Adobe Creative Cloud: What You Need to Know

Adobe announced on Monday that Creative Suite is no more and that moving forward Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and the rest of the company's professional content creation apps are available only as part of Creative Cloud. That was promptly followed by wailing, gnashing of teeth, the falling of the sky, and plenty of misconceptions spread as fact. We decided to cut through the noise and get the straight answers because you can't decide if Creative Cloud (CC) is right for you without good information.

Get ready for subscription software, because that's where Adobe is taking usGet ready for subscription software, because that's where Adobe is taking us

Creative Cloud is Adobe's subscription license model for its professional Mac and Windows content creation and editing applications; the familiar Adobe apps, like Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Premiere, Flash, and Acrobat. It was first introduced along side Creative Suite 6 last year as an alternative to traditional perpetual licensing, and this year replaces Creative Suite all together.

It was clear Adobe wanted to push its customers into the subscription model, but I wasn't expecting the change to come so quickly. Until Monday, there was still speculation that Creative Suite 7 would be unveiled and that users would have the option of choosing between perpetual and subscription licensing, just as they could with Creative Suite 6. Since that isn't what happened, it's time to bone up on our Creative Cloud facts.

Within minutes of Adobe announcing the new Creative Cloud, the rants were already flooding my Twitter stream with complaints about being forced to use Web-based apps, needing always-on Internet connections, and losing all your files when your subscription expires. Turns out all of those complaints are wrong.

Where Are My Adobe Apps?
The Creative Cloud name seems to have caused a little confusion because people think that means they're using Web-based versions of Photoshop, InDesign and Dreamweaver. The reality is that you download those apps, just as you did with a perpetual license for Creative Suite 6, and they live on your computer.

Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Premier, Acrobat, and rest of the (former) Creative Suite titles are still native Mac and Windows apps running on your computer locally, not apps running in your Web browser. Creative Cloud doesn't change how you access or run your Adobe apps, just how you pay for your license.

Adobe's application manager handles app installsAdobe's application manager handles app installs

If you're currently using an older versions of Adobe's apps, like Creative Suite 4, the installation process will be a little different since you're downloading the apps instead of installing them from DVD. The new application manager should, however, look pretty familiar to CS6 users even if they aren't already CC subscribers.

Can Adobe Delete My Apps and Files?
Creative Cloud is a subscription license, so that means if you don't pay, your subscription shuts down. Since you already installed the apps on your computer, they'll stay there taking up space until you delete them or pay to reactivate your licenses.

The files you create with Adobe's apps are yours and won't go away if your subscription lapses. All of the files on your hard drive stay where you put them, and you can take them to any other computer running the same apps, or even prior versions of those apps, and use them without any restrictions. Files that you save to your Creative Cloud online storage will still be there when you reactivate your subscription, although you won't be able to access them during the lapse period.

If your files are critical, they should be saved in more than one location -- one of which isn't your CC online storage. That way, you control your backups and always have your files even if you drop your CC subscription.

If you have a perpetual license version of Adobe's apps, like CS6, they're licensed independently of your CC apps, so they'll continue to work just as they always have and won't be impacted by your subscription status, nor will they get deleted when you install CC versions. Translation: The CC and CS versions of your apps will peacefully coexist.

Do I Have to be Online to Use My Apps?
Nope, you don't have to be online to use the CC apps. You do, however, need to be online about once a month-ish for the apps to verify that your CC subscription is still active. That system has been in place for a year now, and so far it hasn't had any major problems leaving users locked out of their apps.

Even if your CC subscription lapses, you still aren't totally dead in the water. Instead of deactivating completely, the apps revert to demo versions for 30 days.

Is Creative Cloud the Only Option for Adobe Apps?
It's no secret that Adobe really wants all of us as Creative Cloud subscribers. That said, the company also knows that for some people CC simply isn't an option. For those customers, the Creative Suite 6 perpetual license is still available.

Giving users the option of buying CS6 is good news, but that does come with a limitation: Adobe won't be adding any new features to the CS6 apps and will only release maintenance updates. Adobe will eventually drop support for CS6, so don't expect to be able to keep using those versions of Photoshop, InDesign, and Dreamweaver indefinitely.

Is Creative Cloud More Expensive?
Will a Creative Cloud subscription cost you more than a perpetual license? That depends, and to help sort out what the prices mean, I turned to Adobe InDesign expert and trainer Erica Gamet. The short version is users who upgrade very rarely, say every five years, will spend more on Creative Cloud while everyone else could save some money.

Depending on your needs, CC might save you moneyDepending on your needs, CC might save you money

"Let's say you buy and use the Creative Suite Master Collection and Lightroom for three years without buying any upgrades. That's US$2,748," she said. "Three years of Creative Cloud costs $1,764, and also includes 20GB of online storage, TypeKit, and Adobe app creation. Plus, you get major application updates for free."

She added that for professional users who need to stay on top of the latest Adobe app versions, and use other Adobe services, the savings can be significant.

If you aren't a Master Suite user, the numbers work out a little differently. For example, Creative Suite Production or Design and Web users who upgrade every other year would pay $2,274 during their first three years, which is still substantially more than a CC subscription over that same time. An every other year upgrade cycle after that, however, would run $750 -- or $1,125 for an every year upgrade cycle -- which both come in under the cost of a CC subscription.

For Creative Suite Standard customers, that first three year cycle costs $1,574, or $190 less than a CC subscription over the same time.

While the costs over time for a perpetual license for Creative Suite Production, Design and Web, or Standard can be less compared to a CC subscription, it's important to remember that we're now comparing numbers for packages that include subsets of the Adobe apps, whereas the Master Suite includes nearly all of Adobe's products, and it's the Master Suite that Creative Cloud replaces.

Also, Adobe offers a single-app Creative Cloud subscription for $19.99 a month for users that don't need more than just, say, Photoshop or Illustrator. Plus, Adobe offers educational discounts and is currently offering special pricing for anyone with a Creative Suite 3 or newer license that wants to move to CC.

Adobe chose to go with a flat fee for everything model with Creative Cloud, so there isn't any option between the one-app $19.99 option and take-it-all option, so if you're currently anything other than a Master Suite user you won't find the options you're familiar with in CC -- they aren't there. Very few of the creative professionals I've encountered were Creative Suite Standard users, so most of the people I know will probably be getting a wider app selection for less money as Creative Cloud subscribers, especially since they're people that upgrade every year or so.

Is Adobe Screwing Me?
That's a matter of perspective. If you typically go five years or more between Adobe app upgrades, then you'll probably end up paying more over time as a Creative Cloud user. Otherwise, you may end up saving money in the long run.

If you have an aversion to subscription software models, you can still buy Creative Suite 6, but don't be surprised when Adobe eventually leaves you behind. Still, ongoing payments for software is a notion that doesn't sit well with many Adobe users, so the company has a lot of work before it gets everyone on board with the idea.

The new versions of the Creative Cloud apps won't be available until June, and even when they're out you don't have to upgrade right away if you don't want to. That said, it's a safe bet that other software makers are watching to see how this plays out and may very well follow suit and jump into the subscription game, too.