Adobe shocked many in May 2013 when they moved from selling retail box software to their 'Creative Cloud' monthly subscription model costing £ 46 per month for individuals – that's over £ 550 per year. Currently CS6 sells for around £ 1200, so that's equivalent to buying the software every two years. Many people will skip several releases if there are no tangible benefits, or simply because of the cost. So what alternatives are there?
Adobe products cover a wide variety of disciplines – web design, image and video editing, design and layout and DVD authoring to name but a few. The best way to break this down is to look at like-for-like replacements. There are some products that will be difficult to replace; for example, if you use Dreamweaver templates to design a single file that contains the look and feel across a website then moving to an alternative HTML editor will be problematic.
Let's take a look at the key products:
Alternatives to Adobe PhotoShop
For many years PhotoShop has been the leading image editing package, but there are plenty of free or paid for alternatives. Corel has several in its portfolio to meet most needs. Paintshop Pro, at around £ 50 is the entry level. Painter takes it up a notch, and also supports PhotoShop files, but at £ 219 starts to get pricey. The CorelDraw Suite includes Corel PhotoPAINT, which is an incredibly powerful alternative. It has all of the main features that you'll generally use, along with a plethora of of filters. The Smart Carver allows you to easily remove unwanted areas from photos and also adjust the photo's aspect ratio. As a complete package the CorelDraw Suite offers a formidable arsenal of tools, but at £ 479 it's not cheap either. Corel's Painter takes things up a notch, with native Photoshop file support and excellent brush control, so if you are serious about 'digital painting' rather than just basic image manipulation then this with consideration. At the time of writing Corel and bundling Painter as a free inclusion with CorelDraw suite – normally it's set you back £ 275 alone.
Corel PaintShop Pro is their third image editing solution at a more pocket-friendly £ 60. It does not have the steep learning curve of the previous packages, so would be suitable for beginners and intermediates alike. It comes with all of the usual filters that you're likely to want, such as Artistic, Film Styles, Black & White and Landscape. A range of 'makeover tools' allow for easy removal of blemishes, wrinkles and red-eye, and photo restoration tools such as scratch removal, cloning and fade correction cover just about all of the correction tools that day to day users are likely to want .
Outside of the Corel fold there are still several options. The open source GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) has a rather unorthodox interface for many, but its well supported and of course free. Paint.net is another free alternative and prides itself on performing well, even on lower spec computers, and has an interface not disimillar to Photoshop.
Alternatives to Adobe Premiere Pro
Adobe's flagging video editing package has ruled the roost on PCs for some time. Apple users have been loyal to Final Cut Pro, but version X was too dumb down for many, causing a mass exodus to alternative products. Sony Vegas did very well out of that! Vegas is Sony's higher end product, costing around £ 400, even their entry level product, Movie Studio retails for around £ 60. I wanted to get as like for like comparison as I could for the most reasonable price. After lengthy comparisons I took a look at Corel VideoStudio X6 Ultimate. In addition to the standard standard features of titling and motion tracking it now includes a plethora of new features, such as support for Ultra High Definition 4k footage editing, a very powerful titling system including the restructured Boris Graffiti system, and the ability to produce content for Blu-ray, DVD and the latest range of smartphones and tablets. It's more socially aware too, with the ability to upload to Facebook or YouTube. You can even create stop motion photography by linking in a DSLR camera. Using the software was pretty intuitive, and Corel has produced a library of videos on all major tutorials for those that do not want to wade through a manual. The Ultimate version retails at £ 80 inc VAT, with the Pro version (minus a few features) at £ 60 – for the extra £ 20 I'd got the ultimate personally … Pinnacle Studio is another suite worth considering, which retails for around $ 60. There is an Open Source video editing tool – VideoLAN's VLMC. VLMC was not actually available at the time of writing, but the screenshots suggest a basic timeline-based editor that should meet the needs of editing those holiday or mobile videos.
Alternatives to Adobe Illustrator
Illustrator is Adobe's vector based DTP software. Certainly in publishing circles it's seen as the de facto standard, but there are several viable alternatives. Starting again with Corel is the CorelDraw Suite. If you were looking to replace both Photoshop and Illustrator then Corel ticks both of those boxes with PhotoPAINT and CorelDraw. The shipped DVD comes with an expansive library of additional tools, templates, cliparts, images and fonts. Having used both Illustrator and CorelDraw I can say that my preference has generally been with the latter. The interface is intuitive, the boundaries are blurred between DTP and image manipulation (as there's a number of image tweaks and filters that you can apply from within CorelDraw). Moving on to the free and lower cost route, Inkscape is Open Source and available for both Windows and Mac which covers most of the features that you'd want, such as opacity and gradient controls. Serif DrawPlus, Skencil and Xara Xtreme are three others worth consideration.
