“There are two kinds of people in the world – the connected and the disconnected.” – Michael Northcott, 2021

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In 2013 Adobe changed its business model and went all in on subscription licenses. Customers could only upgrade and use Adobe’s applications if they paid a monthly fee through its Creative Cloud website. If you didn’t pay, you couldn’t play. As a satisfied customer, everything changed as soon as we set sail. Subscriptions software works great as long as you have consistent, high speed internet access. Boarding Aleta meant I’d officially joined the ranks of the disconnected.

Working mostly offline, my license wasn’t connecting regularly enough with the Creative Cloud and the apps stopped working. I couldn’t edit photos, organize them, make videos, combine PDF documents, or create nifty digital artwork until I got re-validated. That meant finding a Wi-Fi hotspot, or synching up with my phone. Updates of several gigabytes choked my slow connection, and, in a few months, the entire process drove me crazy. Of course, they kept charging my credit card and were difficult to deal with when I complained. I wasn’t alone. Thousands of loyal users suddenly found themselves in the same frustrating boat.

So, I fired Adobe.

Creative Licenses

The annual cost of an Adobe license is around $600. So that (or less) was my budget. My DuckDuckGo search for ‘creative cloud alternatives’ turned out better than I expected. The apps I now use fall into two categories, 1) proprietary non-subscription (i.e., paid perpetual license), and 2) open source (i.e., free).

1: Artful Digital Tools

Affinity-photo
Affinity’s suite of tools includes Affinity Photo for raster/pixel-based image editing, Affinity Designer for vector art creation, and Affinity Publisher for digital page layout. All three applications were architected simultaneously and designed to work together from the start. With lots of similar keyboard shortcuts and an easier workflow, I’ve grown to appreciate these apps. Affinity’s parent company Serif competed with Adobe for years, but finally built a set of tools comprehensive enough to take on most tasks. Each application costs around $50 for a perpetual license, but the apps go on sale a couple of times a year with discounts of up to 50%. Updates release about two to three times a year.

2: Video Editing

davinci resolve 17

Background: (IMHO) Adobe Premiere never worked well. Every release outstripped the capabilities of all but the most powerful computers. It was saved from ignominy by Apple’s bone-headed handling of its Final Cut Pro transition[1]. Premiere enjoys a halo effect from Adobe’s other tools and is included in the general subscription. It’s a bit like watching Fox News because it’s bundled with your cable plan.

Today I use Davinci Resolve by Blackmagicdesign (BMD). I looked at dozens of alternatives, free and paid, before I bumped into it. Resolve started as, and remains, Hollywood’s standard for professional color grading. Over the years it developed editing capabilities and BMD acquired Fusion for digital compositing, and Fairlight audio tools. It bundled them all together into the current application.

I don’t know what kind of stimulants they’re giving their software engineers, but Resolve is a powerful, professional editing suite that costs $0. Nada. Zip. (You can upgrade to the Studio version for $299 which buys you a few additional features that support things like team editing.) The tools are simply incredible and the free version entirely capable of producing a Hollywood movie. For the past couple of years BMD’s software engineers have regularly embarrassed Adobe and gathered hundreds of thousands of new users to boot.

3: Photo Management

Background: The one application I missed most was Adobe Lightroom. It did a great job of managing my photos and has a cadre of useful editing tools. That said, darktable has most of the functionality of Lightroom and comes closest in usability. This free application isn’t perfect, but it’s probably one of the best open source arty applications of any kind right now. I can tag images, edit, sort, and export them in a wide variety of formats.

4: PDF Management

Almost all of Aleta’s manuals are digital. We even scanned her original manual into a large Portable Document Format (PDF) file. That makes it easy to find things. It also allows us to access ship’s systems information anytime, anywhere. We keep all our documents in the cloud with backups on our phones, iPads, and computers. That reduces paper, but means I need a functional PDF editor. There are many to choose from now that PDFs are an open standard. Most of the Adobe alternatives require subscriptions or an internet connection, so I opted for the best-reviewed and most idiotically named software package available: Foxit Phantom PDF. It has nothing to do with ghosts, or foxes, and sounds like malware. Marketing issues aside, I’m pleased with its functionality. Cost: $129.

Final Reckoning

Affinity Suite: $120
Davinci Resolve: $0
darktable: $0
Foxit Phantom PDF: $129
Total: $229
Savings: $371 in the first year, $600 from year 2 onwards

Conclusion

Changing business models is a hard decision and inevitably not all of your customers will follow. Kicking paying customers in the gonads because they don’t have broadband access is harder to accept. Having found worthy alternatives, the question is, would I go back to Adobe if I were permanently moored? No. Certainly not for video editing. Davinci Resolve is vastly superior software which meets my needs. That makes the rest of the Creative Cloud expensive. Money that can be directed more productively into other projects.

 


[1] Apple was becoming a de facto standard in Hollywood alongside big names like Avid. Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now) edited Cold Mountain on Apple G4s with Final Cut Pro. But Apple decided to completely rework FCP and pissed off almost every user in the world. Adobe lumbered along and picked up many of the pieces, but not to anyone’s great joy.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Mike, for a superb Consumer Report. I’m spoiled rotten, I guess, by using only the Adobe PDF reader (free) and Word’s fairly new ability to save a .docx as a .pdf.

    I see a pattern in your latest posts, to which I’d respond, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who classify the world’s population into two kinds, and those who don’t.” Philosophical riddle: if you declare yourself to be of the latter kind, are you (by implication at least) guilty of oxymoron?

    Unk
    1. Haha! There was a time that consultants would tell you every business problem could be represented on a 2×2 matrix. You just had to figure out what each axis meant. This kind of over simplification is known in sales as the reduction to the ridiculous. Something true morons appreciate more than oxymorons. Needless to say, many kilobucks of consulting changed hands.

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