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Adobe and the Linux Curse

An interesting discussion popped up on mograph.net regarding the creation of a perfect Linux distribution for artists, over the course of which it was suggested that Adobe do it. While the idea is sound and on an idealistic level makes a lot of sense, it still falls through.

First, of course: Who as an artist actually cares for Linux? I certainly don’t. Yes, there’s lots of Open Source software like Blender that also come for Linux, but why should you even bother? The only reason I would ever use Linux if someone gave me a free 5 year license of Houdini, Maya, Nuke or some similarly expensive tool that would make putting up with all the oddities worthwile.

The second issue naturally is, that many software companies don’t care much for Linux. Well, at least the ones relevant for digital creatives. For all intents and purposes, it’s a fringe market even in the grander scheme of things. Linux as a desktop system is still somewhere in the five percent range at best and of those only a fraction actually has anything to do with 3D animation or other graphics.

As much as it may annoy fanboys, yes, it’s a numbers game where you have to weigh development and distribution cost against the potential user base and the revenue you can make. If you need any proof, you just need to take a long look at companies who have tried and then given up. There was a Linux render client for Lightwave once for a short while, you know.

In addition to the mere marketability side, there are of course serious technical issues. Distributions are still not unified, there is limited support for drivers and CoDecs, there’s all sorts of licensing issues with third-party code and ultimately a program like e.g. Cinema 4D that has an old code basis and relies on specific system libraries because traditionally it was only developed on Mac or Windows will involve a lot of work to convert it to a new platform.

When you look at Adobe, the situation becomes even more complicated. There’s like a gigazillion programs and most of them are interdependent in one way or the other. The thing is, an “icebreaker” or “flagship” program like Photoshop on Linux could attract quite a few people and it has been requested a lot of times, but what even the most ardent proponents forget is, that even this little bugger relies heavily on others.

Think of it: Without Illustrator, vector-based Smart Objects would not be editable and without Adobe Media Encoder you can’t encode videos. On a more basic level you need to worry about color management, printing, tablet support or GPU acceleration for filters. It’s staggering and the challenges are piling high.

And now we’re getting serious: Adobe don’t have a handle on their programs as it is, so would you trust them to take care of yet another version plus their own operating system? I certainly don’t and even if the CC 2015 versions weren’t the nightmare they are, the complexities speak for themselves. A simple fun fact as an example: To date they don’t support case-sensitive volumes on OS X, so how would you expect to deal with this on another system that has this?

Finally, and that’s probably the biggest issue yet, in light of the massive technical issues with Creative Cloud, the lack of customer support and the general unpopularity of the whole shebang, would I want to give them even more control and get deeper into my system? I think not. Call me an eternal pessimist if you will, but I’m not looking forward to someone controlling my program use and my files, just because everything is tied to an operating system that is just a frontend to some cloud service.

Is all hope lost? Not at all! The thing is, there’s actually room for a “Linux operating system for creatives”, it’s just going to take much more than wishful thinking and I honestly have no idea who would/ should do it. Everyone seems to either have their own agenda or no clue how to make it user friendly plus, of course, the Linux landscape is still too fragmented to commit to anything. Perhaps some day the requirement to create content for Steam Boxes and Android might lead to a need for more native tools on Linux, but in my opinion we’re still far away from that…

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One comment on “Adobe and the Linux Curse

  1. Agree, Adobe and those companies should care about linux users. It’s kinda sad when I look at my friend who uses linux, they have to reinstall(or dual boot, switch to windows) just to use those apps.

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