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What You Should Really Know About Adobe Creative Cloud

by Graham Needham (BH) on 17th May 2013

On the 7th May 2013 Adobe announced two important changes to the way they will sell their Adobe Creative Suite software:

  1. New Creative Suite software will only be available via the "Creative Cloud" which is a subscription based software product (Software as a Service - SaaS)
  2. There will be no new Creative Suite products sold as perpetual (boxed) licenses. Current products (CS6 only) will be provided with bug fixes and security updates "as necessary" only i.e. no guarantees of anything
We blogged about Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud back on 2nd May 2012 but this new announcement changes the game significantly especially if you are a business using Adobe software tools.

There are two principle issues at stake here. The first is cost. The second, more important one, is software lock-in with proprietary document formats. We will address these two issues separately.


You should consider how you previously upgraded Creative Suite. Did you upgrade every version? Every other version? Or wait as long as possible? What type of license did you buy? Education? Boxed/retail? Volume licensing? How many users/licenses do you have? You must put all this information together and work out what was roughly your yearly cost and then compare it to the Creative Cloud costs. Membership options include:
  • Complete individual
  • Student and Teacher Edition
  • Single app
  • Creative Cloud for teams
Points to note about cost:
  • Reduced costs are only for the first year for those users upgrading from Creative Suite CS3 or later.
  • (from 6.5a) Subscription Fees may change at the end of your subscription period - the cost may go up and by any percentage increase that Adobe chooses (there are no clauses or statements in regards to future price increases other than "It is possible that the cost of the month-to-month membership will increase, but if it does, you will be notified and given the opportunity to cancel", in other words, your only option is to stop paying and lose access to the software and your documents/work
  • The normal Annual commitment service has this policy "Cancellation charges for annual plans do apply after the first 30 days". If you have an annual subscription but decide to cancel after the first 30 days but before meeting the 12-month commitment date, you will be charged 50% of the remaining amount left on your contract (from their FAQ). A month-to-month payment option is apparently available but it costs more and can go up at any time with no warning.
  • If you are a larger company with multiple seats you can purchase the individual cloud accounts but note that you will need a separate account and login (Adobe ID) for each installation and keep track of all that (with its associated cost). Or you can sign up for the Creative Cloud for Teams version but that's almost 50% more than the base price.
  • Adobe and other web sites like to point out that with Creative Cloud you get something equivalent to what was the "Master Collection" which is £2225 worth of software. You do, if you actually use all the software applications. If you're a publishing house just using four (Acrobat, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop) then that argument is invalid - so do the math.


Almost all of the Adobe software products use proprietary document formats i.e. other software companies either have great difficulty or a complete inability to open and/or work with such documents. This has now become a huge issue because in the future you will have no choice as to how you can work with Adobe documents. If you do not have the Adobe Creative Cloud applications you may not be able to ever open your documents again let alone edit them. Here is an example:
  1. You commit and pay for Adobe Creative Cloud
  2. You download and install InDesign CC
  3. You open an old InDesign CS document and make changes (thereby updating it to a CC document) or you create a new CC document
  4. You stop paying for Adobe Creative Cloud or Adobe closes your account
  5. Your InDesign CC software will no longer work
  6. Your InDesign CC document now cannot be opened or edited by you or any other third party software
Adobe argues several points against the above scenario:
  • (from their FAQ) if you saved your work to your computer you will continue to have access to those files - NOTE: sure, you can "access" those files but you may not be able to actually open or edit them ever again!
  • For some document formats e.g. InDesign you can down-save - NOTE: you have to do this to all your documents before you or Adobe closes your account and you may lose specific formats/features of the document in the process!
  • For some document formats e.g. Illustrator you can save to alternative formats e.g. EPS - NOTE: you have to do this to all your documents before you or Adobe closes your account and you may lose specific formats/features of the document in the process!
Down-saving may only be available to certain previous versions e.g. InDesign only allows you to save one version back (so CC will save to CS6). Yes there is IDML (InDesign Markup Language) for use with older versions but if you've ever tried to seriously use that you'll know it's practically useless. Additionally, and most interestingly, Adobe has not guaranteed that the facility to down-save will even be available in future versions of CC applications. There's a good article all about down-saving files in Adobe applications here.

Adobe will continue to sell CS6 (from their FAQ "We plan to sell Creative Suite 6 for use on supported platforms indefinitely") but there is no "guarantee" of this and when they stop selling it your only choice will be to become locked into a (software) scheme where the documents/work you create, by default, are proprietary - in that if you stop paying (or Adobe closes/stops your account) you then cannot open those documents. This would effectively destroy your work/business. So if you're okay with all the above what else might you want to consider before you get you or your company locked-in?

