Knowledge

Can you live without Adobe?

Published on March 16, 2013 under Technology, Web Development

Adobe Creative Suite

Last year, I told a story of a colleague who infected his PC with malware due to using pirated software. I ended that article saying how I will attempt to build a website with low-cost alternatives or freeware.

The main rationale is to ask the question if web designers could live without Adobe’s expensive products. If one really needs to spend the thousands of dollars or pirate the Creative Suite in order to do this line of work.

Culinaria was my grand experiment in all this, and the results were quite good. We’ll go into the different aspects of the work and you can decide for yourself if you really need the Adobe Creative Suite.

Bitmap Imagery

GIMP
Click to enlarge

We’re going to start with where many designs begin. Photoshop (PS) has been the mainstay for creating design layouts and later the individual graphics, patterns, and textures needed. However, $700-$900 for a copy of PS isn’t very feasible to the average person. There are alternatives though.

First on the list would be the open-source freeware GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). I tried using GIMP several times in the past and even now, but I found that its workflow and behaviors are different from Adobe’s flagship product. One example is how when you select an area, you then have to manipulate the selection similar to when you Free Transform an object in PS.

Another factor is how a GIMP install isn’t as “complete” as an install of PS. If you want a function such as Content-Aware Fill, then you’ll have to seek out a plugin made by someone else for GIMP. While GIMP programmers do end up making many new and cool functions before Adobe puts them into PS, it can get annoying having to constantly install many different items to get the power you need.

I also tried a demo of Corel’s Paint Shop Pro. I’ll confess that I actually used to use Corel products originally in the late 90s before I was exposed to PS. In my honest opinion, Paint Shop Pro is a very solid program for a low price ($70 USD), but I felt like it was more geared for amateur photo retouchers and hobbyists looking to do Instagram-type filters that look better than Instagram.

Lastly, there is pixlr.com. It’s a free, online-based image editing software that works within your web browser. I was amazed at how well the programmers managed to make a Photoshop alternative totally as a web-based program. However, I also found it lacked many functions I use normally in Photoshop. Plus I always fear if the browser crashed.

The Verdict: Photoshop. Not all my results are pro-Adobe, but this one is. I’ll have to be honest and say that Photoshop is the standard in image layout and manipulation. You get a complete package as opposed to installing loads of pieces and not the fluff the average consumer would use. I think GIMP and pixlr.com are great solutions for the smaller jobs or those friends who ask you for a bootleg copy of PS just so they can resize an image or add text to a photo.

Maybe down the road if designing in the browser becomes standard, the raw power of Photoshop won’t be necessary. Maybe then the smaller, less expensive alternatives will be enough. For now, I think since most workplaces will put Photoshop on your screen, you’re better off spending the money on your own copy to stay up to standards.

Vector Imagery

InkScape
Click to enlarge

Maybe in web design we won’t have deep need for vector illustration programs, but there does come times when it’s needed. One example is the creation of logos. Adobe Illustrator is the known name, but it can be rather expensive for those who don’t use it very often.

CorelDRAW is a wonderful alternative. Again, this was a mainstay for me back before I was introduced to Adobe’s products. However, it’s $500 price tag also doesn’t make it handy for an occasional user.

Then there is InkScape. Another free open-source program like GIMP. Unlike GIMP, I liked how InkScape’s workflow was close to Illustrator. You can jump from one program to the other with little difficulty. In many ways, I found InkScape to be even more user-friendly, so beginners can really dive into vector graphic manipulation with this...and at no cost.

The Verdict: InkScape. Unless you’re a die-hard illustrator and need all the bells, whistles, and power of Adobe, most occasional users should simply jump to InkScape and not look back. The fact that it’s free also adds to the positives, but I’d even pay $50 for this if I had to.

Coding

Dreamweaver (DW) has been Adobe’s key software for web coding, and many have made it their choice for the WYSIWYG setup as well as easy-to-use behaviors to handle the interactivity measures many amateurs can’t do on their own. Still, I found two alternatives that honestly made me change my choice in coding software.

Coffee Cup HTML Editor
Click to enlarge

Coffee Cup is a wonderful platform of software for web design and coding. In all honesty, the HTML Editor is the item I’m focusing on. Its workflow is very similar to DW, only that you do not get the behaviors and WYSIWYG functions. Those added features can be purchased as modules, so you can spend as little or as much as you want depending on how much you want Coffee Cup to handle.

Sublime Text 2 is a more popular choice among many developers right now. It’s open-source and generally free (they’ll bug you with an occasional pop up asking if you want to pay for it). I do like how this program is quick to install and easy to use. You can literally drag in a file and it opens. However, like GIMP, added features need to be found and added in. You get customization, but not a full package in many ways.

The Verdict: Coffee Cup. I’m sure many will disagree with me on this and choose Sublime Text 2. My personal reason for choosing Coffee Cup is on how much you get site functions like you did with DW at a much lower price ($70). I can do find and replace across a whole site as opposed to one file (I haven’t found a site-wide find-and-replace function in Sublime Text 2).

I think if you’re truly going to be on top of web design, then you should give up WYSIWYG editing. Install Firefox with the Web Developer Toolbar and Firebug, and then use Coffee Cup or Sublime Text 2 as your coding software. You’ll be solid.

The Rest

Other than coding and graphic manipulation, the rest of the necessary tools should be easy. You have the free FileZilla for FTP. I didn’t mention Flash here, mainly because of how much now the industry is moving away from Flash. In all honesty, if you need to make Flash animations, you’re best off using Adobe Flash and not seeking an alternative.

I also wanted to mention the possibility of productivity software, like Microsoft’s Office Suite. Many PCs will come with Corel’s Wordperfect and Macs with Pages. I actually got off using Office and instead use Google Drive for my word processing and spreadsheet needs. Even these articles I type I do them on Google Drive. In all honesty, it’s nice to have the ease and then save them up on the cloud. If you’re not in need of any high-advanced functions of Office, I’d definitely suggest trying Drive.

Do you have any low-cost alternatives to the Adobe Creative Suite? What are they?

Tags: adobe, software, web, design, development

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