Cloudy With A Chance of Blueballs

I RECENTLY SHARED a positive view of what’s happening at Adobe. I’m still a huge fan of the company’s image editing software, and I remain optimistic about their new direction. But I’m unhappy about the two-device limitation Adobe Cloud places on software.

While the company is more liberal than it used to be (e.g. a license to use Adobe software on the Mac is also a license to use it in Windows, and vice-versa), the Cloud’s refusal to let me use software I’ve purchased from Adobe on more than two devices feels like a relic of the past. It’s a restriction that might have made sense for print designers working in corporations in the 1990s, but it is out of touch with the reality of remote and freelance workers designing digital sites and applications for a multi-device world.

I have an office iMac, a home iMac, a home laptop, and an office laptop. I use all of them for my work. My set-up is not unique. Everyone I know who works in this industry has something similar going on.

Apple gets this reality but Adobe does not. For instance, my copy of Lightroom 4, which I bought via the App Store, works everywhere. Not so Lightroom 5, which I purchased (rented? licensed?) as part of my annual Cloud subscription. As a paying Adobe Cloud customer and a photography and Lightroom fanatic, I should be chomping at the bit to upgrade to Lightroom 5. But I see no point in doing so if I’m only going to be able to use Lightroom on two machines.

You might ask why this is is a problem. Here are three times I use Lightroom: to edit business, family, and vacation photos on my laptop while traveling; to edit business photos on the computer in my design studio; and to edit family and travel photos on the computer in my home. Adobe Cloud will let me use Lightroom 5 in two of these situations, but not all three. That makes it useless to me. Lightroom 4, which I bought in the App Store, has no such restrictions. I can use it on as many machines as I own. (To be fair, Apple can easily afford to be liberal with software licensing, because it makes its money on the hardware I buy. Adobe does not. I get that, but understanding doesn’t solve my problem.)

Likewise, I need to use Photoshop when I’m traveling on business (laptop), when I’m working in my design studio, and when I’m burning the midnight oil at home. Adobe will only let me use the product in two of these contexts. Stymied, I use an older, non-cloud version of Photoshop on one or more machines—and when I do that, I run into compatibility problems.

Although I love Photoshop and have used it professionally for nearly two decades, I can’t help noticing that Pixelmator does pretty much everything I need Photoshop to do, costs a fraction of the price (US $29.99), and can be downloaded onto an unlimited number of computers I own.

Why should Adobe care? Because the current restriction is not sustainable for them. The frustrations the restriction creates for me every day actively encourage me to stick with Lightroom 4 and abandon Photoshop for a much more affordable competitor. In short, the one thing that’s uncool about the Cloud is actively unselling all the Cloud’s benefits. And that can hardly be in Adobe’s long-term interest.

What can Adobe do about it? Well, the company could offer a “pro” or “gold” version of Cloud service that removes the two-device restriction. If the difference in price is reasonable, I’d happily sign up. Even better, from a public relations as well as a love-your-neighbor point of view, would be if Adobe simply removed the restriction at no additional cost. Or set the restriction higher, allowing you to register Cloud software on up to five devices you own.

Whatever they do, they should do it soon. We want to keep working with Adobe software, but Adobe needs to work with us, too.

Adobe Love

I CAME to AdobeMAX in Los Angeles to give a talk to a room full of designers. Before arriving, I thought of Adobe as a historically important 20th century company that was slowly leaking relevance—a company web designers in the era of responsive design have begun to think of with a combination of fondness and embarrassment, like a beloved but somewhat shameful old uncle.

I came to LA with those perceptions, but I leave with the impression of an exciting 21st century company in emergence.

Realistic products for a magical age

The products I saw were both amazing and realistic. It was amazing to see a responsive design prototyping application that works independently and inside Photoshop, created by passionate people who actually work in our field and who consulted with Ethan Marcotte, for Pete’s sake.

That was the amazing part, but the equally important realistic part was that nobody was pretending this tool would be used to deliver final code on your website. It was not a responsive Dreamweaver I saw, but a prototyping tool, to help designers figure out how their responsive design should work (and maybe show the prototype to a boss or client for approval). Just prototyping. Nobody pretending they had a product that would make the difficult craft of front-end design redundant. No such intention behind the product. A product for the real work-flow of 21st century design teams. No marketing puffery, no inflated claims to set designers’ teeth on edge.

We are now them

More than that. Every Adobe employee I saw seemed to be excited, happy, and on-board with the mission. I see that kind of energy at good startups and small studios. I never see it in big corporations. It sometimes seemed to me that Adobe hadn’t so much acquired Typekit as the reverse: that the people and thinking behind Typekit are now running Adobe (which is actually true), and that the mindset of some of the smartest consultants and designers in our industry is now driving a huge corporation.

