Is Adobe Losing The Plot?

Simon wonders aloud if Adobe are losing their way. Stability, pricing and interface issues seem to be affecting the way Adobe is perceived in the marketplace.

Adobe logoAdobe, the towering behemoth of creative software, is having a slightly rough time of it of late, with accusations of bloated software and general laurel-resting.

It wasn't always thus. There are numerous reasons why Photoshop, for instance, is the must-have image manipulation tool among pro designers and photographers. It's relatively stable, feature-filled and supports multiple colour modes, to name but three.

Photoshop is the cornerstone of the Adobe empire. Without that one piece of software and its market dominance Adobe wouldn't be half the company it is. Coupled with Illustrator, the vector drawing tool, Photoshop underpins everything the company does. So what seems to be going wrong?

  • For one, the interface. Adobe has standardised on a weird flash-based interface that's standard across all the software and across platforms. It just doesn't seem to be popular. Most of the designers I know seem to thoroughly dislike it, either because they feel it's ugly, or because it feels alien to the platform they're working on. Mac users especially seem to find the deeply un-Mac-like nature of the new interface disconcerting.
  • Pricing. The Creative Suites are really expensive, and getting more so. The full version of the Web Premium suite will set you back over $1500 USD. That's very expensive software. Plus the overseas editions are epically overpriced. The same suite in the UK is now nearly £1800 GBP. At today's exchange rate that should be more like £960. Where did that extra £800 come from exactly?! Even accounting for UK tax at 15%, the pricing seems simply cynical.
  • Upgrades and customer support. Recently, there was a furore over on John Nack's blog about the fact that Adobe wouldn't patch the CS3 suite to work with Snow Leopard, the new iteration of the Mac OS. It's basically fine, but there's no official support from Adobe, which left a bitter taste in the mouths of people who spent such a lot of money only the year before. No, Adobe don't have to patch old software when new operating systems come out, but for the kind of money described above, they should, if they want to retain customers. Adobe users often "leapfrog" releases, so as to keep costs down and keep in step with printers and other suppliers, and these people simply have no choice, so finding themselves out in the cold is very unsettling.
  • Stability and features. Anecdotally, the software seems to be getting less stable with each release. Here's a couple of (related) posts from fairly respected members of the community: Jon Hicks and Merlin Mann. I'm going to be honest. I never use many of the new features even of Photoshop CS3. 3D layers? Does anyone use that? It feels to me like Adobe are inventing features no-one really needs, more as marketing points than anything else. Plus it's sloooooooow.

Hobson's choice

So, after all that moaning, why do we all use it? The simple answer is that we have to. If you're even remotely serious about design, print, photography, web development etc, you're going to need at least one or two Adobe apps on your system. There's simply no competition post the Adobe/Macromedia merger in 2005.

I would love to see serious professional competition for Adobe in the graphics arena. It should have been Corel, but they seem content to produce deeply average software and to not compete with Adobe. And no, GIMP does not count. Not at all.

Instead, the most interesting things I've seen have come from small developers like Pixelmator. This is a Mac-only Photoshop clone that costs only $59. It's solid, sexy and very fast. If I absolutely had to, I could definitely make a website with it. Indeed, if you're on the Mac, and unless you're a pro, I would absolutely recommend that you buy this instead of Photoshop.

Let's hope Adobe are just a tiny little bit scared.

How do you feel about Adobe right now? Let's hear from you! Post a response below.

[Photo: / CC BY 2.0]

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Responses to this article

12 responses (oldest first):

08-Oct-09 23:08
Nice article Si! I haven't used Photoshop CS4 myself but even CS3's interface is a bit too "quirky" for my tastes (with the whole palette dock business).

Adobe's in an interesting position in the industry. Having swallowed up Macromedia it's having to focus in a lot of disparate areas, and I wonder if it's just becoming too fragmented as a company:

* Photo manipulation/design
* Print design and print publishing
* Web design
* Web development

It strikes me that they're turning into a jack of all trades, master of none. I mean, how can you be the best in the world at print publishing software *and* at web development platforms?

I see that they're now really starting to push Flash as a mobile development platform too:,_and_Adobes_big_device_push

So that's yet another thing they're trying to get into.

With all this going on I'm not surprised that their "less exciting" apps such as Photoshop are suffering. Adobe currently seems much more interested in the web/mobile app development arena. They can't be the best in everything all at the same time.

15-Oct-09 06:07
The other big question of course: Will Adobe succeed in getting Flash onto the iPhone?

I don't agree with everything in that article - I'd say Flash is a nice cross-platform way to build simple, graphical apps - but maybe he has a point with "Flash's grip on the browser is slipping". Apple and others are really pushing HTML5, and I can see Flash becoming more and more marginalised in the next few years...

15-Oct-09 15:29
Personally, I've taken to using Gimp ( and Inkscape ( rather than having to relearn the interface every time a new version appears and pay a lot of money for the privilege
15-Oct-09 22:48
I used to use Gimp a fair bit, though I haven't played with Inkscape yet. Gimp is pretty powerful and can do most of the things a professional designer needs. However, despite Photoshop's little quirks and foibles I've always found it more comfortable to use than Gimp. Maybe it's just what you're used to.

I know Simon hates Gimp so no doubt he'll chime in on this

16-Oct-09 09:54
You know what? To be all fair and nice, I downloaded GIMP before I answered this. Not only has the UI been designed by sandal-wearing longhairs on acid, but I can't even work out how to make a new file!

And THAT, is why Gimp will always be a fail for any use other than hippies fiddling around on Linux.

16-Oct-09 13:34
Now come on Simon, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think

Yeah I suppose the UI may be a little arcane, possibly.
16-Oct-09 23:00
"I can't even work out how to make a new file"

Err... File > New by any chance?!

24-Oct-09 10:02
There. is. no. file. menu.

Seriously, where is it? Clearly there must be one somewhere, but it's not where it should be!

24-Oct-09 10:15
Aah. Hang on. The menus are at the window level! When I first launched it I didn't get the initial little window that offered me a menu, instead giving me just the vertical palettes.

Aaaargh! But now, I click on the text tool, click in the new file, and I can't type! Oh, wait, I double click, then enter my text in a wee popup, and hit the intuitively named "Close" to actually put that in my document window. And the antialiasing! What are they thinking?

Kill me, kill me now. I'm sorry, but anyone that uses this is a masochistic miser. It absolutely falls into that open-source trap of appearing to be useful, but actually being a time-sucking, slow, buggy abomination. No-one with an actual job to do should ever use this.

Awful, awful software.

11-Nov-09 03:17
Adobe are laying off 680 staff:

You can only hope that some of them go on to make better software.

16-Nov-09 10:11
This is more a help request than a comment, but it relates to Adobe. I had cs4 installed on my Vista machine. No problems. I wiped the machine and installed Win 7 enterprise. Now, when I try to install cs4, after the 1 hour two disk install marathon, I get a message saying "done, with errors" on all the main apps (Acrobat 9pro and some other minor things do install successfully). Adobe support advisor leads me to some articles that suggest reg edit fixes (something about color management in one), but I'm not looking forward to going down that road. Has anyone heard of this problem. Since Adobe has articles on it it must be out there. Is adobe coming out with a fix. One last note: I set up a virtual machine within the win 7 system running xp and got the same error. As I implied at the beginning these disks worked fine on this machine with vista.
16-Nov-09 10:54
Hi Johnny,

Sorry, I don't know about that one. There's a forum post about it here though:


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