Editor’s Warning: This post violates the Gazette’s longstanding prohibition against articles that are Content Free©, and should be considered borderline geeky. OTOH, you may be geekier than you think or admit. Eh, whatever. Read it or don’t. We’re giving up on trying to enforce pretty much anything around here and are going to work for ChatGPT in hopes of getting in good with our AI overlords while we still can.
Sheesh. Who knew editors could be so sensitive? Anyway…
I don’t recall when I started using software created by Adobe Corporation, but I’m pretty sure it was in the mid-to-late 1990s. I seem to remember having installation disks for Photoshop 3.0, which hit the market in 1994 (here’s a really good historical timeline for Photoshop since its creation in 1988). At some point thereafter, I started using Adobe Acrobat, and around that same time I began using GoLive (which was eventually replaced by Dreamweaver when Adobe acquired it from Macromedia) to supplement my hand-coding of websites. For the first decade of the 21st century, I basically lived in those three applications after leaving corporate dronehood and trying my hand at the freelance web development game.
Even after being enticed back into the corporate world by the promise of better-than-minimum-wage work, I continued to use Photoshop and Acrobat, and Dreamweaver to a lesser extent, for personal projects such as this blog, as well as in a series of volunteer positions with various organizations. My exceedingly ample humility prevents me from characterizing myself as a power user, but for the purposes for which I needed them, I was pretty darned adept.
Adobe eventually put these apps into its Creative Suite bundle until 2013 when it rolled out its Creative Cloud, the all-encompassing master bundle of Adobe applications that provides access to them plus additional services as Adobe moved to a Software As A Service (SaaS) model. If that term is unfamiliar to you, it simply means that the applications and services don’t reside on your computer, they’re accessed via the Cloud (it’s all very Matrixy, IYKWIM). It also means, in the case of Adobe, that your ability to access them is contingent on paying a monthly or annual subscription fee. Stop paying and you lose access to the applications.
I won’t bother going into the pros and cons of this approach, but I will say that for someone like me who is no longer using Adobe software in a business, the economics were hard to justify. I was paying just under $60/month to essentially support a hobby, so I started looking around for alternatives that made more sense.
Oh, did I also mention that Photoshop had developed the nasty habit of completely shutting down my computer at random moments, an affliction that Adobe knew about and had no solution for.
Although I had access to more than a dozen applications via the Creative Cloud subscription, I used only two of them on a regular basis: Photoshop and Acrobat. If you do a search for alternatives to either of those apps, you’ll be presented with a dizzying list of choices. I began to weed through those that looked promising on the basis of the three most important criteria: MacOS compatibility, one-time cost (no more subscriptions for me, but I was willing to pay a nominal one-time charge for quality software instead of ad-supported freeware), and, of course, features.
After reading a lot of reviews and a undergoing a bit of agonizing about the prospect of letting go of decades of acquired skills, I settled on two new applications: Affinity Photo 2 ($69.99) as a Photoshop replacement, and Nitro PDF Pro ($179.99) in place of Acrobat. It’s worth noting in passing that both of these applications are also available with subscription pricing, and Affinity Photo can also be bundled with the company’s vector graphics app (Designer, a replacement for Adobe’s Illustrator program) and a desktop publishing app, creatively named Publisher.
I downloaded the free trial versions of both applications in March and put them through their paces, and after a few weeks, I decided that each would work for my needs. I let my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription lapse at the end of March, and I’ve not looked back.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been some bumps in the road with Photo 2 (Nitro PDF Pro was an instantaneous perfect replacement for Acrobat). While much of the underlying “philosophy” of the app is similar to that of Photoshop — for example, the concept of layers works pretty much the same in both — and even some of the keyboard shortcuts are identical, there are also some significant differences in the workflow. I’ve spent quite a bit of time searching the online help for terms such as “how do I ___________?” Fortunately, the help feature is surprisingly, you know, helpful.
There are some minor inconveniences in Photo 2, such as not being able to specify percentages when resizing the dimensions of an image or the canvas. Another annoyance is that the color chooser is built primarily on sliders and gradients, and doesn’t provide the simple color grid option that allows you to easily match a color that you’ve used previously, or to easily pick web safe colors (although that last thing is not really a big deal anymore).
One thing that Photo 2 shares with Photoshop is that has built into it an astounding set of features that someone smarter than me surely knows how to use, and actually uses, but which I’ll never use. But “never” is a scary word, and I should never use it.
Photo 2 supports CMYK, and also has RAW image processing capabilities. I don’t work with either of those systems at present, although the RAW processing could become relevant if I ever buy another DSLR.
Another Photo 2 feature that might ease the worries of anyone thinking about switching is that it opens Photoshop .psd files without losing any of the work done to them…layers show up intact and with blending modes active. That eliminates worries about losing access to legacy files.
And, last but certainly not least, Photo 2 is very responsive…much quicker than Photoshop ever was, and not prone to crashes.
Now, out of fairness to Adobe, one benefit of a subscription, cloud-based model is that the company can continually roll out new features and fix bugs (doesn’t mean they will, of course; see above) without requiring you to download new software. I have no way of knowing whether Affinity is committed to continual improvement like that, although they have already rolled out Photo 2 as a free upgrade and with a bunch of new features. But at this point, it does what I want it to do, and does it well, and I think I’d be content with that even if nothing else comes down the pike.
So, bottom line — if you’re dissatisfied with having to pay an ongoing significant fee for Adobe’s software, there are much less expensive alternatives. You just have to resign yourself to letting go of hard-earned skills, and going through the sometimes uncomfortable process of acquiring new ones. I won’t minimize the significance of that last issue, because at my advanced age, it’s not a lot of fun, as it cuts into my important napping time.