Cloud Only Software

What’s the world’s leading office suite, just by number of installations? Microsoft Office. Makes sense. What’s the world’s leading graphics/design suite, just by number of installations? Adobe Creative Suite, including Dreamweaver, Photoshop, InDesign, etc. Outside of your browser, those two areas cover most of what you would normally do on a computer. I’m excluding gaming and video rendering.

So if you’re a typical computer user, and you want to do office or graphics/design work, how do you get to use the software above? Do you just go to Best Buy and pick up a copy of the software? Nope. Used to be that way, but not any more. These days, you rent the software from Microsoft and/or Adobe.

Maybe you’re too young to see this as odd. You may believe that, of course, you always rent the software you want to use. But for those of us who’ve been using computers for more than a decade, this is a significant change.

Software companies had a problem. They would create a program like Microsoft Word, which did pretty much anything you’d ever want to do in a word processor. You’d buy the software for X dollars, and you’d be done. But that was a problem for the company. All things being equal, you’d never update that software. You’d never replace it with a newer version, because the software did everything you needed it to do. So the software companies decided to copy the automotive industry, and give you a new version of the software every year or so. This new version came with new features and bug fixes, if any were needed. The only problem was that your program was fine the way it was, and you didn’t really need the new features, particularly at the price of a new version.

This problem was multiplied if you owned a company in which you used multiple copies of your software. If you upgraded, you were looking at an upgrade on every desktop, which could quickly run into a lot of money. It was worse, if some of your desktops had version 3.0 of the software and others had 4.0. Now you were managing a hodgepodge of programs and versions, and the upgrade problem became a real expensive mess.

This problem was well illustrated by Windows XP. This version of Windows was (finally) stable and did just what it needed to do. Customers were perfectly happy with it, and saw no reason to upgrade to some newer version of Windows. Instant money pit for Microsoft. They were busy coming up with new, shinier, prettier, cooler versions of Windows every few years, and customers weren’t cooperating by upgrading.

The answer? The Cloud. Someone somewhere realized that if you could shift the paradigm of the software industry to one where the user had to rent the software instead of owning it, you could keep your developers busy producing new versions, and your customers could pay you every month (or year) for the privilege of using your software. A constant stream of income for software companies.

Naturally, Microsoft and Adobe bought into this scheme lock, stock and barrel.

Of course, there are some other consequences of this change to the software paradigm. First, if you’re not connected to the Internet for some reason, you’re out of luck. After all, the software is based in the Cloud, and if you’re offline, you’re not connected to the cloud. No software for you.

One other possible consequence is more objectionable. Being connected to the Cloud means that your software company can know every document you create and edit. Moreover, being connected also means they can collect data on your computer, your usage habits, etc., to their heart’s content. This becomes another revenue stream for them, since they can sell the data they collect to others, so the others can deliver targeted ads, etc.

You may not object to all this. It may seem like the way it’s always been. But that’s not true. And for those of us who have been using computers more than a minute, it’s objectionable. For decades, the software we used was software we owned. And we didn’t have corporations snooping on us as we used their software. And if we wanted to disconnect our computers from the Internet, we could still get all the work done we wanted to.

Another problem this solves for software companies is software piracy. This has been a paranoid obsession of software companies for decades. Various companies have tried various schemes to combat unauthorized duplication of software, and their schemes have met with customer ire and derision. And shortly after each scheme was hatched, someone with a little greater software expertise came up with a way to defeat the scheme. But the Cloud obviates all this. If you control the cloud, you control the use of the software. And you can monitor who does or doesn’t have legal access to the software. Goodbye pirates.

Of course, if, like me, you object to all this, there is a solution. Use Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). For example, Libre Office is a FOSS office suite which immitates virtually everything Microsoft Office does. And in many cases, it can even save your documents to Microsoft formats.

Then there is Linux. It’s an operating system similar to Windows or MacOS, but more secure. Yes, there is a learning curve getting started. But Linux machines can talk to and exchange files with Windows or Mac machines. And you may find Linux superior to Windows and MacOS in some ways. But most important, the software is free, and not wedded to a corporation you must pay monthly tribute to.

As for Adobe, there is no one suite which replaces all of Adobe’s programs. However, there are FOSS programs which do more or less the same thing that Adobe programs do. “The GIMP” more or less copies Photoshop, for example. There are others, if you look around.

If you’re perfectly happy with the Cloud and the software you rent, then by all means continue as you have been. But if you object to the current software industry paradigm, investigate FOSS. I’ve used it for over 20 years, and am quite satisfied.