Adobe’s Creative Cloud: All the Creative Software You’ll Ever Want

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For years, Adobe sold Photoshop, Illustrator and its other applications for creative pros primarily in stand-alone boxes — like items on an à la carte menu. In 2003, it bundled them all into a multiple-course feast it called Creative Suite; today, that’s how 75 percent of customers buy their Adobe software.

Now the company is announcing an all-you-can-eat subscription service it calls Creative Cloud: $49.99 a month (with a one-year commitment) for ongoing access to all the Creative Suite apps and a whole lot more.

It’s unveiling the new service in conjunction with Creative Suite CS6, an update to the suite in its traditional form. CS6 includes an impressive new version of Photoshop plus upgrades to Illustrator, InDesign, Flash Pro, Dreamweaver, Premiere Pro and other programs. It also has two new video post-production apps, Prelude and Speed Grade. Four versions of the suite are available, from Design Standard ($1299, or $299 as an upgrade) to the Master Collection ($2599, or $549 as an upgrade).

With Creative Cloud, your fifty bucks a month gets you everything in every version of Creative Suite, plus Lightroom (the cool photo management/editing program), Edge (HTML5 web editing) and Muse (code-free website building), plus Photoshop Touch and other apps for the iPad and Android. These are still conventional desktop applications, not browser-based services, but you’re entitled to download as many of them as you like at any time. A subscription also includes 20GB of online storage and services for syncing your projects between devices and publishing them, plus the nifty Typekit service for using an array of fonts on any website, plus community features for sharing your work and getting input on it from other creative types.

But Creative Cloud isn’t just about the quantity of stuff you get: it’s also the frequency with which it’s updated. You’re always entitled to the newest version of all the programs, and Adobe says that it’s going to start rolling out features continuously rather than waiting for sweeping upgrades every couple of years.

Is Creative Cloud worth $600 a year? It depends in part on how frequently you’d be updating your software if you bought it the old-fashioned way, and the degree to which you explore all of its offerings. You’re also buying into a vision as much as a fully-finished product: when Adobe releases the first version next month, it’s going to be missing some features. (And a version aimed at groups of users rather than individuals isn’t coming along until later in 2012.)

The company is holding a press event on Monday in San Francisco to show off its new software and services and reveal more details; I’ll report back here with additional thoughts.