06 December 2006

What's happened to Adobe?

Adobe is a company I used to admire. I first came across them in the mid-80's when I worked at the investment bank/venture capital company that brought them public (to much fanfare). I was an early user of postscript in the first Apple laser printers which I thought was marvellous (too often I was encouraged to buy technology from one of our "investments", but this one I jumped at myself).

I've never been a user of Acrobat (though I use pdf documents all the time, and think they're great), and I've only touched Photoshop on the odd occasion.

But in the last week, I've witnessed a number of things which make me think that Adobe is no longer a company I admire and has adopted some of the dubious tactics of one or two other software companies I loathe (I'm sure I don't need to mention that one is based in Redmond, but I will).

First off, I had to install Photoshop on 2 machines. My partner had bought the upgrade package for her Photoshop a year ago, and encountered problems installing it due to licensing issues (though she was the original and only owner of the old version she had). It sat on our to-do list for a while, and then the theft of the machine put an end to that!

So, we had to get a new Photoshop license. That was as much as £199 or so for an academic license - and you had to provide serious proof for qualification as an academic - certainly far more than for Microsoft Office for example (available to education users for under £100). This package is not a universal application, and will be obsoleted in just a few months by CS3. Installing it was quite painful with many different applications getting installed, (in applications you get Adobe Bridge, Adobe Help Center, and a CS2 folder which has at least 2 applications; Adobe Reader has its own folder; in Utilities Adobe Reader Manager, Adobe Updater and an Adobe Utilities folder. I have no idea what some of these do (eg Adobe Bridge?). The installer also created two processes to be run at login - one which checks for new updates on login for all Adobe products installed. Removing the application from a Mac would be quite difficult methinks.

Now, the upgrade package was wasted, until I decided that I might at least update my own sad Photoshop v4. I had perhaps used this about twice - mainly for conversion of images, but I decided perhaps I'd try to improve some of my photos. The box made no mention of which Photoshops could be upgraded, so I tried it. The installer wanted the old license to be found, so I pointed it at the old Photoshop application. It did not want to do the upgrade. However, I found that entering the license manually gave me a fully authorised copy. My version DID install Adobe Reader version 7.0 something. After installing, the package needed to install updates as well, and this took an age. Less, than a week later, it was telling me my Adobe Reader was out of date and I needed 7.0.7.

OK, perhaps this is all a bit pedantic - after all it's a complex application. But it was my Adobe Reader experience that convinced me they have some serious problems.

My partner was experiencing difficulties with some PDF's, so to find out if it was Preview or Safari, I thought we should download Adobe Reader on her machine. It so happened this was the day that Adobe Reader 8.0 became available. Now, I tend to think of Adobe Reader as a somewhat simple application. But it has become a monster. To install it, you have to download the Adobe Reader Installer. When you install this, it in turn starts an Adobe Reader download which gives you a second installer that you must run. The application itself was over 20MB. Having installed that we noticed that it had taken over the role of displaying PDF's from Preview without asking. I opened up the application to see what was new. I always like to look at an applications Preferences as a guide to what it can do. Adobe Reader has 24 categories of preferences! Adobe has lost the plot I'm afraid. Reader should be a simple pdf viewer that the average user can understand. Anyone without a computing qualification is going to immediately turn off when they see this (incidentally, the preferences categories are just a list of text items - no icons).

Since installing all these things, I've also had to turn off and reject numerous annoying questions/reminders etc from Adobe about everything from making the application(s) default, to checking for updates, etc.

Am I being too harsh on them, or have they forgotten how to put the user first?

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michaelejahn said...

Well, if you have not purchased anything from Adobe since version 4 of Photoshop (which lets see, came out in 1996) - well I don't think Adobe loses any sleep worrting about how you feel about them or their applications. Welcome to the 2000's, where even my Phone can edit images and applications like Acrobat - bloated with tools - enables me to share my screen over the internet, post notes and review design, as well as imposrt and export metadata using XMP, and include print production processing information using JDF.

Michael Jahn
Simi Valley, CA

Ian Hobson said...

Fair enough - I'm not a target Adobe customer (though my partner is).

I guess I was trying to make 2 points:

1. Licensing of the major applications is expensive, and actually a bit of a mess - especially for users who are borderline (but would have been PS users in the past). I am certainly put off by the process and so has my partner. Not even Microsoft causes this much hassle.

2. More importantly, with Reader, they have lost their way. Sure, add features, but this is no longer an application for the common man, and that will not help Adobe maintain PDF's influence (especially with Microsoft throwing weight behind their competing Metro). To have 24 categories of Preferences - and all in text - no icons - is just ridiculous. And, I'm not the only one to point out the ludicrous installation procedure of downloading one application which is an installer which then downloads the application - a most un-Mac like installation process and also one which leaves things dotted around and as start-ups and plugins without asking you.

If Adobe Reader requires a manual to use it, that IMHO makes it irrelevant for the average person, and Adobe needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with something for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

It's not the feature bloat that concerns me particularly, it's the fact that the application no longer works properly. Well, Reader 7, anyway, which played merry hell with my defaults and used processor when idle and (if I recall correctly, because I gave up on it about a year ago) installed strange things in strange places and just generally made a mess. Preview works for the vast majority of PDFs and is much, much simpler.

Anonymous said...

I've also discovered that Preview can fix pdf's that Arcobat cannot. And I hate how it seems every five minutes its either sending details back to adobe.com and they keep changing the toolbars so its impossible to figure out what you're doing or how to crop a pdf if you're switching between machines. I've started using graphicconverter instead of photoshop and pdfpenpro and pdfenhancer (both which are universal and $30-40), and the free product pdfpreview instead of acrobat.

Scott Redleter said...

This is the problem when a company turns into a monopoly. I have been using Adobe products for 20 years and always loved their products, but now they just don't care anymore. They try to rip you off when you buy from them online (double charging... like I wasn't going to notice the second $700 charge... then it takes two months of fighting with some guy in India about getting a refund for the second charge).
To be honest, I probably wouldnt care much if their products were still the state of the art, but they're not, they are just the only game in town so they suck money out of their customers with useless updates that don't improve the product. Infact they take a big step backward because thier only goal now is to grab more money, so they put out completely buggy software.
Maybe this is just what happens to companies when the econpmy takes a header... like Toyota...
I make my living off the software that they make, so I guess I just have to deal with it until another company comes along and reminds Adobe that their boss is all of us out here... and we are not happy wth the way things are going.

A.Kuemmel said...

To me,
This is absolutely crazy.
Adobe is one of the forefathers
of technically sound products,
or used to be.
Maybe they should not have gotten involved with the Flash thing.
InDesign was also not as hot as competitor Quark Xpress, over a number of years.
In some ways they seem to be hoist by their own petard.
What a pity!