My next blog post was going to be some pictures from a recent trip, but an announcement yesterday from Adobe has superseded that intention. It relates to a major application which not just I, but many photographers worldwide use to manage and process our images, Lightroom. While I have Photoshop, I find that I rarely venture into it nowadays. Lightroom has its limitations, but Adobe has provided a sufficient range of adjustments to allow quick and easy processing for most purposes.
Adobe’s statement is both significant and controversial. It marks the next stage in its transition from applications running on users’ own computers to accessing data and functionality via the Internet. Access can still be from a conventional computer, but equally from a mobile phone or tablet. So called cloud computing, in other words. As part of that, in future users will no longer store images on their own machines. Instead, they will be online in the Cloud.
Until now, Lightroom has been available in three differing forms. Originally, at its introduction in 2007 it came solely as standalone software with a perpetual licence. Users paid once and could use it for as long as they wished. That was the usual software supply method back then and is still the one many consumers favour. Over the years, Adobe added many significant enhancements. By version 4 it had matured into a strong and versatile product, with two major iterations since. Compared to what had gone before, the updates in those later releases were relatively minor.
In 2015, Adobe made a fundamental change to the traditional software pricing model. It announced that future versions of its main applications would only be available by paying a monthly subscription as part of its Creative Cloud initiative. Lightroom was an exception. There was both a standalone edition (Lightroom 6) and a Creative Cloud version (Lightroom CC). Adobe committed to provide updates to Lightroom 6 to support new cameras and fix bugs, but new functionality would only made be available for Lightroom CC. There have been some useful additions to Lightroom CC in the past couple of years, but in essence the two versions are very similar.
During this period, Adobe also introduced Lightroom Mobile, a foray into cloud computing which allowed users to control and manipulate their images from their mobile phone or tablet. As it turns out, this was a harbinger for the way Adobe wants to operate in the future.
The significance of the announcement is that it marks a major shift towards the Cloud Computing model. The details are widely available across the Internet and as this is an opinion piece I will only summarise the main specifics.
- Updates for Lightroom 6 will cease after the end of 2017. There will be no Lightroom 7 and the sole options to run up to date, supported software will be by paying a monthly subscription.
- Lightroom CC becomes Lightroom Classic CC. The main change is a revision to the code to make the application run faster, although there are other improvements. As before, users install the software to run on their own machines.
- There is a new Lightroom CC, which only runs in the Cloud with image files stored there as well. At present, the new Lightroom CC does not have the same range of functions as its Classic sibling, but that will change over time.
Adobe’s Lightroom Strategy
What Adobe has done is commence the move away from purely supplying software to the provision of a service. Moreover, that is where it sees the future and it will be encouraging its users to migrate. Inevitably that will be the cause of controversy. Many individuals dislike the idea of the idea of making regular payments for something which stops working when they cease paying. With image files also held in Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the tie in to Adobe becomes that much greater.
In my case, the shift to paying a monthly subscription for Creative Cloud applications was a straightforward step. I was keeping my software up to date, so my expenditure was not much different to what it had been previously. Adobe also made it easy by offering an attractive price for the Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC package as I had a licence for Photoshop CS6. Life continued very much as it had done previously.
In a way, nothing has changed with Adobe’s announcement. Except everything has. In future I will be using a “classic” version of Lightroom. In just over two years, Adobe has gone from having standalone software to none. How soon will it decide that it no longer wishes to update two versions of Lightroom? Have no doubt, Adobe sees its future running everything in the Cloud. Like any other business, it wants to increase its revenues and it will do so by expanding the range of services it provides. As part of that, it will do all it can to encourage its customers to migrate to the new platform. It is the strategy to which Adobe has committed, whatever its customers might think or prefer.
It is not necessarily bad news. Storing images locally on my main machine is sometimes inconvenient. I work on some of them while I am away, then have to reapply the adjustments to the master copy on my desktop machine when I return. There are advantages to having my images in one place, accessing them from anywhere with an Internet connection. Then there is the issue of backing up. I keep multiple copies, but it is inconvenient to keep up to date copies either offsite or in the Cloud. If I store everything there, those issues become someone else’s responsibility.
For me, it comes down to three main considerations. Control, cost and security. Allowing Adobe to store my images means that it is harder to move away if I wish to. The time and effort I have expended both in creating a catalog and learning the software increases that lock in. I am surrendering a considerable element of control in exchange for convenience. When it comes to expenditure, I have no doubt that Cloud storage will cost more in the long term than buying new disks for my computer.
Security is another important factor. Can I trust Adobe to protect my images? That is a far from trivial question as I still remember the infamous hack during the early days of Creative Cloud. I was one of those whose personal details were stolen. Moreover, Adobe was not proactive in advising me and I had to make a phone call with a long time on hold to establish the facts. The person I eventually spoke to told me two things. The most surprising was that Adobe had failed to implement industry standard security. I was also advised that I would receive a year’s membership of a credit reference agency. That never happened, a concern at the time as the purpose was to to check whether my details had been compromised.
Is It Time To Switch?
This is not the first time that photography has seen a major technology change. The introduction of digital imaging was the cause of much angst for some and Adobe’s move to a subscription model was similar, if less dramatic. In 10 to 20 years’ time, cloud computing will probably be commonplace, standalone computers considered antiquated relics. Already we have adapted to conducting our affairs online and this is an extension of that. People might well look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.
We are not there yet. For the time being I will migrate to Lightroom Classic CC once I am satisfied that the software is stable. Adobe has made some fundamental changes to the underlying processing and has not always had the best track record when it comes to software development. More than once it has introduced flaws which it really should have discovered in testing. Customers should not discover faults within a day or so of release as has happened in the past.
In the meantime, I will be watching developments and considering my options. The new Lightroom CC does not yet have a sufficient range of functions to make switching worthwhile. That will change and I would be amazed if Adobe did not prioritise its efforts there. The term “classic” is not encouraging in that regard. It implies that the company considers it legacy software which it will no longer develop and eventually not support either. The situation will become clearer over time, but whatever happens I will need to be able to process my images. Other companies are certain to take advantage of the uncertainty caused by Adobe’s move to offer their own alternatives. This is a big opportunity for them. You can be sure that I will be checking them out and posting any relevant updates on this blog.