Reach for Your Wallet
My previous post was on November 28, the last day of Adobe's 2008 fourth quarter. As it turned out, both events had something in common—the responsibility of designers to move their profession forwards. The first involved an investment in time. The second, money.
In This Is Not Happening! I quoted Rachel Andrew and Kevin Yank, the authors of Everything You Know About CSS Is Wrong!, who stated that site designers should learn the capabilities of Internet Explorer 8 and create sites that take advantage of it as soon as IE8 ships, while still maintaining compatibility for older browsers. Hello, endless extra hours of coding.
The reason? "When we told Microsoft we needed it to improve Internet Explorer, we were making a bargain with the software giant: 'You improve the browser to make our lives easier, and we'll build the sites that take full advantage of it, giving your users a reason to upgrade.' Microsoft has done its part, now it's our turn."
On December 3 Adobe issued a press release indicating that fourth-quarter earnings were lower than expected, with the result that it will lay off 600 employees, a startling 8% of its workforce. A savvy response to the general softening of the economy? Not quite. The press release singled out exactly what triggered this: "The Company cited weaker-than-expected demand for its new Creative Suite 4 family of products that began shipping in Q4 in North America and Europe as the main cause for the shortfall in fourth quarter revenue."
How many first-time purchasers of the Creative Suite and its individual applications are there left, at this point? Precious few. This is a mature market, so individuals and firms that need these apps already have them and in many cases standardized on them back in the 90s. So what this comes down to is that users aren't upgrading to CS4 as fast as Adobe had anticipated.
At this point everyone can weigh in with their theory about why this is the case. An argument can be made that CS3 users are still digesting the new functionality brought by that iteration and so are waiting out this rev. CS3 was the first version of the Suite to be created with Intel-based Macs in mind, so one could also reason that Mac users made a big leap from their old versions to CS3 and are quite happy with its capabilities. Or you could go the monetary route and say that CS4, coming just a year and half after CS3, represents too big an investment of both time and money to purchase and master, coupled with the perennial complaint about upgrades being too expensive (they're not cheap, it's true). Some might even say that there's not enough new functionality to warrant the move to CS4, although I challenge anyone following Photoshop Product Manager John Nack's blog to defend that position—the amount of innovation within just Photoshop alone is staggering.
Can there be too much innovation? This upgrade resistance reminds of the mid-90s, when Corel Corp. became addicted to the cash surge created by yearly updates of its flagship CorelDRAW application. The result was that users went from initial euphoria with new releases to eventual exhaustion, shunning upgrades to the degree that Corel pulled back on pushing the development envelope and CorelDRAW gradually faded away as a tool to be taken seriously by designers and illustrators. Could the same thing happen to the Suite in general and specifically (horrors) Photoshop?
Adobe has pursued many directions in recent years, most notably in its efforts to establish itself as a major player in the application developmentnt arena, going head to head with heavyweights Microsoft and Google. Such efforts require a massive amount of resources, with bottom-line benefits often not fast to follow. One wonders what effect the departure of 600 employees will have on the future of the Suite. In the same release, Shantanu Narayen, president and chief executive officer, stated that “We have taken action to reduce our operating costs and fine-tune the focus of our resources on key strategic priorities.” A good sense of what that fine-tuned focus means for Adobe's graphics customers should be provided in its December 16 earnings conference call.
But to return to the manifesto of Rachel Andrew and Kevin Yank. The brutal fact is that if the graphics and design community is too slow to embrace CS4, Adobe may well have no option but to scale back development of future versions of the Suite. We've handed Adobe a virtual monopoly to provide us with the tools we rely on for our profession. So it's not like we can jump ship to a competitor. Taking the edge off fresh capabilities of Suites to come is simply not in our best interest. Instead, we should be encouraging Adobe to provide new, truly useful, affordable functionality that will provide fresh ways for print and web designers to better meet the needs of their clients, for photographers to enhance their photos more effectively, for artists to more fully express themseves, and so on.
So, what's your bright idea, you may be thinking at this point? Well, as a CS2 Premium Suite owner, I'm one of the guilty ones. The new stuff in CS4 is compelling, no doubt about it, but until now I've been sitting on my hands. However, last week changed everything. So I'm belatedly pulling out my wallet and upgrading, taking advantage of an upgrade price of $599 that Adobe is offering, in lieu of $799 (ouch), until February 28, 2009. I'm guessing that it might be a while before we see CS5, by which time the upgrade price may well be beyond my means. And if the uptake for CS4 remains tepid, perhaps CS5 will provide only a relatively modest advance in functionality. If so, don't blame me—I did my bit. How about you?