Raising the Rent…

"The more things change, the more they remain the same." (proverb, often attributed to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr)

You don't own your software. You only rent it. For the major commercial packages, the rent comes due every eighteen months, give or take a few, in the form of a new version. These are rarely cheap. Upgrades for all of the large, mainstream software packages can cost hundreds of dollars, this after you've spent hundreds (or thousands) to purchase your original license to use the product. Unlike many other rentals, however, you can opt to not pay, and you (usually) get to continue to use the version of the software you have. Thanks to endless advertising, emails, and even reminders from the software you've already rented, you'll know you're missing out on must-have new features, which are heavily promoted as necessary to leading a full and rewarding life. Opt out long enough and you may forfeit entirely the option to upgrade, forcing you to pay the full product price when you eventually decide to get the current version. Think of this as losing the security deposit you paid when renting your apartment.

Moving Day

Like many photographers I use Adobe® Photoshop® every day. I started renting, learning, and using Photoshop in 2004 with Photoshop CS ("Constant Spending") on an aging computer running the Windows® XP operating system. By then Photoshop CS had been available for about seven months. As is often the case when one moves to a new rental, the spending was only beginning. I had to redecorate, in the form of larger hard drives and additional RAM (memory). A faster computer would have been nice, but remodeling the old one seemed more fiscally responsible. Prior to this I'd used a photo editing program that was capable, but had no serious form of color management. If one wishes to make quality prints while maintaining at least a shred of sanity, a color-managed system isn't optional. I'd planned to begin printing within the next year or two, so I felt the time was right to make the move to Photoshop and to take on Adobe Systems, Inc. as my new virtual landlord.

Packages: Adobe Photoshop CS, Photoshop CS3, and Photoshop CS5

My rental history (left to right): Photoshop CS3 Extended and CS5 (Macintosh®), Photoshop CS (Windows).

I enjoyed my new digs. Much about CS was familiar, thanks to my experience with my previous photo editing software. CS had a more integrated user interface, more sophisticated tools, overall smoother and more stable operation, and of course, color management. I learned by doing — just trying things to see what would happen. A more experienced and accomplished photographer friend offered lots of advice and graciously allowed me to annoy him with endless questions. He still does, and he's still far more experienced and accomplished than I. He's also a great inspiration.

About nine months later Adobe released Photoshop CS2 ("Continue Spending Squared"). I'd become comfortable with CS; it seemed to do what I needed and the CS2 rent increase seemed unjustified, so I stayed put. Except for a point-and-shoot, I did not have a digital camera. I was shooting film and working with scans of my slides. CS was adequate.

In spring of 2007 I finally abandoned film photography with the purchase of a Canon EOS 5D DSLR. This was just a month after I'd purchased my large-format printer. My version of Photoshop was four years past its release date, and its replacement version was two years old. No sooner had my new DSLR been delivered when Adobe released Photoshop CS3 (no pun this time — I think I've beaten it to death). My problems were multiplying: The version of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) included with CS could not open and process the raw files from the 5D, and could not be upgraded beyond version 2.x without also upgrading to a newer version of Photoshop. With large files on my now-ancient PC, CS3 would have run as slowly as crude oil on a chilly day at a Barrow wellhead. The computer was already making whimpering noises when asked to print files approaching a gigabyte in size. Having just spent most of my Photo bank account on the printer, camera, and a few accessories, replacing the PC and upgrading Photoshop were things about which I could only daydream during long hikes in Glacier. The best I could do was stay put, keep the old computer running, and work hard to replenish the business account. It was an ugly situation that simply wasn't sustainable.

Nothing's Ever Easy

Despite what the Adobe's management may believe, the company doesn't operate in a vacuum (nor do Apple®, Microsoft®, or any of the rest of the Big Players® who often act like theirs is the only software installed on our computers). While new versions of the Creative Suite® applications were appearing, so too did a new version of Windows, and the news was grim. Even diehard fans of all things Microsoft agreed Windows Vista® was problematic. Software incompatibilities were many. Peripheral drivers, especially for printers, weren’t available for months, and in some cases never appeared. At the time I made most of my income working in software development in the Windows environment. I spent my days using volume-licensed versions of all editions of the Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista operating systems. Despite that experience (or because of it), I did not look forward to the day I'd have to use Vista on my personal systems. Interestingly, in real-world use Vista's replacement, Windows 7, has similarly stiff hardware requirements, but that has largely ceased to be an issue. I suspect this is because many older computers have been replaced, and most computers sold within the last couple of years have adequate horsepower to run Winodws 7 (or Vista) reasonably well.

