One Hand Slapping

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Adobe Systems, the world's leading supplier of graphical software, is gradually shifting its business to a subscription model, baiting customers with features and tools available only to Creative Cloud subscribers. Among the first of these is Edge Reflow, which Adobe expects to become a must-have for Web designers—just as Photoshop, Illustrator and other tools in Adobe's Creative Suite are long-standing must-haves for many photographers and graphic designers. The difference is that you own Creative Suite when you buy it. You only rent Creative Cloud when you subscribe to it.

Microsoft has been doing the same thing with Office 365. Originally built for enterprise customers, Office 365 now is available for "home" customers as well. "Your complete Office in the cloud", will work on "up to 5 PCs or Macs", and is priced at $99.99/year or $9.99/month. That's competitive with the price of Microsoft's boxed Office software, which becomes stale as soon as the next major version comes out. And, like Adobe's Creative Cloud, Office 365 baits customers with lots of features lacking in the old-fashioned sold versions of the suite.

What both want you to rent is SaaS: Software as a Service.

The tide of history is with them. Nicholas G. Carr's The Big Switch accurately predicted a shift to "computing as a utility" back in 2004, long before utility services became known as "the cloud". This always has made sense for enterprises, which can save IT costs by renting software as well as compute and data storage services. We also have a model for SaaS at the individual level, in the form of smartphone apps that are either user interfaces for cloud-based services or highly tethered to clouds for updates and data flows. While Wikipedia lists a few open-source iOS and Android apps, those are just drops in an ocean of proprietary apps and services.

In fact, even the packages of boxware you buy from Adobe and Microsoft are less owned than licensed. The collection of bits that come in a box, or are downloaded from a virtual store, are not tangible property. Instead, what you have is a bundle of rights for usage, governed by a seller to which the software remains attached by a service contract. So, the thinking then goes, why bother with old-fashioned ownership at all? Why not just rent?

We already rent many other things in the digital world, such as domain names. Here at Linux Journal, we don't own LinuxJournal.com. We rent it. The same goes for all the other domain names in the world. Every one is rented for finite periods of time. They can be bought or sold, but they can be possessed only so long as the owner keeps paying a domain registrar for the right to use them exclusively—meaning we rent them.

Changing software into a subscription business is a slippery slope down which control of software moves from individual owners to corporate suppliers.

Predictably and correctly, Richard M. Stallman began saying "the cloud" was "a trap" in 2008 (in this Guardian interview). Here's a sample:

But there has been growing concern that mainstream adoption of cloud computing could present a mixture of privacy and ownership issues, with users potentially being locked out of their own files.

Stallman, who is a staunch privacy advocate, advised users to stay local and stick with their own computers.

"One reason you should not use Web applications to do your computing is that you lose control", he said. "It's just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else's Web server, you're defenseless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software."

Free software and open-source principles and methods don't fit well with cloud-based models of software development, deployment and money-making.

One name for the end-state of this shift is the "subscription economy". Here at Linux Journal, we've been living in the subscription economy, as have all subscription periodicals. We also have done our best from the start to make our goods as free (as in freedom) as possible. We're not perfect at that, and we may never be, but free is where we come from. (In fact Linux Journal originally was conceived, way back in 1993, as a free software magazine.) Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world lacks the same consciousness. Instead, the general consciousness has moved backward in time. In "When It Comes to Security, We're Back to Feudalism", Bruce Schneier says we "pledge allegiance to the united states of convenience" when we become "vassals" to the "feudal lord" called Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. He explains:

Feudalism provides security. Classical medieval feudalism depended on overlapping, complex, hierarchical relationships. There were oaths and obligations: a series of rights and privileges. A critical aspect of this system was protection: vassals would pledge their allegiance to a lord, and in return, that lord would protect them from harm....And it's this model that's starting to permeate computer security today.

Traditional computer security centered around users. Users had to purchase and install anti-virus software and firewalls, ensure their operating system and network were configured properly, update their software, and generally manage their own security. This model is breaking, largely due to two developments:

1. New Internet-enabled devices where the vendor maintains more control over the hardware and software than we do—like the iPhone and Kindle; and

2. Services where the host maintains our data for us—like Flickr and Hotmail.

Now, we users must trust the security of these hardware manufacturers, software vendors and cloud providers. We choose to do it because of the convenience, redundancy, automation and shareability.

