Adobe joys, or, the overcomplicated silliness of software ownership

Tue 8 Jan 2008 - Filed under: Not a Journal., | Leave a Comment | Posted by: Gavin

Sometime in the last year or so we received an influx of cash (the sound of books selling well, cha-ching!) and we upgraded our Adobe software so now we have (the thus far hugely-underused) Design Suite—InDesign, Illustrator, Acrobat, Photoshop. So it was installed on two laptops and everything in the land of book design was thought to be both hunky and dory. (We are so far behind on web design that upgrading the Dreamweaver seemed like a huge learning-curve time sink.)

Recently a new iMac (with a screen big enough to, er, be very big and shiny) was winched down to us from a passing airship. Onto this new toy was cloned a laptop (which mostly worked fine except for making the stupid and complicated “permissions” even more stupid and complicated). Everything went smoothly enough for the nonce until we, foolishly, try and open InDesign on the iMac.

Does not work. A screen opens and says something along the lines of “You must reactivate this product.”

Not the only thing that needs reactivating around here. It’s winter and we’re hibernating. So, after a week or so of dilly-dallying, a call is placed to the activation line.

—Sorry, we are told, you have to de-activate one of the previous installs.

—But wait, we reply. We still only have 2 people using the software, it’s just that it’s in 3 places now. Look, it’s right there (well, almost) on the shiny big screen for the office and over there on the tiny travelling screens for, well, travel.

Nope, replies the calm and polite woman no doubt used to this flawless and yet useless argument. What you have is a license limiting the number of machines on which you can install the software you (perhaps now you are thinking you over)paid for. 

—Dur! Grr!

I’m sorry. You aren’t speaking to a machine you know. You’re calling the help line in India where all Apple and Adobe help has been outsourced. I barely understand what you’re saying. Is that English or just the sound of your teeth grinding?

Teeth ground down to stubs we admit defeat and instead of writing about the joys of our neighbors art files we wanted to look at or some other such wunnerful thing we post defensively and defeatedly (and perhaps repetitively, at least about that defeated bit) about the lack of flexibility in software ownership. Where’s Cory when you need him? Dur. Grr.

Ok, off to deactivate a laptop. Now, to do that do we cut the red wire or the blue wire?


No Responses to “Adobe joys, or, the overcomplicated silliness of software ownership”

  1. David Moles on January 8th, 2008 10:34 pm

    I’m pretty sure you’re not even supposed to have two people using it. Just one person, two machines, one at home and one at the office, or whatever.

    I hate Adobe. I’m not sure whether to blame them, or blame the big publishers and advertising agencies and whatnot who’ve given them the impression their customers (in the CEO’s words) “aren’t price-sensitive”, but I hate ’em. Unfortunately I still love their products.

  2. Alex Wilson on January 8th, 2008 10:55 pm

    Yeah, software activation is why I still haven’t upgraded from Photoshop 7 and Flash MX (glad I didn’t with the latter, since I stopped using it shortly after). And of course it’s only us paying customers who have to deal with this. Software pirates just install and play.

  3. Gwenda on January 8th, 2008 11:09 pm

    You would never do such a thing, I know, but perhaps someone will see this and tell you how to crack it. Out of curiosity, how much would they charge you for an extra license?

  4. lcrw on January 9th, 2008 1:53 am

    1) Hilariously, the Adobe store hates Firefox, so has to be looked at in Safari. (It probably doesn’t help that I have an anti-Flash widget!)

    2) Reasons to be cheerful from the Adobe front page: “FY’07 revenue tops US$3 billion for first time”. How. Excited. We. Are.

    3) Took a survey recently about Adobe prices and tried to show that, yes, we would stop purchasing if they just keep increasing prices. “Squeezed dry” does not make for a happy customer.

    4) Tried to see how much extra licenses would cost—which might be useful considering how widespread our designers might be. Thought the prices were on the website but a cursory 1 AM look seems to say we’d have to call them. Bah.

    I don’t hate Adobe, I think. They have been friendly on the phone about fonts and so on. But their software is a pretty big expense for this tiny press.

  5. Skov on January 9th, 2008 8:57 am

    Have you considered a free, open source desktop publishing program such as Scribus?

    Not quite as pretty and “Wow, it all works together so slickly with Adobe products”, but I haven’t run into anything in InDesign that I can’t do in Scribus.

  6. David Moles on January 9th, 2008 11:45 am

    No support for importing existing Quark or InDesign documents is a bit of a downer. No Mac OpenType support without converting all your fonts from .dfont to .otf. No indexing.

    I don’t know. Their heart’s probably in the right place, but it sounds like the sort of open source experience that quickly becomes worth a few hundred dollars to avoid if you’ve got the money.

  7. Michael R. Bernstein on January 11th, 2008 9:13 pm

    David, one of the nice things about open source is that it improves as a function of the number of people who use it, report bugs, suggest new features, and (occasionally) donate some money (directly or via a pool) to it’s developers. BTW, the money is the least important of these user contributions.

    Scribus, Inkscape, and the GIMP are getting *very* close to being ‘good enough’ for a heck of a lot of people, and the fact that the choice of commercial vendor has essentially been reduced to one will certainly help push the user communities past the tipping point.

    Various other excellent Open Source and Free Software options can be found here:

  8. lcrw on January 12th, 2008 1:24 pm

    Perhaps we’ll try it. Johnny, Michael, we may be emailing you. And Ben Rosenbaum is always up for free source goodness, so maybe we will try doing his book on it….