I never expected to see that in my lifetime, and to me, it is even more impressive than the amazingness and realism of the new product line or the transformation of the company from a shrink-wrapped product manufacturer to an inventor of cloud-based services. I never expected to see people like us running companies like that.

It makes me feel good about the future, when so many other things conspire to make us feel the opposite.

Download in the Dumps (AKA Killing Me Softly With Adobe)

In which our intrepid reporter is unable to download and reinstall Adobe software he owns and paid for because Adobe.

I REMOVED Adobe CS5 from my studio Mac after it took on water damage during tropical storm Irene. Just as I was going to replace the machine, the water damage seemed to go away. (It actually never did go away, and as I write this it’s pretty bad, but for a week it seemed okay so I didn’t order a replacement.) As I need Photoshop this morning to work on a website, and as I’m still a registered CS5 owner, I logged into Adobe.com to download a “Trial” version of Photoshop. For all the good it did me, I could have eaten my own head.

Clicking “Download Photoshop” put an “Install Adobe Download Assistant” app on my desktop instead of downloading Photoshop. To download Photoshop from the web, you can’t just download Photoshop from the web. You have to download an installer that installs a downloader. There’s no benefit to the user for jumping through this extra hoop, but I guess Adobe Corporate wanted to show off its AIR-based software.

To download trial versions of Creative Suite software, you need to install the Adobe Download Assistant. After installation, the Adobe Download Assistant will start your product download automatically,

the website says. This is a lie.

Once installed, the downloader asks me to sign in again. Which is only logical. After all, between the time I clicked “download Photoshop” as a signed-in user and now, I might have been knocked unconscious by Photoshop pirates. Without a redundant double sign-in, the pirates would win.

So I type in my login and password again—same as I just did on the website to download this meshugah downloader installer in the first place—and guess what? Adobe says my login and password don’t match.

The login and password I used to download the installer downloader are unacceptable to the downloader. If you’re following this gibberish, God bless. If not, Adobe is telling me that the login and password I just used to install the downloader are no good.

Like a pimp pretending to help a runaway teen, a link in the unhelpful downloader now asks, “Having trouble signing in?” There being nothing else to do, I click the link, which takes me to a “Reset your password” panel. Only I can’t reset my password in the “Reset your password” panel; I’ll only be able to reset my password on a custom web page, whose address I will only learn once I receive an email from Adobe sending me a custom link. Excitingly, that “Reset your password” page (the one that will actually allow me to reset my password) will be generated on the fly via Adobe’s famous and ultra-reliable ColdFusion software.

I’ve now lost 30 minutes of work time but Adobe is not done with me. Oh, no. This is where the fun begins.

I spend long minutes reflexively checking my email, like a junkie scanning the corner in search of his busted dealer. The custom link email finally arrives, but the link never works. (It’s the cream of the jest!) Here is a screenshot of Adobe’s Chinese Japanese website, powered by ColdFusion, which is unable to generate a “Reset your password” page, allowing me to reset my password and use the AIR-based downloader software to download the software I already own.

Mission: not accomplished. Total time wasted: 45 minutes (not counting the writing of this blog post, which I do in the faint hope that Adobe will improve its customer experience). I still have no working copy of Photoshop and it’s clear I won’t get one today. The installer disks are gone from my office because I’m moving to a new studio soon and have been packing important pieces like installation disks ahead of time. (After all, I had reasoned, Adobe lets you download software from its website, so why keep disks around?)

To be fair, Hurricane Irene was not Adobe’s fault, and lots of people suffered much worse than a water-damaged iMac. Nor is water damage to my Mac Adobe’s fault. My decision to remove CS5 from the Mac was based on fear that if the Mac died and I hadn’t removed CS5, I would not be able to install it on the replacement machine I intended to purchase, as Adobe licensing (and the software itself) requires you to uninstall from Machine A before installing on Machine B. Adobe CS5 costs more than the computer I intended to buy, so it seemed prudent to remove it from the damaged machine, but of course I regret that decision now, because Adobe’s website won’t let me update my member information, and its downloader won’t let me download.

So I’ll be working from home tonight, doing what I should have done today. Five little letters: ADOBE.

Breathless Update!

Apparently Adobe’s entire membership section, powered by ColdFusion, is now down. Trying to do anything inside the member section leads to a Chinese “Sorry” page. This might be why the “downloader” failed to authorize my credentials. How much simpler it would be if Adobe simply provided a link to download its software (like in the old days) instead of forcing registered users to jump through broken hoops.

