Let’s Talk Photography – Ep.45 – Thoughts on Software 3

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Inspired by Episode 161 of the excellent Shuttertime with Sid & Mac podcast, Bart shares his thoughts on how to go about choosing the best photography software for you. Not the best by some sort of global metric, but the best for you. Bart argues strongly that it matters to you that the company behind the software you choose has a viable business model, and that their vision for the future aligns with yours. You’ll find a bulleted version of Bart’s thoughts and arguments below the fold.

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Reminder – you can submit questions for future Q & A shows at http://lets-talk.ie/photoq

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Outline Notes

  • Inspired by Episode 161 of the Shutter Time with Sid & Mac podcast.
    • The main theme of the show was the choices those who want to move away from the Adobe suite of products have available to them
    • But obvious anger and deep heart-felt emotion about Adobe’s switch to subscription pricing dominated the show
    • Having been a loyal Adobe user for many many years, Sid felt abandoned, and, I think also an entitlement to be allowed to continue with the old model
  • I think all good software invokes emotions, but that goes double for software that enables our most sincere self-expression and creativity, like our photo editors of choice. It could not be more obvious that Sid’s strong emotions were very genuine. With hind-sight, I think I was actually in mourning over Aperture for months if not years.
  • What I want to do in this podcast is think about photography software logically, in the hope that it helps us all see past our initial emotional reaction, and helps us choose the best software to help us create great images.
  • It’s vital to stress that there is no universally best app for anything, there are only per-person best-fits. The question is not “which is the best photo editing app”, but “which is the best photo editor for me.
  • Requirements
    • Functionality – if it can’t do what you need, it’s not an option, move on!
    • Sustainability – software is a living breathing thing, it’s not manufactured like a car, it’s managed like a farm. Software that’s not under active development is rusting away, and you need to move on to something else ASAP!
  • The key to sustainability is economics – most software users don’t think about the economics or software, and I think that’s at the heart of the prejudice many people have against software as a service.
  • The internet has changed everything, and most people haven’t realised that yet
    • In the early days of computing it seemed possible to write an app, sell it, and have people use that version of that app for year after year. If you counted in dog years, that worked pretty well actually, but eventually, time caught up with the old apps and they wouldn’t run on modern CPUs or modern OSes, but it was possible for an app to have a very long life indeed. In that bye-gone world, buying software out-right made sense. Once you’d written an app, you could sell it, and move on. You might move on to writing a new version of the app to sell again, but you moved on. You didn’t have to maintain the old code base, or not much at any rate.
    • Why doesn’t that work today? Simple – each and every one of our computers is quasi-permanently connected to the internet! If your software touches the internet in any way, or, if it opens files that people send over the internet, they your software is is constantly under attack from bad guys. Humans write software, humans make mistakes, so all software has vulnerabilities. Bad guys find them, start to use them to take over people’s computers, so software vendors have to constantly invest in their software to keep it safe. Even if your app doesn’t need constant updating to protect from direct attacks, it still needs constant maintenance because it runs on an OS that is constantly under attack and being inexorably updated.
  • Writing good software is extremely time-consuming. It takes a lot of people a lot of time and effort to make and maintain good software. Because software absolutely needs constant maintenance in today’s connected world, that means there has to be a constant supply of person-hours for as long as the software lives – that’s the big problem software makers all struggle with.
  • The old model was to sell-once, perhaps charge for the odd upgrade every few years. In a world where software needs constant maintenance, that’s a really poor solution, so what to do?
    • You can rely on growth to keep the money coming in – a constant flow of new one-time customers can keep the lights on as long as the new customers keep coming. Small companies can grow steadily for many years, so this is a viable solution for new entrants to the market like Pixelmator and Affinity Photo. This is not a solution for established companies – there are just not enough new customers out there to keep the lights on at a place like Adobe!
    • You can also juice your growth by lowering your price, but that’s a game you only get to play for a while. When you have a race to the bottom, you inevitably end up at the bottom – now you have a dwindling number of new customers, and each customer is bringing you a lot less revenue – you’ve made your original problem worse!
  • Since software needs constant investment just to keep it running, it’s a lot more like a service than a product! Expecting to pay once for software that gets constantly maintained is like expecting to pay once for an internet connection and to get to use it for ever without paying again. It makes no economic sense!
  • When people feel they have an entitlement to pay once and use an app for ever they are thinking of apps as being like cars – you buy one, and then it’s yours. Ford or who ever made it don’t have to put any more work into it, so of course you don’t keep paying them! But software is not like that – it does need constant work by the manufacturer!
  • The answer is blindingly obvious – treat software like a utility, rent access to it, knowing you will be gaining access to a constantly improving and constantly maintained service. This is software as a service, or, subscription pricing.
  • What are the big advantages?
    • The company has a constant stream of income to pay for the constant maintenance that’s needed to keep software alive in our connected world
    • Because the company has income, we, the user, know they have the resources to keep providing us with the product we love. It’s really not in our interest to rely on software produced by a struggling company! You’re going to be making a big investment to learn how to use the software, it would be nice to get to leverage those skills for a long time!
    • The old upgrade cycle placed perverse incentives on software manufacturers. They needed to convince you to upgrade, otherwise they would go bust, so, they had to keep inventing gimmicks to get your money from you. This makes for really bloated, slow, and buggy software. Features for the sake of being able to charge again are not the kinds of features we really want as users!
  • For you to have a positive relationship with a piece of software in the long-term the software must provide you with the functionality you need, it must have a secure source of revenue, and you must have confidence that the company’s goals for the software align with your vision for the future. That means that there are a lot of situations where software as a services makes much more sense than the old pre-internet model of build, buy, move on.

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