Back in 2010, when I started to get really annoyed that Apple was abandoning its creative pro customer base in order to focus on consumer gadgets, I bought a small HP laptop that ran the Linux operating system. I wanted to see if Linux and its associated open-source software would be a feasible replacement for my Mac workstation.
If you’ve never worked with Linux, you may not be aware of some of the issues that I discovered. The two primary ones were:
1) In Linux, programs aren’t installed the way they are under Mac or Windows: first, you have to find an online “repository” that contains the software you want, install the repository (which acts sort of like a catalog or index), and then you can go into the repository and select the applications you want to run on your system.
2) The biggest obstacle I encountered was dealing with “restricted formats.” Linux is open-source, and in order to stay free, it can’t contain any copyrighted intellectual property. This includes the code required to play common video files. In theory, installing a media player and associated codec libraries would be easy. It isn’t.
I’m old enough to remember running programs off 5.25″ floppy disks. The idea of having to locate and tie into remote repositories in order to install software is, frankly, quite unappealing. I like to physically own what I pay for, and I don’t like to be dependent on internet connections. I especially don’t like wasting time trying to make simple functions like video playback work properly.
For all the same reasons, I was less than thrilled to hear Adobe’s recent announcement that all future versions of their Creative Suite of applications would be exclusively available on the cloud.
However, this similarity of approach – “repository” and “cloud” – makes me wonder … Could Adobe be considering making their software available for the Linux OS.
There’s historical precedent for my query. Originally, Adobe applications ran exclusively on the Mac OS. But, in the early ’90s, Adobe started releasing versions not only for Windows, but also for NeXT, Silicone Graphics, and Sun Solaris. None of those alternate operating systems had the longevity or the market share that Linux does today.
So, they’ve done it before. Would they have reason to do it again?
In my opinion, Apple has answered that question. Remember the furor that erupted in 2008 when Apple locked Adobe Flash out of the iPhone? At that time, Flash had become the dominant format for interactive websites. Customers WANTED to be able to use Flash on their iPhones, but the ability to run web apps on Flash websites was a threat to the Apple App Store business model, so Apple refused. In other words, Apple leveraged the popularity of their new product to seriously harm a company – Adobe – that had partnered with them for close to 30 years. Would Apple ever have survived the ’80s and ’90s without Photoshop, Illustrator and Pagemaker?
More to the point, don’t you think that the folks at Adobe are well aware that Apple stabbed them in the back, after years of faithful service?
So, Apple has certainly given Adobe reason to pursue friendlier pastures. But what about Adobe’s customers? The creative professionals that use CS6 tend to be heavy Apple users as well. This is partially a function of fashion, and partially a function of history. The original Mac business model revolved around empowering users to do great work quickly and easily. Compared to Windows, Mac was the easy-going, free-thinking little guy … You installed Final Cut, and it worked. You plugged a DV camera into the firewire port, and it worked. No compatibility issues, cutting-edge software, no viruses. It was easily the best option for creative professionals.
Contrast that with the Apple of today, which offers no particular benefit to creative professionals, and has refocused its business model on locking as many casual consumers as possible into its “ecosystem” of gadgets, computers and software.
That ecosystem, by the way, infuriates me. I can buy an MP3 on Amazon.com that will play on – and freely be copied to and from – any non-Apple device. Or, for the same price, I can buy a “license” to play an identical track from iTunes that will ONLY play on an Apple device, and ONLY if it has been “authenticated” with my user name and password.
The only reason any rational human being would choose a far more restrictive version of the same product is if it’s easier to do so. By tying iPods, iTunes, iPhones and computers together, Apple has created a path of least resistance for consumers, and it has clearly worked very well for their bottom line over the last decade.
How well it will continue to work remains to be seen.
Designers, filmmakers and photographers formed the nucleus of Apple’s customer base. And they are not typical consumers. They are early adopters, they expect to be able to do things, and they get annoyed when they can’t.
Here’s an example: a few years ago, I used Apple’s “Grab” app to pull a few images off a DVD so that I could print them out and take them to a shoot for lighting reference. On a first-generation MacBook, it was no problem. A couple of years later, I tried to do the same thing, only now when I used Grab on the DVD Player window, all Grab captured was a blank gray screen. Apple had become so diligent about digital rights management that it had voluntarily crippled its own software to keep people from “stealing” images from DVDs.
It no longer mattered what I – the customer – WANTED to do. It only mattered what the lawyers told Apple I should be ALLOWED to do. That attitude typifies the current Apple approach, and it makes me more than willing to do a little extra work to gain some measure of freedom.
I suspect that I am not alone. Look at the mass migration from Final Cut to Premiere Pro that occurred after Apple jettisoned most of Final Cut Studio and boiled what was left down into the prosumer-grade FCPX. It’s not easy to switch from one video editing platform to another, but thousands of video pros – myself included – have done so.
We didn’t abandon Apple; Apple abandoned us.
When you pull together Apple’s shift in focus from creative workstations to consumer gadgets, their short-sighted betrayal of Adobe, and their loss of everything that made them appealing to creative professionals, it’s easy to see how they are practically driving Adobe – and its legion of users – into the arms of Linux.
There’s no doubt that Linux could support Adobe apps. Pro-grade creative applications like Blender 3D, Scribus, and GIMP have been around for years. More recently – and of particular importance to filmmakers – the Lightworks NLE Linux Beta was released last month, which means that there is now a truly full-featured video editing application available for Linux.
Given the programming horsepower under the hood at Adobe HQ – and the fact that Mac OS and Linux are both derived from the UNIX architecture – there’s no way that the technical hurdles involved with releasing a Linux version of “Creative Cloud” would be much of a challenge. Given the scorched-earth policy that Apple has taken towards Adobe, it’s doubtful that Adobe lacks the motivation for a Linux version. And, to fit the third puzzle piece into place, the delivery infrastructure associated with the Creative Cloud dovetails perfectly with the Repository needs of Linux workstations.
Everything’s in place, and the time is right. Adobe, if you’re reading this, I’m ready to make the switch to Linux. And I’m not alone.