Mountain Lion

Adobe CS2 free-for-all? Not quite…and what it really means

Adobe Creative Suite 2 graphic

Bargain hunters went nuts and hammered Adobe download servers over reports that Adobe Creative Suite 2 is supposedly available for a free download. This isn’t the whole story; the facts have been somewhat oversimplified by the “telephone game” nature of passing along information on the Internet. The story is clearer with a little more context.

Adobe Creative Suite requires online activation in order to function. Adobe made a decision to shut down the activation server for Creative Suite 2, which was released in 2005. Shutting down the activation server means that if any of the remaining CS2 users needed to reinstall their software, the software would not be able to activate. Adobe chose to do the right thing for those users: They made it possible for them to keep using the software by providing replacement downloads that won’t look for an activation server.

It’s not meant for everybody

What Adobe wanted to do is provide a simple way for legitimate CS2 users to continue using their software. But whether it was due to lack of clarity on the original Adobe CS2 download page or the immense desire of users to get free software that has a high perceived value, the message being spread around the Internet is that CS2 is free to all. But it isn’t, and Adobe has clarified its language (updated mid-2013) in the Adobe tech note Error: Activation Server Unavailable | CS2, Acrobat 7, Audition 3 (look under How to Install, step 2):

“You can use the serial numbers provided as a part of the download only if you legitimately purchased CS2, CS2 applications, Acrobat 7, or Audition 3.”

In other words, you are not any more (or less) entitled to use CS2 than you ever were. If you didn’t have a license then, you don’t now. But if you still depend on CS2 for mission-critical tasks today, Adobe has removed the activation requirement for the license you have, and that’s a net plus. If you do have a valid CS2 license you can grab the activation-free software from the Adobe CS2 downloads page.

If there’s no technical barrier that stops you from using this software if you don’t have a valid license for it, should you use it anyway? That’s an interesting moral decision. Many of us express frustration when content companies employ copy protection/DRM in a way that seems to assume we can’t be trusted. But if you act against the terms of a license because there’s nothing to stop you, all you’ve done is prove that the content companies are right.

Would you benefit from running CS2 today?

Whether you’re frantically trying to snag your free download or disappointed that you don’t actually qualify from a legal point of view, it’s worth stepping back for a second to think about the implications of using CS2 today:

  • What’s your hardware? The biggest benefit of being able to run CS2 is for users with older computers. As I write this (in 2013), CS2 is now 8 years old. On the Windows side it isn’t optimized for Windows 7 or 8. But the real problem is on the Mac side. CS2 was written for the processor that powered Macs in 2005: The PowerPC. But soon after, Apple migrated all Mac hardware to Intel processors, and the last version of OS X that can run PowerPC software is OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. But it’s been many years since any new Macs could run 10.6, so new and recent Macs will not run or install CS2 at all. So if you’ve got an up-to-date Mac you can’t use CS2; compatibility with Intel Macs started with CS3. On the other hand, those still running old PowerMac G5 towers will be happy that they can still run CS2.
  • What’s your workflow? Having access to CS2 may be useful if your main workflows are centered around older media, such as traditional prepress, pre-HTML5, and standard-definition video. But if your work depends on keeping up with today’s emerging media such as HD and DSLR video, output to online streaming video, the latest camera raw formats, and content for mobile devices such as eBooks and responsive web sites, your business would benefit more from having CS5 or CS6.
  • Can you use CS2 to get  an upgrade discount? Some have asked whether having a CS2 serial number would make you eligible for upgrade discounts. No, it would not. Currently, upgrade discounts for the current version (CS6) are available to registered users of the previous version (CS5). It used to be that you could upgrade from the last two previous versions, but even that wouldn’t reach far back enough to make CS2 useful to obtain an upgrade discount.
  • How good is Photoshop CS2? Photoshop CS2 is quite powerful, and if it does what you need then it’s great. But it lacks recent GPU acceleration support, support for recent raw formats, HDR and panorama tools, profile-based lens correction, 3D, video editing, better selection and masking tools, the entire content-aware feature set, Lightroom integration, and more. (For a list of the many changes since CS2, see the Photoshop version history on Wikipedia.) Photoshop CS2 is quite suitable for a computer of the same era, but like the rest of CS2 it won’t make the best use of current hardware.