  • Products can be killed off at any time - (from 6.5) Adobe may modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the Services or Materials, or any portion thereof, with or without notice. You agree that Adobe shall not be liable to you or anyone else if we do so. - thus Fireworks is now dead
  • Update 31st January 2017 - Adobe killed Contribute, Director and Shockwave with just 5 day's notice!!!
  • Adobe can close your account for pretty much any reason - The service can be revoked at any time by Adobe not only as a standard legal clause but pretty much for any reason they want regardless of who's fault it is – even if it's their fault, there's an issue with your user account, there's an issue with their server/systems, there's a (temporary) payment problem, you can't access the internet for some reason at the time of compliance check†, there's a software problem or they simply don't like you:
    • 20.2 Termination by Adobe. Subject to Additional Terms for certain Services and any associated subscription terms and conditions, Adobe may at any time terminate our agreement with you (or any individual Additional Terms) if:
      (a) You have breached any provision of the Terms (or have acted in a manner that clearly shows you do not intend to, or are unable to, comply with the Terms);
      (b) Adobe is required to do so by Law (for example, where the provision of the Services or Materials to you is, or becomes, unlawful);
      (c) The provision of the Services to you by Adobe is, in Adobe’s opinion, no longer commercially viable;
      (d) Adobe has elected to discontinue the Services or Materials (or any part thereof); or
      (e) There has been an extended period of inactivity in your account.
    † - Adobe do state your software will continue to work for 100 days without a compliance check e.g. the computer has no internet access, but if your account is closed then after that time the software will simply stop working
  • No change to Adobe's support - most people know that Adobe's support is pretty poor even if you're lucky enough to get through to someone that speaks legibly in your language (our own experiences of it have been a nightmare)
  • Your current CS software might stop working - Your so called perpetual licensed software e.g. CS6 could stop working in the future (e.g. due to incompatibility with future hardware/operating systems†† or Adobe kills the activation servers for the software†††) forcing you to "upgrade" and become locked-in to Creative Cloud
  • †† - Adobe have stated "We will continue to sell and support Adobe Creative Suite® 6 applications, and will provide bug fixes and security updates as necessary" - note the words "as necessary", there are no guarantees of what, if any, updates will be made available or for how long they will do this. At some point they will end this support and so the software will not run on the newest hardware/operating systems! [update 09/02/2016: critical security vulnerability in Photoshop - not fixed in Photoshop CS6]
    ††† - as recently experienced by those still running CS2. In this case Adobe offered a new installer and special serial number but they have made no guarantee that this would be the case with other versions e.g. CS6! Incidentally, Adobe, why does our legal CS6 software continually ask to be re-registered at random or after a software update?
  • Adobe can change the terms of the service - (from 3.3) Adobe may require you to provide consent to the updated Terms before further use of the Services is permitted. Otherwise, your continual use of any Service constitutes your acceptance of the changes - in other words your only option is to cancel your subscription and lose access to the software and your documents/work
  • Adobe can force updates/upgrades on you at any time - their FAQ states "You are not required to install any new version of the desktop applications available in Creative Cloud. You can continue using your current version of the product as long as you have an active membership. You have flexibility on when you install a new release to take advantage of new product features, if you choose to do so" but the legal Ts&Cs actually state (and I'm sure this takes precedence over a small statement in a FAQ) "(from 11.4) The Software may automatically download and install updates from Adobe. These updates are designed to improve, enhance and further develop the Services and may take the form of bug fixes, enhanced functions, new Software modules, and completely new versions. You agree to receive such updates (and permit Adobe to deliver these to you with or without your knowledge) as part of your use of the Services." [update 12/02/2016: Bug in Adobe Creative Cloud deletes Mac user data without warning]


Some people may argue that Microsoft is just as bad with their Office software and no one makes these complaints about them. Well, that's because they're not anywhere near as bad. Microsoft still sells boxed/download editions, volume licensing, etc so you have a choice. The documents you create in the Office 365 subscription versions can be opened and edited in the alternate (perpetual license) versions and in many older versions of the software too. Incidentally Word 2011 will let you save a document in Word 97 format (16 year old software). Try doing that in InDesign CC (v9). Finally, albeit through anti-trust requirements, Microsoft document specifications are available to third parties so alternative, third party software is available to open and work with those documents - this is not the case with most Adobe proprietary formats (except, perhaps for PDF). [update 22/02/2016: PDF is open, PSD is open, InDesign CS6 IDML is open]


If after reading all of this blog post you're happy to move forward with Adobe's Creative Cloud then go for it. On the other hand if you are now considering your options we advise you to make plans now to move away from Adobe's proprietary formats and software. We have put together an article listing alternatives to Adobe software.

Blog Post Author = Graham Needham (BH)
Blog Post Created On = 17th May 2013
Blog Post Last Revised = 25th January 2018 12:40
Blog Post URL =

This blog post is representative of the blog author's individual opinions and as such any opinions that may be expressed here may not necessarily reflect the views of everyone at MacStrategy or the holding company Burning Helix Limited.

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