  9. David Moles on January 12th, 2008 2:40 pm

    Michael, I’ve given plenty of my IT-using life to using free software, reporting bugs, participating in mailing lists and even once or twice contributing a patch. But I’ve long since learned that forcing myself to do without features I need doesn’t get them developed any faster.

  10. Michael R. Bernstein on January 12th, 2008 10:09 pm

    lcrw, I’ll help if I can (although I may simply end up channeling the relevant developer community).

    David, sorry if I seemed judgmental. I am only an occasional user of Scribus (although seven years ago I was a heavy daily user of PageMaker, Illustrator, and Photoshop). I am well familiar with the maddening frustration of that ONE. MISSING. FEATURE. The one that never seems to get added.

    Tell you what, if you write up the features Scribus is missing for you to be able to switch, I’ll do the work of creating an account in their bug tracker and adding them all as feature requests. Let’s see if we can chivvy them along in the right direction.

  11. Michael on January 16th, 2008 5:36 pm

    Hello all,
    Michael here, one of the Small Beer interns.

    I love the idea of open source, though I wish it worked better than it did. I do use open source software a lot for command line applications and stuff that runs on web servers, but I have had less luck with programs that are designed for a graphical interface–such as word processing suites. But I keep an open mind, and when I hear about new open source software I haven’t tried, I usually at least give it a test run.

    I tried out Scribus the other day on my G4 Powerbook, which runs Mac OS X 10.4. I thought I’d share my findings so far.

    Scribus, like OpenOffice and other GUI open source word processing stuff I’ve tried, runs in X11 Windows–which sort of looks like the Mac’s Aqua interface, but is more or less an entirely separate interface running on the mac’s unix core. As such, it is slow, and seamy–for example, it doesn’t obey the usual Mac keyboard shortcuts, at least not without a fuss. My machine already has X11 running on it, but if it hadn’t I would have had to re-learn how to install it.

    On opening Scribus the first time, I get a warning that I won’t be able to use print preview or read EPS formatted files until I install GhostScript. These seem like important features. So I go download GhostScript–a command-line postscript utility, which I soon discover I need a C compiler to install. So I install gcc (an open-source GNU compiler). But it turns out that’s not enough–I need the entire XCode Tools developer package (which I should have guessed earlier, since I’ve needed it for every X11 application I have tried, and then had to remove it again when I gave up). So I get my OS X install dvd and install the developer package. Once I do that, GhostScript installs correctly. But Scribus doesn’t see it. So I go on the Scribus user forums and wiki (which, I discover, are extensive and vital, always a positive sign) and learn I must tell Scribus where to find GhostScript. If I didn’t have some understanding of unix filesystems I wouldn’t have gotten this far.

    Ok, so finally I am ready to experiment with Scribus. I create a document, make a text frame on the first page, and start typing. Uh oh. No text appears in the text frame. So back to the online wiki and forums I go, and discover that this is a well-documented but as-yet-unaddressed bug in Scribus on the Mac–you can’t type text into a text box directly, but must use the story editor. Well, at least there’s a workaround. I open the story editor. I get the spinning beachball of death for about five seconds, then the story editor appears. I make it as far as entering eight characters before the beachball appears again, this time for about ten seconds. Then Scribus crashes.

    When I reopen Scribus, it has forgotten where to find GhostScript. I attempt the same series of steps again, with the same result: locate GhostScript in the preferences, then open a new doc, create a text field, fail to type in it, open story editor, attempt to type, crash.

    End experimentation, at least for now.

    My conclusion: it seems clear that Scribus was designed with a Linux platform in mind, and that the port to Darwin is not really smooth enough yet to make it a plausible alternative to the Adobe Behemoth. Much as I wish it were so.

  12. Michael R. Bernstein on January 16th, 2008 6:25 pm

    Hmm. Michael, you didn’t say which version you installed, but this page claims that you can install an Aqua version of Scribus:

    It still requires GhostScript, though.

  13. Michael R. Bernstein on January 18th, 2008 2:25 pm

    tap, tap

    Is this thing on?

  14. Michael on January 18th, 2008 5:49 pm


    Sorry, been having a busy week.
    I’m pretty sure that’s the version I’m using. At least the download filename for the installer is the same: ScribusAqua- Perhaps their definition of “native Aqua build” is different from mine…. For example, when I try to save a file, instead of the friendly Finder window with convenient shortcuts to different sections of the filesystem, I find myself having to navigate using something that looks uncannily like a Linux window.

    I have since managed to enter text without crashing Scribus, by the way. I even generated a PDF. Woo! On the negative side, the style menu doesn’t seem to do anything, and some of the keyboard shortcuts don’t either. And I’m still quite confused by the way Scribus deals with color.

    Of course I don’t expect anybody here to solve these things for me. I’m sure that, given enough time and patience, I could figure out some kind of workaround for any problem I come across using the Scribus forums. In other words I think I could get along using Scribus if I had to. At the moment, though, given its current state and my platform, I still don’t think it’s the best option.

  15. Michael R. Bernstein on January 18th, 2008 8:52 pm

    Michael, thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    I guess I must concur with your assessment, but I’ll repeat my previous offer: If you were to write up the features Scribus is missing for you to be able to switch, I’ll do the work of creating an account in their bug tracker and adding them all as feature requests. I’ll expand my offer to include ‘bugs’, though that is less likely to be effective at such a remove on a platform I no longer use.

    Meanwhile, if you do feel the urge for some more experimentation, there does seem to be an ‘aqua-scribus’ package labelled 1.3.4 from May (however, this is not the ‘stable’ branch):

    BTW, since you prefer non-X11-requiring apps, have you tried Seashore?:

    Thanks for your patience and perseverance.

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