Well, it was fun while it lasted. Countless students, artists and overall cheapskates who have long enjoyed using Adobe’s Creative Suite software without paying for it will soon have to pony up. Adobe is formally moving the latest versions of Photoshop and related design and production software to the cloud — specifically, to Adobe’s newly dubbed “Creative Cloud” — where they will only be available via monthly subscription

It’s a smart business move for Adobe, who stands to receive a steady stream of revenue from customers who otherwise might take their sweet time shelling out several hundred greenbacks for each major upgrade. Instead, those folks can just dole out $50 per month for access to the entire collection of Adobe software, which is all tied together with the company’s cloud-based storage and offers other Web-based features.

With this move, the software we still fire up our laptops to use makes a significant shift toward a cloud-based, mobile world. Makes sense. 

Uncracking The Creative Suite 

Switching to a subscription model also makes it much harder to pirate the software. This is something Adobe has struggled with for a long time, routinely coming up with new ways to verify the authenticity of new installs.

Of course, each new form of copy protection also triggered a workaround from hackers who would crack the software and then make it available on file-sharing sites. The latest version of the Creative Suite Master Collection, for instance, can easily be torrented and, using easy-to-follow instructions, cracked to feign authenticity and block Adobe’s servers from discovering that you did not in fact pay $1,300 for it. 

Pirating Adobe’s software — especially Photoshop — has become very common among consumers who can’t or won’t pay several hundred dollars for it, but who nonetheless rely on its state-of-the-art image editing features for school, work or personal projects.   Older versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and the rest of the Creative Suite will still be available from Adobe — as well as the Pirate Bay — for some time to come. 

But from now on, Adobe’s product development will thrive behind a subscription paywall. Using Adobe CS6 will be sufficient for quite a while, but eventually anybody wanting to take advantage of the latest and greatest in photo-editing, Web design and other creative production will have to pay up.

An Opportunity For Competitors — And Consumers 

For those not willing to subscribe to Creative Cloud, there’s a growing list of alternatives. Nobody offers a suite quite as robust as Adobe’s, which handles photos, graphic design, print layouts, Web development, video editing, animation and more. But for each of the creative needs that Adobe meets, there are other offerings. 

The most sought-after alternatives will likely be to Photoshop. Again, the original CS6-and-earlier versions of Adobe’s apps will still work. But if one ever tires of the feature set and wants to try a product that continues to evolve, desktop apps like Pixelmator and Inkscape are pretty impressive. For basic photo-editing, tablet-based apps like PhotoGene, Photoshop Touch and Apple’s iPhoto for iPad are all surprisingly capable. 

For each app in the suite, there’s a different list of competitors. There’s Final Cut Pro for video, Maya for animation and um, actually learning to code for Dreamweaver. 

Perhaps most important, Adobe’s shift to a subscription model presents new opportunities for other companies and developers to build new capable, competitively-priced alternatives. As for the software-crackers, we have no doubt that they’ll be busy trying to find ways to trick Adobe’s new system.