Why Adobe's Massive Photoshop Fail Could've Been a Clever Business Move

By Chris Mills on at

If you were hooked up to your computer yesterday, you might've noticed that Adobe apparently released Creative Suite 2 to the public for free. I say apparently, because it turns out that although Adobe stuck the install files and serial numbers on the internet for anyone with an Adobe account to see and download, it apparently didn't want to have a big software give-away -- even though it would've actually been a really good idea.

In the words of an Adobe employee:

You have heard wrong! Adobe is absolutely not providing free copies of CS2!

What is true is that Adobe is terminating the activation servers for CS2 and that for existing licensed users of CS2 who need to reinstall their software, copies of CS2 that don't require activation but do require valid serial numbers are available. (Special serial numbers are provided on the page for each product download.)

You are only legally entitled to download and install with that serial number if you have a valid license to the product!

First off, if this was actually not meant to be free software, then Adobe have right-royally failed. I'm sorry, but if you stick a bunch of install files WITH SERIAL KEYS NEXT TO THEM on the internet, without any warning as to who should have access to them, what exactly are you expecting, hmmmm? This is a world where hackers work for days on end to crack your software releases, but no, you're expecting them to just ignore a legit-looking pile of download files. They're not. Welcome to 2013, the recession, and people being scrooges.

Adobe download page this morning -- still looks legit to me

Even worse, although Adobe's protesting that the software downloads aren't for free, it's not made any changes to the download page (which is still live); it's just the same list of download files and serials, sitting pretty and waiting to be gorged by the collective hordes of the internetz.

To put it in perspective, this would be like leaving a massive pile of sweets on the street, secured with a flimsy padlock, and then gaffer-taping the code onto a nearby lamppost. Apart from a giant flashing neon sign saying "FREE STUFF", it could hardly have been more explicit in saying that it wanted you to download it.

So it looks like a massive Adobe blunder. But from a business perspective, I think there are far worse ways of decreasing privacy than giving away old versions of software. There's an old myth in the software world that having students pirate your software is a good thing: they get used to using it, learn the skill set, and then when they go work for a business they encourage the employers to buy an actual legit copy. Kinda sounds like it should make sense, huh? Same sort of thing applies here, I suspect. You'll get lots of people downloading the free version of CS2, learning the basics, and then feeling frustrated at the 10-year-old software and maybe plumping for CS6 instead.

But even if that's not the case, releasing CS2 for free might actually be good for Adobe in one other respect: security. A lot of the demand for hacked versions of Photoshop stems from individual users wanting a cracked version of some decent image-editing software. Photoshop is the household name in screwing-with-pictures software, so it makes sense that if you're going to pirate something, it might as well be Photoshop, and the latest version while you're at it. Yeah, CS2 doesn't quite have the same amount of functionality as CS6, but it's not bad at all, and the easy and legit download will push a lot of people who would've pirated CS6 into downloading CS2 instead.

This in turn will reduce the demand for a hacked version of Photoshop; over time, this lack of demand may resolve itself in fewer people throwing themselves against Adobe's security team, and a happier life for all. Adobe gets to reap the fat (and well-earned) fees of CS6, the security team get an easier time of it, and a whole league of casual users will become tied into Photoshop (and therefore are more likely to be future users), not to mention enamoured with Adobe.

This isn't a new concept at all -- think of the number of "trial" apps in any given App Store, and you'll see where I'm coming from. If Adobe really wants to make it profitable, charge a nominal fee or, better yet, make it ad-supported.

This would be a big shake-up for Adobe, but it would better reflect its user base: a firm mix of businesses and hard-core amateurs who need the power of full-on Photoshop, and a bunch of casual part-timers and teenagers who want a really over-the-top way to make memes for Reddit. Yeah, they've got Photoshop Elements, and I admit it would be undermined, slightly. But screw it. Elements is already undermined by the legion of free, awesome software like GIMP or Pixlr. Those are the products free CS2 would be competing with, not CS6.

In conclusion: Adobe. Don't be tight-wads. Do the decent thing, and make the lives of hundreds of thousands of people better by releasing your old software for everyone to use. You'll reduce piracy, not really have any effect on your CS6 sales, and make the whole word think you're a really great guy. Ball's in your park.

All images in this article were definitely not made using CS2

Update: Considering Adobe seemingly doesn't love you, here are our top 10 free Photoshop alternatives from devs that do.

Image credit: Prison Break from Shutterstock