By late 2007 I had a decision to make. I needed to upgrade Photoshop, but before I could do that I’d have to replace my computer. The obvious choice was new Windows (Vista) system. Since I made my living knowing about PC hardware, Microsoft operating systems and development tools, and Windows software, it should have been an easy decision.

My decsion-making process is perhaps subject matter for another article. As much as any factor, Windows Vista was motivation to switch to the Macintosh. On the day after Apple released it in February, 2008, I bought an 8-core 2.8Ghz Mac Pro with the Leopard OS (10.5, since upgraded to Snow Leopard, 10.6). I immediately installed additional RAM and hard drives so Photoshop would have plenty of breathing room. The Mac works perfectly with my Windows-based server, cooperates well with the other Windows computers here, and even works with the antique HP color inkjet Vista would have forced me to replace. The Mac OS® is in my face far less than any Windows system ever was. 'Nuff said.

Meanwhile, Back at the Rental Department….

On the new Mac Pro I installed then-current Photoshop CS3 Extended, and found it to be minimally different from CS on Windows. It was clearly better in some ways, while in others, about the same. It was very, very fast on the new Mac. The system never made me wait for anything. The included ACR version 4 supported my 5D, too. There are other raw converters, and some do much more than convert raw files to pixels. But I liked ACR and found it to be adequate for what I do.

Eight months later Adobe released Creative Suite 4. This introduced some significant changes in the user interface, a new version (5) of ACR, improved Bridge, masking, scaling, color correction, and more. The big disappointment was lack of a 64-bit "mode" for the Mac OS, which limits the amount of memory the program can address, among other things. The expected pissing contest about this between Adobe and Apple ensued in the press and numerous blogs, raged for a few weeks, and then died out, as these things always do. Entirely routine, a bit like watching the U.S. Congress in their on-going quest to accomplish nothing, but at great expense to the taxpayer. At least Photoshop was "fixed" in a later version.

I was comfortable and happy with CS3, and felt it still had some tricks to show me. I decided to pass on CS4.

This spring brought the release of CS5, with, among other improvements, 64-bit support for the Mac, a new and much improved ACR (6), improved masking, and the "new" user interface (compared to CS3). Another contribution to the landlord seemed in order. I installed CS5 last month, and have so far found the learning curve to be fairly smooth. For the first time I also purchased a Photoshop book, Martin Evening's Adobe® Photoshop® CS5 for Photographers. I'm glad I did. Evening's style is unique even taking his British-ese into account, the book's editing uneven, and the grammar at times a little odd (and just plain incorrect here and there). But it's a goldmine of information, which is, after all, what I wanted from it.

Mt. Stanton and Mt. Vaught reflected in Glacier's Lake McDonald

Stanton Mountain and Mt. Vaught reflect in Lake McDonald on a calm May morning in Glaicer National Park. This is a composite image made of three vertical exposures stitched with the PhotoMerge application included with Photoshop CS5. The version of PhotoMerge included with Photoshop CS3 was unable to stitch these frames properly, but the improved version in CS5 did the job nicely.

Photoshop CS5 and Martin Evening's Adobe® Photoshop® CS5 for Photographers: both recommended. So is the Mac, but I’m sure it’s a salt-to-taste sort of preference. I will soon be buying a replacement for an old Windows XP laptop, and that will almost certainly be a Windows 7 machine. I’d prefer a MacBook® Pro, but I simply can’t justify the cost over a similarly-configured Windows laptop. So please don’t write to call me a Windows or Microsoft basher. I use the best tools I can afford for the job I need them to do. I research my choices pretty thoroughly and don’t make decisions based on logos or coolness factors. I’m trying to earn a living here.

In 2004, running Photoshop CS on a Windows system, I knew I had the necessary tools to express myself as I wanted photographically. Today I'm still renting from Adobe. I have Photoshop CS5 on a Macintosh; I'm equally certain I've got the tools I need to produce the images I want to make. The more things change….

September, 2010

Here's an interesting look at Photoshop's release history.

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