Software to rent, not buy

Adobe is moving its professional Creative Suite software to a rental-only model. How will that affect business users?

Inside the Enterprise: For most people who own a PC (or a Mac), the usual way to buy software is to buy a DVD or a download, install it, and then run it for life. Once you've bought the licence, that's usually it, unless you want to upgrade.

That, though, might not be the case for much longer. Adobe, one of the largest vendors of software tools for the creative industry – but also a significant provider of graphics and design tools to enterprises – has announced that its flagship software will, from now on, only be available on subscription.

If businesses do decide to subscribe, it changes their relationship with their software provider.

Adobe's Creative Suite bundles Photoshop, perhaps the vendor's best-known product, with Illustrator, Dreamweaver, InDesign and Premiere, depending on the version. It's a comprehensive set of tools, with a price tag to match.

But Creative Suite 6 (CS6) will be the last sold on a "perpetual" licence. From now on, anyone wanting the latest versions will have to either rent them, starting at £17.58 for a single application, or rent the suite, for £46.88 (there are several other options, too, for education users, teams, and users upgrading from CS3 and above). 

The rental model is not new for Adobe: it has offered its software – known as "subscription editions" – for over a year now. The difference is that, post CS6, the only way to upgrade is to subscribe.

Before designers, photographers and other creative types cry foul, though, it is worth putting what Adobe is doing in context. The new services are not simply CS6, updated and rented.

The vendor is positioning the software as part of its Creative Cloud offering, which includes online storage (20GB for single users), portfolio and showcase tools, and even a tool for creating smart device apps. And the full CC bundle includes applications, such as Lightroom, which were not in Creative Suite 6.

And Adobe is allowing creatives to spread the cost of an otherwise expensive purchase, which will help freelancers. Die hards can still buy the conventional, CS6 licence; there just will not be any updates, aside from maintenance fixes, for the suite.

Adobe is not alone in allowing rentals – Microsoft Office 365 is a subscription product, although for now, there's still also a "boxed" Office licence. And, as Ian Murphy, of analysts Creative Intellect explains, there are benefits to enterprises from software subscriptions. "Simplifying the acquisition and management of key business tools is a real cost saver for businesses," he says; companies can also rent a specialist tool, such as Premiere, for a short period, perhaps for a project.

But if businesses do decide to subscribe, it changes their relationship with their software provider. As the writer and blogger Tim Anderson puts it: "users have an ongoing dependency on the vendor… this is not going to work unless you have a high level of trust and confidence in the vendor."

And that is the heart of the issue. Do businesses that depend on Adobe's tools, trust the company enough to abandon a perpetual licence, in favour of a subscription? For some, it may be like signing up to Spotify, but throwing away their CDs (or their vinyl). For others, it may turn out to be a simpler, cheaper and tidier way to run software they use every day.

 Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.