In the end, having access to CS2 is most valuable to users who need to keep CS2 running on aging hardware and have not already moved up to a more recent version. There are not a lot of those users left, but they are exactly the users Adobe wanted to support with the new builds. If your business is built on computers, cameras, and other equipment that are a lot newer than 2005, it makes sense that the software you use should be optimized for the up-to-date tools you use. So if you feel you’re being excluded from a deal by not being eligible for a free copy of CS2, keep in mind that CS2 is not the most competitive set of tools for today’s media and hardware.

Is this a good sign for the future of old activated software?

On the whole, the Adobe move is good news. Since activation became standard procedure at companies like Microsoft and Adobe, users have wondered how long they can count on activation servers functioning reliably, and what happens if companies stop supporting activated software. Adobe has now set a precedent of letting old activation-based software continue to function without needing activation, and we can all hope that remains true in the future…at least for perpetual licenses.

(The reason I mention perpetual licenses is because Adobe Creative Cloud subscription licenses work differently. Adobe has made it clear that Creative Cloud software stops working if you stop paying the monthly fee, and that when a new version of Creative Cloud-based software comes out the old version will continue to work for only one more year.)

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion: Will Adobe software work?

[Did you come here looking for Mavericks info? Go here instead: OS X 10.9 Mavericks: Will Adobe software work?]

Now that OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is available from the Mac App Store for a mere USD$19.99, you’re probably wondering how well your Adobe software and other Mac apps will run on it. Below is a summary of various reports I’ve read on and around the web.

Adobe FAQ: Adobe had published a Mountain Lion FAQ when this post was originally written, but it seems to have been replaced with a new document after the Creative Cloud launch in May 2013. The former Mountain Lion FAQ said:

At this time, none of the CS5, 5.5 or CS6 applications require updates to be compatible with Mountain Lion. However, we do recommend that all users download the latest version of the Adobe Flash® Player runtime…In our testing we have found no significant issues with running CS5, 5.5, CS6 or Acrobat products with Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.

A post at the blog does talk about Creative Suite versions and Lion, and says:

We have worked closely with Apple to review Adobe Creative Suite 5, 5.5 and CS6 editions and individual products for impact on reliability, performance and user experience. Earlier versions of Adobe Photoshop® (CS3 and CS4), Lightroom 4.1, 4.0 and earlier software were also tested and there are currently no known issues.

If your Adobe software is earlier than CS5, to run under Mountain Lion at all it must support Intel processors. After Apple switched to Intel-based Macs, Apple started phasing out support for running software based on the older PowerPC processors. Starting with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Mac OS X no longer runs PowerPC-based software. You’ll have to check compatibility for each of the Adobe applications you want to run; for example, Photoshop CS3 was the first version of Photoshop that ran on Intel-based Macs, so Mountain Lion will not allow Photoshop CS2 to run or even install. But even if your software older than CS5 runs on Mountain Lion, it may still have other issues because OS X has changed a lot since then.

Flash: Apple has changed how Adobe Flash Player is allowed to work in OS X. If you aren’t on the latest version of Flash, OS X may display a “Blocked Plug-in” message because Apple wants you to have the latest Flash security fixes. All you have to do is go into the Flash Player system preference and update it from there, or download the latest version of Flash from the link above and run the installer. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to view Flash content again.

Flash Player system preference

Premiere Pro: John Nack of Adobe, whose blog clued me in to the Adobe FAQ for Mountain Lion, reports that according to Adobe Premiere Pro team member Todd Kopriva:

Mountain Lion (Mac OS v10.8) upgrade improves performance and stability with Premiere Pro.

