laugh when I hear folks say that any features that rollout throughout the year are free! No, you pay $120.00 every year for those features. So cumulatively, are they worth it? Only you can decide, but the reason users of Photoshop (and Lightroom too as I hear) skipped upgrades in years past when that was an option was precisely because the feature usefulness to cost was lacking. Now, you have no choice. Whether it's useful to you or not you pay for whatever comes, and in advance.
My final thought on what I see as the"forced upgrade paradigm" has to do with changes to the software that have little to do with the functions it provides and is more about the form of the upgrade. For those familiar with my blog here, you know I am an avowed, card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool software interface snob! Yes, I am well acquainted with the "Form follows function" adage, and while I can embrace it, as a creative thinker and seer, one who is visually driven, I can't help but wish more consideration was given to really fine interface design. Case in point, Exposure X5:
My Exposure X5 Interface layout
This screenshot of the Exposure X5 interface is from a DPReview article on the upgrade to Exposure X6 (they have a link in the article to hi-res screenshots that give you a great idea of the difference.)
Exposure X6 Interface
Now Exposure is NOT a subscription software photo editor, nor I pray will it ever be. That said it offers here a good example of my point about interface design changes. Whether you own or subscribe to your software, you have to eventually deal with interface changes, not because new tools are added or (God forbid) deleted, but because someone decides to redecorate the room!
From the DPReview article, this excerpt is where I completely disagree and is one of the main reasons I chose not to upgrade. All of the X5 UI features they derided in this review I find are really nice, elegant design. I downloaded the free trial of X6 to see If I thought the upgrade was worth it. The first thing that struck me was the new interface that was actually quite dramatic (I probably let out an audible "ugh!").
Let me say I love the X5 interface. The subtle ways of making the UI easy to read (especially for someone like me who could use all the vision help I can get!) is welcome. I particularly like the orange text and accents against a medium/dark grey panel which makes keeping separate items clear to spot. The new updated UI I found much harder to view. What DPReview admired as "more modern" is less elegant and looks more "amateurish" to me. I wish program designers would stop trying to be like everybody else and following "fashionable trends" and focus more on great, truly useful (unique?) design. Changing an app's UI simply to accent it as part of the features to make upgrading seem more worthwhile, change for change's sake, can be a big mistake. I ultimately decided to skip the X6 upgrade, not only for the UI, but it didn't offer tools I really needed in comparison. One other big difference in the UI change: If you toggle back and forth between the two, you'll notice the X6 UI has smaller fonts! That plus the hideous blue fonts and accents just made it harder on the eyes.
Now fortunately with a stand-alone perpetual license software I own, I can skip an upgrade and stay with a program version I love, for forever actually, as long as it keeps working. I never have to upgrade If I don't want. I love and appreciate the freedom of that choice. With a subscription, you are locked in to whatever changes a company wants to implement, whether you like them or not. And in most cases you can't even roll back to a previous version you liked better. With a subscription you are in control of... nothing (except when you quit)! Perhaps a last consideration when thinking of going with a subscription for your image editing is what do you do when an upgrade is incompatible with your Operating System, or worse yet your hardware? Eventually the system requirements of a subscription software will meet the limits of your computer. What will you do then? Keep paying every year for "access" to software that you can't get upgrades to? Hardly seems worth it, especially when you consider the cost of having to upgrade your computer, even if it still has plenty of useful years otherwise.
When it comes to choosing to subscribe to your software or not, choose wisely!