Fast Company on Adobe Muse

DESIGN GURU Jeffrey Zeldman, says while he likes Muse for its ease of creating layouts, it still doesn’t answer his plea for a better Internet. ‘Software can’t generate HTML that is search-engine friendly, accessibility-friendly, and portable between desktop and mobile,’ he says. ‘Only web design professionals who understand semantic markup, responsive and adaptive web layout, and mobile user interface can do that.’”

Adobes Muse Lets Designers Make Websites Without Knowing Code | Co. Design.

2010: The Year in Web Standards

WHAT A YEAR 2010 has been. It was the year HTML5 and CSS3 broke wide; the year the iPad, iPhone, and Android led designers down the contradictory paths of proprietary application design and standards-based mobile web application design—in both cases focused on user needs, simplicity, and new ways of interacting thanks to small screens and touch-sensitive surfaces.

It was the third year in a row that everyone was talking about content strategy and designers refused to “just comp something up” without first conducting research and developing a user experience strategy.

CSS3 media queries plus fluid grids and flexible images gave birth to responsive web design (thanks, Beep!). Internet Explorer 9 (that’s right, the browser by Microsoft we’ve spent years grousing about) kicked ass on web standards, inspiring a 10K Apart contest that celebrated what designers and developers could achieve with just 10K of standards-compliant HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. IE9 also kicked ass on type rendering, stimulating debates as to which platform offers the best reading experience for the first time since Macintosh System 7.

Even outside the newest, best browsers, things were better than ever. Modernizr and eCSStender brought advanced selectors and @font-face to archaic browsers (not to mention HTML5 and SVG, in the case of Modernizr). Tim Murtaugh and Mike Pick’s HTML5 Reset and Paul Irish’s HTML5 Boilerplate gave us clean starting points for HTML5- and CSS3-powered sites.

Web fonts were everywhere—from the W3C to small personal and large commercial websites—thanks to pioneering syntax constructions by Paul Irish and Richard Fink, fine open-source products like the Font Squirrel @Font-Face Generator, open-source liberal font licensing like FontSpring’s, and terrific service platforms led by Typekit and including Fontdeck, Webtype, Typotheque, and Kernest.

Print continued its move to networked screens. iPhone found a worthy adversary in Android. Webkit was ubiquitous.

Insights into the new spirit of web design, from a wide variety of extremely smart people, can be seen and heard on The Big Web Show, which Dan Benjamin and I started this year (and which won Video Podcast of the Year in the 2010 .net Awards), on Dan’s other shows on the 5by5 network, on the Workers of the Web podcast by Alan Houser and Eric Anderson, and of course in A List Apart for people who make websites.

Zeldman.com: The Year in Review

A few things I wrote here at zeldman.com this year (some related to web standards and design, some not) may be worth reviewing:

iPad as the New Flash 17 October 2010
Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.
Flash, iPad, and Standards 1 February 2010
Lack of Flash in the iPad (and before that, in the iPhone) is a win for accessible, standards-based design. Not because Flash is bad, but because the increasing popularity of devices that don’t support Flash is going to force recalcitrant web developers to build the semantic HTML layer first.
An InDesign for HTML and CSS? 5 July 2010
while our current tools can certainly stand improvement, no company will ever create “the modern day equivalent of Illustrator and PageMaker for CSS, HTML5 and JavaScript.” The assumption that a such thing is possible suggests a lack of understanding.
Stop Chasing Followers 21 April 2010
The web is not a game of “eyeballs.” Never has been, never will be. Influence matters, numbers don’t.
Crowdsourcing Dickens 23 March 2010
Like it says.
My Love/Hate Affair with Typekit 22 March 2010
Like it says.
You Cannot Copyright A Tweet 25 February 2010
Like it says.
Free Advice: Show Up Early 5 February 2010
Love means never having to say you’re sorry, but client services means apologizing every five minutes. Give yourself one less thing to be sorry for. Take some free advice. Show up often, and show up early.

Outside Reading

A few things I wrote elsewhere might repay your interest as well:

The Future of Web Standards 26 September, for .net Magazine
Cheap, complex devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have come along at precisely the moment when HTML5, CSS3 and web fonts are ready for action; when standards-based web development is no longer relegated to the fringe; and when web designers, no longer content to merely decorate screens, are crafting provocative, multi-platform experiences. Is this the dawn of a new web?
Style vs. Design written in 1999 and slightly revised in 2005, for Adobe
When Style is a fetish, sites confuse visitors, hurting users and the companies that paid for the sites. When designers don’t start by asking who will use the site, and what they will use it for, we get meaningless eye candy that gives beauty a bad name.

Happy New Year, all!