Alternatives to Adobe InDesign
Adobe InDesign is a desktop publishing program that can be used to create various types of content – brochures, magazines, e-books, posters etc. The lines are a little blurred between InDesign and Illustrator for many, as either can be used for certain tasks. As such, several of the products listed above could be suitable, so make a note of your specific requirements and research each alternative to ensure it meets your needs. If you have a subscription to Office 365 or have purchased one of the higher end office suites then Microsoft Publisher is also a suitable alternative. Quark Express is another old favorite for many, although pricey at around £ 800. On the Open Source side you can try Scribus.
Alternatives to Adobe Dreamweaver
For me this is a tricky one. I've used Dreamweaver since version 3, when it was a Macromedia product. It's a strong, solid product that is hard to match. The biggest problem is that if you've written a number of sites using Dreamweaver then you will unduly have built the site using Dreamweaver's templating system. That means moving to an alternative product would require you to rework all of your templates and then apply the new templates to all pages. This could be difficult, even impossible across a live site. Also, if you use other Adobe products such as Flash or ColdFusion then Dreamweaver is the ideal enabler for these products. But if you are just looking for a good HTML editor then there are plenty of free alternatives to Dreamweaver. Microsoft surprisingly has a free product, called Expression Web. Another great product is Kompozer, which is open source. SeaMonkey is more of a suite of applications (including web browser, mail, IRC, HTML editor and developer tools. None of these will resolve the issue of templates, but for standard HTML and CSS editing they should suffice.
Alternatives to Adobe Flash
The alternative you select for Flash will depend very much on what you currently use Flash for. If you are using it simply to play movies online, then YouTube will do a better job – it provides multiple sizes, will play on any device (including iPads / iPhones / iPods) and you do not even have to host it. For most other web requirements HTML5 is replacing Flash, even if you are not an accomplished HTML / CSS programmer then you are going to have a very steep learning curve. I use Flash now only to maintain some demo CD frontends – Flash has the ability to create an executable, which works well on a CD. The closest thing to emulate Flash is Microsoft Silverlight, but this is nowhere near as well supported and again would require a steep learning curve. For many, Flash is a dying product. Apple famously went to war with Adobe over Flash by disabling it from run on their iOS-powered devices, which effectively enforced a mass exodus of developers. Nobody wants to develop for a dying product.
Alternatives to Adobe Fireworks
Adobe stopped developing Fireworks in May 2013. To be honest, I never saw the appeal of it, given that I'd also used PhotoShop which could do pretty much the same thing. Fireworks did not have the ability to slice and dice an image into web friendly files, but in the age of CSS this is less relevant than before. Before I suggest you consider one of the PhotoShop alternatives mentioned earlier, as they'll do much the same as Fireworks did.
Alternatives to Adobe After Effects
After Effects is a video edting suite that allows you to apply special effects such as green screening, animations, text overlays and much more. It invites tight integration with Adobe Premiere, which again will make it difficult for power users to migrate. But it can be done! Blender is a free and well responsive open source alternative. Blender's key features include video editing, 3D modeling, texturing, UV unwrapping, particle simulation, fluid and smoke simulation, animating, and compositing. Eyeon Software's Fusion is a paid-for solution in use by many Holywood studios, so has the credentials to back it up. Unfortunately I could not find pricing information on their website.
Alternatives to Adobe Audition
Audition is a sound editing and mixing application. The application you choose to replace Audition will depend very much on your requirements. If you only need to edit a single file, possibly apply some filters or noise reductions, then this will widen your suitable application list considerably. If you want to mix multiple tracks or need more advanced capabilities there are still options out there, but you'll need to be a little more selective. On the Mac the most well-known product is GarageBand. The open source fraternity is abundent with options; Audacity, LMSS, Ardour and Traverso DAW are all free and capable tools.
Alternatives to Adobe Encore
Encore is Adobe's DVD authoring suite. It's a very capable tool, and allows you to make DVDs with subtitles, chapters, scene selection, multi-lingual and multi sound channels, to name but a few features. I've never been a major fan of Encore, finding it buggy and slow, taking literally hours to render a disc. Microsoft has one of the best free alternatives, with Windows DVD maker – a part of Windows Live Essentials. It has a simple interface, but within a couple of minutes you can drag in a movie, select a theme and start burning – depending on the speed of your PC you can have a high quality disc burnt within 15-30 minutes. The one big caveat is that it's not available for Windows 8. Corel's Video Studio Ultimate Suite again covers the main functions of creating menus and subtitles, so if you're replacing Premiere it's a no-brainer to select it to replace Encore as well. The Nero suite of applications also allows you to create DVDs, and has a host of other video and audio applications attached, so it's worth considering. Pinnacle Studio, mentioned earlier, also has the ability to author DVDs, although their website is unclear how much control you have over the process. Sony Vegas Platinum includes both DVD and Blu-Ray authoring, with full menu creation and control. Other notable products include ManDVD, DVD Flick, Ashampoo Burning Studio.
I think you can probably see the same pattern as I saw. For many Adobe products Corel now have viable alternatives, which will import your native Adobe files to give you a reasonably painless transition. There are also plenty of lower cost or even free alternatives out there, so start with the free ones and see if they fit the bill. For daily tasks, and especially if you use a few of these apps, it's probably worth spending the money on a suite like Corel so that you have the integration across apps.