I’m guessing that this may be because of new code in Mountain Lion that Premiere Pro can take advantage of, because this isn’t the first time that happened: Premiere Pro also ran better after Apple added OpenCL improvements to the OS X 10.7.4 update.

Update: Adobe has posted a Premiere Pro tech note about AVCHD video issues related to a change Apple made in Mountain Lion.

OS X Gatekeeper and older Adobe software: Gatekeeper is a new security feature Apple added in Mountain Lion that helps make sure that you aren’t running malicious applications. In the Mountain Lion FAQ linked above, Adobe says:

Adobe has added the Gatekeeper signing requirements to our currently shipping applications. However, our legacy products created before Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper feature was available are not signed. If you download one of those legacy (unsigned) applications, the Gatekeeper security feature may pop-up a security dialog…

Because Adobe only updated currently shipping software for Gatekeeper, if you run older versions of Adobe software you should review that section of the FAQ.

Full-screen mode on multiple monitors: Since Lion, when a Mac application goes into the OS-native full-screen mode, all other connected monitors go blank, displaying only the gray “linen” desktop so that you can’t see your other apps. No one is able to explain why this is a good thing. The only change in Mountain Lion is that you can display the active application on any connected display…but you still can’t see any other apps.

Adobe continues to use the traditional Adobe full screen modes in their apps such as Photoshop, Lightroom, and Illustrator. While some Mac users might complain that the Adobe way makes those apps “non-standard,” as a long-time Mac user trying to get things done with multiple apps on multiple monitors I find the Adobe full screen mode to be much more productive than the OS X implementation.

(If you want to turn on the Adobe full screen mode, in OS X or Windows press the F key…just the letter F, not a function key. That shortcut will cycle through the View > Screen Mode commands in Photoshop, the Window > Screen Mode commands in Lightroom, and the Change Screen Mode button in Illustrator. Adobe full screen mode is available in some, but not all, Adobe software.)

Note: In OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple is changing how full screen apps work on multiple monitors. This may solve the current issues.

10-bit video displays: Photoshop users and other graphics professionals have been interested in properly supporting 10-bits-per-channel video displays on Macs. (This isn’t about the file format, but the data path to the video monitor. Most displays support 8 bits per channel of color, but some high-end monitors support 10 bits per pixel for smoother gradations and better color accuracy.) To support 10-bit video requires an unbroken chain of components: The monitor, the graphics card, the cable, the application, and the operating system and its graphics driver software. If any part of the chain doesn’t support 10-bit video, it won’t work. And it might not work on the Mac any time soon, due to Apple’s continuing lack of 10-bit video APIs in OS X. The displays are ready, the graphics cards are ready, compatible DisplayPort cables are ready, Photoshop is ready…OS X remains the one broken link in the chain.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display [updated August 29, 2012]: Adobe has published a list of the first wave of their software that will support the high resolution of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display “over the next few months;” you can read about it in an Adobe blog post. Photoshop and Lightroom are both on that list. Presumably, the rest will follow a little later.

Update: Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 received Retina Display support in the update released December 11, 2012. Run Adobe Updater to get them (choose Help > Updates in the software).

To learn about OS X software compatibility of Mac software in general, a great resource is the Roaring Apps database. It lists OS X software and its reported compatibility with OS X 10.7 Lion and 10.8 Mountain Lion. For mission-critical software, you should also check each company’s support website to verify that it works.

If you’re updating from Mac OS X 10.6 or earlier, you may also want to read my blog post “Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Will Adobe apps and other software work?”, so that you can also be up to date on the more dramatic changes that were introduced in Lion, such as the end of support for PowerPC-based software.

Wondering what Mountain Lion is all about? For the most in-depth Mountain Lion review you’ll probably find anywhere, read John Siracusa’s review at Ars Technica. As with every major release of OS X, Siracusa not only reviews the visible features that Apple promotes, but goes under the surface to explain changes to some of the underlying technologies in OS X and how they affect your Mac experience.