Adobe Creative Cloud and Videography

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Since the introduction of Creative Cloud, the question has been: does Adobe's move mean a radically altered workflow for content creation professionals, particularly video editors? For the moment, the answer is probably not. For all intents and purposes, Creative Cloud applications remain ordinary desktop applications; Adobe has merely eschewed the traditional perpetual license in favor of a subscription license. And on top of that, they are granting the user a set of—fairly limited at this point—cloud-based services; notably 20GB of file storage per application for individual users, and the ability to share files, even to those who do not hold a Creative Cloud subscription.

What the cloud Means

For many, the notion of the cloud is a source of anxiety, implying something nebulous and vaguely threatening. Others latch onto it as the latest buzzword—if you aren't “in the cloud,” you might as well be using homing pigeons for telecommunications. But I'm not sure many people stop to consider what the “cloud” really is. Broadly speaking, the cloud is just a form of centralized data storage, accessed via the Internet—centralized in the abstract sense; the physical servers may employ an aggregation scheme that spreads data across many physical locations, and better systems will feature off-site redundant backups. Most of us, even without realizing it, may be using cloud-based services already on our mobile devices. Most apps that automatically back up our data, for example, are storing it in the cloud.

So, what does it mean to say software is cloud-based, as Adobe claims about Creative Cloud applications? To my way of thinking, anyway, cloud-based software is software that is accessed from the Internet—or at least substantially dependent on services delivered from the cloud—as opposed to being a stand-alone application that is physically installed on one's computer or mobile device, even if that application, from time to time, requires Internet access for certain features to work. In many ways, following this definition, cloud-based software is analogous to remote software in an enterprise setting, where the operating system and applications run on a server in a data center that, meanwhile, is accessed by the end user from a client device that contains no operating systems or applications of its own. I think many people share this view, and it leads to worry: what happens when there is no Internet connection?

Fortunately, what I have just described has nothing to do with Adobe Creative Cloud—at least for the moment. Creative Cloud applications are cloud based in name only. They are, in fact, stand-alone applications that install on the end user's computer, just like Creative Suite applications and, periodic reactivation notwithstanding, can run without Internet access indefinitely. The major change Adobe has made is the way their software is licensed. Even though we all click to agree to a legalese tome of a ULA every time we install a new program—and probably never read a word of it—we never think of buying software as buying a license. We image ourselves in possession of something tangible, like a new pair of jeans (even though we never had to agree to a contract before pulling on a pair). Well, Adobe apparently wants us to change that way of thinking, and started using a term that I, for one, had never heard before: “perpetual license.” A perpetual license is what you always got before, when buying software. Not a physical good, but a contract allowing you to use the software in perpetuity—forever. What Adobe now offers instead is a subscription license, that through B&H is available for purchase as an annual subscription.

Not only is it a normal desktop application in the sense that it installs and can be run offline, it is yours to update as you please. Holding a subscription license entitles you to every update that comes along, and updates are expected to be more frequent, while individually smaller in scope than before. But the reality of video editing is that this is not what you want. We all know not to update in the middle of a project. Even between projects, you may not want to. If a new feature breaks that was working before, or if the changes take a long time to learn, this may be the last thing you want in a busy post shop. Workflow needs to be a well-oiled machine, and every software update has the potential to throw a disastrous kink in the process. As it stands, Adobe will allow you to refuse updates for as long as the software remains installed on your computer—presumably even if your subscription lapses for a period. Of course, you won't have any installation media, as Adobe did away with discs, so it's on you as the end user to keep backup copies of the installation files you originally downloaded. And my prediction is that the older your software gets, the more Adobe will nudge you to update. Older software is likely to need more support, have increasing compatibility issues as operating systems get updated, and may even have security vulnerabilities, incentivizing Adobe's nudging you to keep up with the latest version.

If Creative Cloud applications continue to evolve toward being truly cloud based, a time may come when we can no more refuse a software update than refuse a redesign of the Gmail website. In my opinion, this is the direction software—and sooner or later even operating systems—are heading. At this point, Creative Cloud truly will be cloud based, not merely desktop software with a couple of value-added, could-based services. What a true cloud architecture will mean then, to content-creation professionals, is unclear. One can only hope by then that the engineers will be more on top of bugs that they are now; repairing them almost as quickly as they are detected. My own suggestion, for what it's worth, is that some time kind of curated virtual machine can be developed for DCC software to run in, thus isolating applications from many of the conflicts that currently plague desktop users, especially on the Windows platform.

Adobe's cloud Services

As noted, Creative Cloud is more a limited bundle of cloud-based services loosely tied in with desktop applications than a complete cloud-based software solution. But what are those cloud services? Right now, they consist mainly of storage and file sharing. Individual users get 20GB per application of data storage on the cloud, and can share files with anyone, even those who are not Creative Cloud subscribers. The cloud automatically stores ten precious versions of any material that you upload; however, only the most recent version counts against your allotment. 20GB probably doesn't sound like a lot to those of us in the video world, especially when Google Drive offers 15GB for free. It might be sufficient for sharing the odd video file; but as far as collaborative file sharing on a project of any size, it looks to be some time before cloud-based storage will become viable.

