Thursday, April 29, 2010

Roadshow weary

Yesterday I attended the latest Adobe Creative Suite Roadshow, this one touting version 5 of their industry-standard graphic design suite. The event itself left me completely underwhelmed, even if the software itself has some attractive features. I doubt I’ll attend another.

I’ve been attending these Adobe events for many, many years. In the early days, they did “Tips and Tricks” shows with the days clearly broken up into various strata: Print design on one, web in another, for example. One could register for one or more depending on interest, time, etc. This was great for folks who couldn’t take a whole day off or who simply didn’t want to sit through discussion of software they’d never use because they or their employer didn’t do that sort of work. Although the purpose of the shows was clearly to provide a reason for users to upgrade to the latest version of Adobe’s software, attendees got a lot of useful information.

Things aren’t as customer-friendly anymore. Around the time Adobe introduced Creative Suite, it switched to the current Roadshow format. One must now register for the entire day and can’t find out the agenda until one shows up for the 9am registration. The event goes on until 4:30pm, with an hour for lunch from 1pm to 2pm. It’s a long day.

Last time and this time, the morning was taken first with video (Adobe Premier and After Effects), which, while sometimes interesting, was of no relevance to me: I don’t do professional video and won’t be buying that software unless I win Lotto. About this time I was thinking I was wasting a day.

The morning break came next. Every Adobe event I’ve ever been to offered tea and coffee to attendees—but not this time. Maybe they saw it as cutting costs, I saw it as a miserly and misguided move that pissed me off: They wanted me to spend up to $1500 to upgrade my software, but they couldn’t be bothered to give me a small cup of coffee?

The next session was all about Flash, really, with references to general web design using Dreamweaver. I’ve never done anything in Flash, and it’s highly improbable I will, except maybe for some playing around. Still, their Flash Catalyst sounded interesting in that it promises to allow designers like me to create Flash elements without knowing how to write code. I don’t know that I’d ever use it, though.

Next came lunch, and I hightailed it out of there. I seriously thought about flagging the rest of the day—the morning had been such a waste. But, I went back (the afternoon was about the software I use). I was a little late getting back (not that I minded). InDesign has a few tweaks here and there, a few changes, but nothing earth shattering. Photoshop’s main tweaks were a really cool content-aware fill that will absolutely make removing elements from photos easier (if it works in the real world as well as in the demos), and a new “puppet” tool that allows elements in photos to be re-positioned.

Overall, the main changes are that Creative Suite is now 64-bit, to maximise use of both the latest Macintosh and Windows operating systems. They said that Photoshop was completely rewritten to make it 64-bit. All of which is good. This change is really what justifies calling this a new version—if it can be called that at all.

Based on features alone, this is more of a version tweak, it seemed to me, than a new version; but if it can be called that, what about version 4? Despite my initial enthusiasm for version 4, I came to believe that it was really just an enhancement of version 3, and didn’t deserve to be considered—and charged as—a complete upgrade. Anecdotally, I’ve heard many users saw version 4 the same way I did, especially considering it came out during the recession, and it was not a success (a show of hands revealed about a third of attendees were using version 4—half of them if you’re really optimistic—the rest, like me, were using version 3 or below).

Despite being underwhelmed, I’ll be upgrading not because of the new features, nice as some of them are, but because if I don’t, I’ll have to buy the whole thing over again (at 2 to 3 times the upgrade price) when version 6 comes out next year; okay, that’s a bit sarcastic, Adobe may wait a bit longer, but it's been using the far-too-frequent upgrade model to get customers to buy upgrades over and over and over. I know they need to make money, and they’re selling to a mature, saturated market, but they really need to stop calling mere tweaks “upgrades” and using that to justify charging high upgrade prices. We’re customers, not cash cows.

I also noticed that the Apple iPad was never mentioned even once, and the iPhone only once, even though Adobe kept pushing the importance of making designs usable on mobile devices (the only phone specifically mentioned by them was Google’s). This is apparently because iPads don’t support Flash. Adobe has its knickers in a twist over that, when it really ought to be more concerned that changes to the HTML language may very well make Flash obsolete. Print designers, who need to produce publications readable on mobile devices, need help, support and advice from Adobe, not casual dismissal because the company’s pissed off with Apple.

As for the Roadshow itself, it’s been in decline for years. I remember a time there were tables and tables of vendors selling related products, software upgrades and more. This time, there were four: Wacom (with a couple high-end tablets on display), Renaissance/Magnum Mac (selling upgrades for ordinary users at nearly $1600—easily $500 higher than other sellers in New Zealand), Telecom NZ subsidiary Gen-I (they had display boxes of Adobe software, but I was unclear what they were doing there), and a company selling software and laptops to students/teachers. There was nobody offering “show specials” (apart, maybe from the student/teacher versions), and only one vendor flyer (from Wacom) was in the cheap bags handed out to attendees (same bags as last year). In fact, Adobe didn’t even bother to put a copy of the agenda into the bags this year, and instead taped a couple copies on the wall.

This is not a positive review because Adobe gave me very little to be positive about. The day was long, offered me nothing of any real value or any information that I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere, including from videos on their own site. It’s unlikely I’ll attend one of these Roadshows again, and not even offering a small free cup of coffee could change that.


Unknown said...

Wow. Tell us what you Really Think.

toujoursdan said...

Good review. I had to wonder where Adobe was going.

I used Photoshop and Premier (for video) until I found completely free equivalents that were actually user friendlier. I also got rid of Adobe Acrobat and use an alternative because of that uber-annoying upgrade feature that doesn't go away even after you upgrade. Acrobat seems to often make the list of most irritating software. I imagine once HTML5 enters the mainstream, Flash will be history too.

Good riddance.

Arthur Schenck said...

Sandra: Believe me, it's a very good thing I didn't comment the evening afterwards: I wouldn't have been nearly as kind.

toujoursdan: I'm pretty much chained to Adobe because of the industry standards that are built aroubd Adobe products. Your reference to HTML5 was exactly what I was getting at—thanks!

Mark in Canada said...

A few years ago I abandoned Adobe products altogether. The technical communication world used to revolve around their FrameMaker, which is archaic and very difficult to learn. There's nothing intuitive about FrameMaker. Adobe also bought RoboHelp and abandoned it for years. I've replaced both with Madcap Flare, which is not perfect but definitely a step up. Adobe products are also bloated with features.

Arthur Schenck said...

In the printing and publishing trades (production side), Adobe products are still THE standard, and quite frankly I can't see that changing any time soon.

However, there's a growing rebellion against Flash (and against Apple, too, actually, so it's not folks picking sides) and a move to more open-source publishing solutions. If this trend continues, Adobe will be in deep trouble.