He doesn't mention the phone and cable companies that intermediate our connections over the Internet, but their hearts are feudal to the core, and their enclosure plans are clear. While on the one hand they increase speeds and give us other benefits, they also have a highly vested interest in transforming the Internet from a free and open space to an enclosed one from which rents can be extracted to the max—just like they always were in telephony and cable television. At risk is the Net itself.

Ten years ago, in my LJ article "Saving the Net", I began with this:

Who Owns What?

That's the fundamental question....Much is at stake, including Linux and its natural habitat: the Net. Both have been extraordinarily good for business. Its perceived "threat" to Microsoft and the dot-com crash are both red herrings. Take away Linux and the Net, and both technology and the economy would be a whole lot worse.

Both the Net and Linux were created, grew and flourished almost entirely outside the regulatory sphere. They are, in a literal sense, what free markets have done with their freedoms.

Yet, there are some who do not care. Unfortunately, they're driving the conversation right now. Hollywood has lawmakers and news organizations convinced that file sharing is "piracy" and "theft". Apple, Intel and Microsoft are quietly doing their deals with the Hollywood devil, crippling (or contemplating the crippling of) PC functionalities, to protect the intellectual property of "content producers".

Where we are headed is toward Hollywood's model of the Net: one where we pay on a subscription basis for everything that matters, and where everybody—creators and consumers alike—need constantly to "clear rights" for usage, whether they know that's what they're doing or not. Here's more from my "Saving the Net" article:

Two oddly allied mentalities provide intellectual air cover for these threats to the marketplace. One is the extreme comfort certain industries feel inside their regulatory environments. The other is the high regard political conservatives hold for successful enterprises. Combine the two, and you get conservatives eagerly rewarding companies whose primary achievements consist of successful long-term adaptation to highly regulated environments.

Hollywood's latest subscriber-screwing success story is the Copyright Alert System, better known as "six strikes". If your ISP's narc-ware detects what it thinks is copyright infringement happening over your Internet data flows, they can punish you. The details of both detection and punishment matter less than the fact that they are spying on your private activities and can strangle your Net connection. And they can easily do that, because they have the upper hand.

So, instead of two hands clapping, we have one hand slapping.

Linux is in that hand, because Linux is in pretty much everything. Same with the Internet. Both have won, yet the promise of freedom, which drove Linux and the Net to success, is being traded for away for convenience.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, the saying goes. And, right now, the silence is killing us.

Facepalm photo via Shutterstock.com.

______________________

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal

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I discovered your blog so far

linda89's picture

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Architec ture's picture

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Almost every company is

Tripti's picture

Almost every company is moving to subscription based model now.

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Bought photoshop CS5 for developing a website :(

Raman_blink's picture

I would have gone for this option

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Bought photoshop CS5 for developing a website :(

Raman_blink's picture

If would have known such option, I don't think we would have bought the old style one to build our site bpo jobs in delhi
I believe its cost effect + hassle free. instead of buying you simply have to rent a software piece.

Free software and open-source

annonymous's picture

Free software and open-source principles and methods don't fit well with cloud-based models of software development, deployment and money-making.

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Clouds

anti ddos's picture

I actually hate how everything "goes cloud", as it's just a marketing term in 90% of all cases to attract consumers.

Its look someone is upset.

ellem's picture

Its just amazing. How people slept in this way one off my class fellows also sleeping in this way. I have now seeing one hand motorcycle driving one hand sleeping whats the next.chill Dirtbike Gloves

Adobe vision of cloud

Andrei Nicoara's picture

I think Adobe naming their service Creative Cloud is jut marketing. It has consistency to name Photoshop CC beside CS. But the "cloud" part in the offer is for the moment very weak. 20 GB of storage, and some promises of additional functionality.

The important part is the move to a subscription model. As this article VERY well states we are moving towards a SaaS model. And this is not good at all, in general and in particular. As I see it, for graphic and web designers, the move of Adobe locks people in. Already Adobe enjoys the status as "industry standard", and now they want to cement that.
When all agencies work with Photoshop/AI/InDesign it is very hard to break from Adobe ecosystem.

For photographers the situation is a bit less dramatic, as at least for a year (I would estimate) Lightroom will remain in the classic licensing model. But already Adobe talks of additional functionality only for users of Creative Cloud. So after Lightroom 5 (now in beta) things will be less clear.