Metadata and EDL Sharing

Having integrated file sharing may not seem like that big of a deal; files are easy to share as it is. Having it be a built-in feature of an application is probably superfluous to many people. Though the cloud may lack the file-storage capacity that video post production demands, there is one thing it can offer right now, today—metadata exchange. By storing metadata files centrally, Creative Cloud provides an automated way for various teams and individuals collaborating on large projects to all stay current with the latest revisions. For example, an assistant editor can start conforming clips as soon as the director in the dailies screening marks takes as good. Any camera notes taken on set will be instantly available to everyone else downstream; and any updates to those notes, once the footage has been reviewed—such as new problems discovered—will be disseminated throughout the entire post-production work force. This application of cloud services has growing promise, especially as an increasing number of codecs support the MXF wrapper, which allows arbitrary metadata files to be bundled along with the audio and video streams.

Security Concerns

Since you are not obliged to store your data on the cloud, or even be connected to the cloud at all to use a Creative Cloud application, there need not be any greater security risk than using any other piece of software. If you do choose to store data on Adobe's cloud, then the security of your data obviously depends upon how secure Adobe's servers are. Adobe states:

"Creative Cloud uses industry-leading encryption technology to protect our members' data. When you use the service and transfer files, 256-bit AES Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption is used for both user authentication and data-transfer encryption, helping to ensure that your data and documents are available only to you and the users you authorize. This is the same industry-leading technology used by the world's financial institutions and governments. The service issues a session cookie only to record authentication information for the duration of a specific session. The session cookie does not include the username (Adobe ID) or password of the user. For stored Creative Cloud assets, users benefit from the industry-leading security and certifications provided by Amazon Web Services."

In terms of the channel that connects your computer to the cloud server, it's probably equivalent to typical HTTPS web services, like Gmail. Regarding the integrity of the data on Amazon-protected servers, that's harder to say. With Kickstarter added to the growing list of data breach victims—not to mention Adobe's own fiasco regarding login credentials—one can be forgiven for not having a ton of faith in Internet data storage. But, keeping things in perspective, one's video content and associated metadata files aren't typically high-value targets—unlike, say, credit or debit card details.

It's a lot less likely someone would want to hack the Creative Cloud's server, except maybe in a spiteful attack. And if someone did get to the data, the risk from lost footage for the typical users is probably low. Major productions, obviously, aren't going to want raw footage escaping to the Internet, however. Fortunately, there is a foolproof solution that works for any kind of data that is stored on or transits the Internet: pre-Internet encryption. No server is ever going to be perfectly secure; if your data truly is that valuable, you should encrypt before it leaves your computer—and make sure only trusted individuals are given the key that unlocks it. (One caveat: I don't know whether Adobe will allow encrypted files to be uploaded or shared via the Creative Cloud. They state that certain file types, such as executables and media files known to be popular among pirates, such as .mp3, can be uploaded but are embargoed from sharing over Creative Cloud. Encrypted extensions, such as .gpg, do not appear on the embargoed list; however, they might get picked up and blocked by anti-virus software.)

Creative Suite Interoperability

At this time, Adobe assures us Premiere, After Effects, and many other applications will support interoperability between the Creative Cloud and Creative Suite CS6.x versions. Adobe hasn't seen the kind of tumultuous updating that Final Cut Pro X has, so there's good reason to take them at their word. Historically, they've added features incrementally, without stripping down an application and starting from scratch—most notably—and some would say infamously—with Photoshop. Naturally, as updates to Premiere, After Effects, etc., add new features, that is, the more they evolve away from CS6, the less interoperable they will become. But this is likely to be more of a progressive deterioration of compatibility over time, rather than an all-at-once deprecation of support for legacy CS6 project files; in contrast to the latest Final Cut Pro X update (10.1.1), which now uses project files that are completely incompatible with older versions of the same software—older versions of FCPX, that is, not even FCP7.

Finally, XML support will always mean some degree of universal interoperability, not only between older Adobe applications, but also third-party applications such as Avid Media Composer. As metadata becomes more elaborate, one can only hope some kind of open-source standardization is agreed upon that will allow seamless cross-application metadata exchange as well as EDL exchange, since moving forward, metadata may become even more important than EDLs and project files.

Pricing

The biggest complaint seems to be regarding the costs of a subscription versus a perpetual license that you pay for once and can use for as long as you like. Whether Creative Cloud costs more will, naturally, depend on the user. If you use most of the applications in the creative suite and use them frequently you will certainly profit from the new licensing scheme. Those who are more periodic users that don't upgrade often may find themselves set back a bit more. Having said that, one has to consider if the comparison is even fair.

Adobe will argue that the customer is getting more from Creative Cloud than they did in the past. They are getting more frequent, guaranteed updates. And they are getting cloud features. Additionally, having a 30-day option allows periodic users, such as freelancers who may switch applications from project to project, in a sense, to pay only for what they need. And, admitting that what the Cloud is offering for the moment is not much to write home about, I do agree that Adobe is offering us a new and different product. For now, that may be lightly modified CS6 applications; but over time I would anticipate them to mature into truly cloud-based solutions, not just desktop programs with a bit of free storage and a file-sharing server to sweeten the deal.

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