Style versus design, revisited

STYLE VERSUS DESIGN READS like it was written this morning. In fact, I wrote the original version in 1999, when I had a monthly web design column going at Adobe.com. In 2005, Adobe asked if I’d mind updating the piece. I changed a couple of words and they agreed that the revision worked. For although the web had changed tremendously between 1999 and 2005, the issue I addressed in my article had not. This afternoon, while importing some old Ma.gnolia bookmarks into Pinboard, I came upon Adobe’s HTML version of the 2005 revision to “Style vs. Design.” I read it again, and tweeted the link. Within minutes, designers were responding. Many thought the piece was new. For what I said in that article over eleven years ago still rings true, although there are now more designers who see things as I do. It’s nice that a piece of writing about web design could remain relevant for over a decade. But it’s also a bit sad. See what you think.

Layer Tennis Championship Today.

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for the game of all games, a design denouement one incredible year in the making, the ultimate test of two unlikely heroes with even less likely names.

Noper vs. Reyes. Layer Tennis 2010 Season 3 championship. Fought live, with live commentary by yours truly. Presented by Adobe CS5 via Coudal Partners.

The Match begins 1:00 pm Chicago time (2:00 pm in NYC, 9:00 pm in Bucharest).

See you there.

iPad as the new Flash


Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

iPad. Never have so many embraced a great product for exactly the wrong reasons.

Too many designers and publishers see the iPad as an opportunity to do all the wrong things—things they once did in Flash—without the taint of Flash.

In the minds of many, the iPad is like Flash that pays. You can cram traditional publishing content into an overwrought, novelty Flash interface as The New York Times once did with its T magazine. You may win a design award but nobody will pay you for that content. Ah, but do the same thing on the iPad instead, and subscribers will pay—maybe not enough to save publishing, but enough to keep the content coming and at least some journalists, editors, and art directors employed.

It’s hard to argue with money and jobs, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so.

Alas, the early success of a few publications—publications so good they would doubtless survive with or without iPad—is creating a stampede that will not help most magazines and interfaces that will not please most readers.

Everything we’ve learned in the past decade about preferring open standards to proprietary platforms and user-focused interfaces to masturbatory ones is forgotten as designers and publishers once again scramble to create novelty interfaces no one but them cares about.

While some of this will lead to useful innovation, particularly in the area of gestural interfaces, that same innovation can just as readily be accomplished on websites built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—and the advantage of creating websites instead of iPad apps is that websites work for everyone, on browsers and devices at all price points. That, after all, is the point of the web. It’s the point of web standards and progressive enhancement.

Luke Wroblewski’s Touch Gesture Reference Guide gives designers plenty of ammunition to create dynamic user experiences that work on a wide variety of mobile phones and devices (including iPad) while these same sites can use traditional desktop browser effects like hover to offer equally rich experiences on non-touch-enabled browsers. Unless your organization’s business model includes turning a profit by hiring redundant, competing teams, “Write once, publish everywhere” makes more economic sense than “Write once, publish to iPad. Write again, publish to Kindle. Write again, publish to some other device.”

I’m not against the iPad. I love my iPad. It’s great for storing and reading books, for browsing websites, for listening to music and watching films, for editing texts, presentations, and spreadsheets, for displaying family photos, and on and on. It’s nearly all the stuff I love about my Mac plus a great ePub reader slipped into a little glass notebook I play like a Theremin.

I’m not against iPad apps. Twitterific for iPad is by far the best way to use Twitter. After all, Twitter is really an internet service, not a website; Twitter’s own site, while leaps ahead of where it used to be, is hardly the most useful or delightful way to access its service. Gowalla for iPad is my constant companion. I dread the idea of traveling without it. And there are plenty of other great iPad apps I love, from Bloom, an “endless music machine” by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, to Articles, which turns Wikipedia into an elegant reading experience, to Mellotronics for iPad, an uncannily accurate Mellotron simulator packed with 13 authentic voices—“the same production tapes featured on Strawberry Fields Forever” and other classic tracks (not to mention tracks by nouveau retro bands like Eels).

There are apps that need to be apps, demand to be apps, and I admire and learn from them like every other designer who’s alive at this moment.

I’m just not sold on what the magazines are doing. Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.

The future of web standards

Jeffrey Zeldman on the future of web standards.

“Cheap, complex devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have come along at precisely the moment when HTML5, CSS3 and web fonts are ready for action; when standards-based web development is no longer relegated to the fringe; and when web designers, no longer content to merely decorate screens, are crafting provocative, multi-platform experiences. Is this the dawn of a newer, more mature, more ubiquitous web?”

The Future of Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman

Originally written for .net magazine, Issue No. 206, published 17 August in UK and this month in the US in “Practical Web Design” Magazine. Now you can read the article even if you can’t get your hands on these print magazines.

See also: I Guest-Edit .net magazine.