Keeping Pace with Digital and Software Changes

Upgrading is but one important part of staying on top of technology.

Keeping up with software upgrades has changed a great deal over the years. Early on, the biggest challenge was learning how to do things in a digital environment. That took a few years before it became the accepted adopted way of doing things. Then, every year, pretty much like clockwork, we would get a new version release. The decision to upgrade really wasn’t much of a decision because the improvements were so big and so significant that the choice was pretty much mandatory.

By the early to mid 2000s, the big technical improvements were reduced to incremental improvements and the shift became one from production prepress to Web-content-creation tools. Adobe, in particular, has taken the position that print is either dying or dead and the big improvements have been aimed at digital photography and image creation.

At the same time, the cost to upgrade when a new version is released has increased substantially to the point where the trade-off between upgrade and incremental feature improvement has not been enough to justify the cost. It was common for most companies to upgrade as each new release came out. Now I see companies who are four, five, and even six full versions behind. This creates a significant problem for everyone.

Upgrade disruptions
Another reason to upgrade besides functionality has to do with processing power. Most companies that haven’t upgraded for several years are using software based on a 32-bit processing stream. The newest operating systems on both the PC and Mac side are 64 bit. Consequently, the software and the newest features are designed around a 64-bit computation engine.

On the surface, this creates a minor problem. From a productivity perspective, a higher data path means you can process more complex files faster. This is always a good thing. On the downside, many third-party plug-ins are not compatible with the 64-bit depth. I have seen it take more than two years for some of these plug-ins to be updated. Some of my all-time favorite standbys haven’t been upgraded—and may never be. This is another example of how an upgrade can be disruptive to your overall productivity and results.

Content created in the latest version often has functionality that cannot be saved to an earlier version. Good examples of this in the past have been Gradient Warping and transparency.

This leads to more friction between content creators and print providers. The content creators are all looking for new techniques. They are usually on the cutting edge with their design features. The complexity of the files generated creates enormous challenges when a production artist has to attempt to translate the intent of the artist to the reality of output.

In talking with my clients, the most common response I get as to why they have not upgraded their software has to do with the limited incremental increases in features and benefits as it relates to print production. When considering the high upgrade costs, the number of seats requiring licenses, and the limited benefits to them, the decision is to opt out of the upgrade.

Software As A Service
The diminishing number of companies that routinely upgrade has created a trend. This is the move to Software As A Service (SAAS), where you pay a monthly subscription to access the services you need. This is a welcome solution. Currently, Adobe is offering to move everyone with a CS3 or higher license to the cloud-based model for $29.00 per month per seat. I really like this for a number of reasons.

The first is you now have a clear path to stay current at an affordable rate. The software resides on your machine, just as it does now, and it pings the Adobe servers to verify your license. This $29 per month allows you to access the entire Creative Suite―everything Adobe makes. This means even more as we move toward additional multimedia content creation and the need to manage brand, color, and content across different media.

The second thing about cloud-based SAAS is that Adobe can continuously release progressive bug fixes, new features, and less drastic major upgrades. SAAS moves toward a continuous upgrade process. This helps Adobe and the end users stay current and minimize the shock of major interface redesign. This has been one of my big complaints with Microsoft upgrades to the Office Suite. Whenever I do a major upgrade, it takes me several weeks to learn where everything has gone and to learn the new pallets, panes, and menu bars.

With these big upgrades, we have also seen the downgrade phenomenon. We saw this with Adobe CS6, when they removed all the separation-output options from the program. They just assumed that everything was taking place within the RIP and there was absolutely no need for anyone to have to set the angles, dot shapes, and frequencies from within the files. This was a huge shock to thousands of screen printers who used those features in Illustrator and Photoshop on a daily basis.

Customized software
I feel it won’t be too long before we’ll be able to configure custom menus and interfaces with only the features and tools we need for the work we do. Design and production software has become bloated with too many features that aren’t relevant to the end user. At the same time, the arbitrary removal of features can have unintended negative consequences, as we have just seen. Imagine how nice it would be to configure our own functionality in the same way we can currently set our own inspector pallets or menus.

As an example, a production artist in a separation or prepress environment designed around a non-ICC color workflow with DCS 2.0 output has a very different requirement from a printer using an ICC CMYK or expanded gamut.

One of the things I’ve found to be very helpful is to combine the SAAS model with online tutorials and training. My favorite source for this is Lynda.com. They have been around for many years and their site just keeps getting better and better. The tutorial lessons are very short, usually less than 10 minutes, and you can track your progress, test for competency, and access demo and training files to work through the lessons.

The beauty of Lynda.com is that you get a preview of what is coming. Whenever there is a major release, they are there with excellent training on new features, changes to workflow, demos, and tutorials on how to use the new functionality. This happens on many levels and not just with point-and-click examples, but it does not stop with just tutorials for the applications.

If you haven’t used Lynda.com, you’re in for a treat. They have hundreds of tutorial subjects on every imaginable subject with thousands of video segments. Not only can you access virtually every major design, paint, illustration, and 3D program, but you also have complete access to Web-development and coding tutorials.

Tutorials on AppleScript help you to automate your workflow. There are tutorials on PHP, MySQL, Ruby, Objective C, C++, Javascript, Jquery, and the list goes on and on. And this leads nicely into the next big thing in software.

Of course, I’m talking about widget and app development. As common as apps are on our phones and tablets, I’m shocked and amazed that more businesses aren’t taking advantage of the ease of creation to improve their customer and market engagement.

App development
Apps are all about productivity and making it easy. They are about enablement. Every company will see their own opportunities. I feel so strongly about this that the creation of apps should be the subject of an in-depth series. App creation is one of the fastest ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

One of the biggest trends happening right now is the move toward coding your own software apps. It’s an inevitable event. As the digital evolution continues, our ability to interface with it means we need to know how to make our own software. This sounds completely outside our reality, but it really isn’t.

There’s a very good reason why you should be looking at app creation: It furthers the engagement with your customers and clients. As Web 2.0 continues to move toward Web 3.0, the difference is two-way connections. The key to making this happen is the apps with which we engage our customers. Anything we can do to make it easier, faster, and cheaper to do business with us will increase our edge.

Along with the meteoric rise of app popularity (Apple just announced the 40 billionth download) comes the corresponding rise in app creation. There are now more than one million apps approved for just the iPhone. In January of 2012, there were 400,000 Android apps—and 700,000 by October of 2012. The majority of apps are still games, but the trend is clear: Huge growth and more and more people move off the desktop and spend more time on their mobile devices.

With so much demand for apps, how hard is it to make one? As it turns out, not so hard. It’s now possible to make your own apps without writing a single line of code. Heck, even kids in middle school are making them. This is huge. Of course, you can learn all about it on Lynda.com.

In looking back over the last 20 years of digital revolution/evolution, the changes have been profound. In virtually every area digital has been introduce, there has been fundamental disruption and destabilization. After the initial disruption, that segment remains forever altered.

There is no going back. Faced with the fact we live in a digital world that will only become more digital, how we learn and keep up will determine how relevant we are and our business are to our customers and clients. This should be what shapes our practices when it comes to upgrading and keeping current in an ever-changing digital landscape.

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