I have a few more musings about the Adobe CC move at http://andreinicoara.com/adobe-creative-cloud-why-when-and-how-does-it-a...

In the end, I want to point to (I feel) the big problem with the subscription model (in Adobe case): proprietary file formats. Image files (original and processed), video clips and final movie are of course easily moved to another app, it is not the same with the "project" files. Lightroom catalogs, Premiere projects, InDesign documents will become unavailable (or I hope at least read-only) until the user re-subscribes.

Adobe is the greatest company

Robert Bennett's picture

Adobe is the greatest company for graphic products and undoubtedly there is no other company who can compete with adobe. What adobe is doing is good for them

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Cloud not always feasable

Anonymous's picture

The biggest issue I see with the shift to cloud based computing, whether it be Adobe, Microsoft or just storage is access to it. Here in Canada we have a lot of land mass, most of which does not have affordable, if any, access to the internet. If everything becomes cloud bases and moves away from the tradition format of having software on your computer it makes it almost impossible for people to be able to edit photos or write that next great novel unless they are within range of a town or city. No more sitting the edge of the lake in the remote regions documenting your thoughts with words and pictures.

I do not think that some of these companies realize that not every one lives in a major centre with 24/7 access to high speed internet.

Adobe is the greatest company

Bryan Red's picture

Adobe is the greatest company for graphic products and undoubtedly there is no other company who can compete with adobe. What adobe is doing is good for them

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Says you. I personally

Anonymous's picture

Says you. I personally haven't used an Adobe product for graphical design in years. And I do Video work for a living. People who choose Photoshop over alternatives like GIMP are just people who really just haven't taken the time to properly learn how to use it. They are afraid of even trying something new. And now they are going to move even further away from freedom and become even more dependent on a company that cares nothing about them. Then they happy pay Adobe to screw them over.

Wait until people find out...

Jud's picture

Wait until people find out they will be renting their own data when they put it in a cloud drive.

"the cloud" is "a trap"

JustW's picture

Hear!Hear!
I have been preaching this to my IT coworkers for years. Unfortunately they earn a living off the M$ train so go along to get along.
I support several Linux distros and donate to quite a few apps to keep them "FREE". What few bells and whistles and trivial tasks I found not well supported in Linux I simply don't do on a computer anymore. I am fortunate to remember how to get by without a computer and refuse to trade Liberties of convienience.

"Those who would give up Liberties for temporary security deserve neither"
Benjamin Franklin

corrections...

JustW's picture

that should be:
I am fortunate to remember how to get by without a computer and refuse to trade liberties for convienience.

and:
"Those who would give up Essential Liberties for temporary security deserve neither"
Benjamin Franklin

"Those who would give up

annonymous's picture

"Those who would give up Essential Liberties for temporary security deserve neither" - good one

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`renting` and domain name space

JohnMc's picture

I think you will find that though technically you only rent a domain name, in practical legal terms it is not so clear cut. Any holder of a trademark or copyright who then uses that in the domain registration stands on pretty solid ground to own it forever whether they pay the fee of not. Someone else maybe able to register `Verizon` or `iPhone` but they will never get to use it on legal grounds of infringement of IP.

Clear cut

Jez's picture

Its not even as clear-cut as that. Ownership of a name is intellectual property, and as such does not belong to the owner - it is given to him by the public.

Apple for example didnt own the right to the word iPhone, it was owned by Cisco Systems for an internet phone they were marketing. However Apple sneakily used the word in public before they asked Cisco for the right, and because they already had iTunes and iPod, the public started using the term iPhone en masse, regardless of its real ownership.
Cisco caved and sold Apple the right to use iPhone for their device, recognising that the public would forever associate the term with Apple because of their huge advertising campaign, and not with Cisco for their industry product (which is still legally called iphone btw).

This behaviour is known as IP theft, and is impossible for the law to administrate. Apple have done this often since their inception, when they famously stole Apple BMG's name, and then moved into the music business they were told to stay out. The court decided that as Apple BMG made music, and Apple Computers didnt, the two could co-exist as long as it stayed that way. Today, Apple computer trade in music using the name because of clever advertising, intended to wrest the name from the original owner.

Intellectual property is therefore accorded and not acquired.

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