My Open Source Challenge – Pt1

“And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
  You never get rid of the Dane.” – Rudyard Kipling

There’s been a recent trend where many companies, especially in the area of software, to make their products subscription-based. Some of the big names have gone down this path, such as Adobe with its “Creative Cloud” option. Likewise, Autodesk introduced a subscription option for its famous 3DS Max software a year or so back and in early 2016 actually removed the software from sale completely–you can no longer buy 3DS Max, only rent it.

The arguments for subscription are widely touted. It’s supposedly more “cost-effective” compared to buying it (based on you automatically upgrading to each new version when it’s released, something I don’t think anyone ever did), you get updates faster, and it has a lower cost to entry.

While some of these claims may be true, the real reason companies want to move to this distribution method are entirely selfish. They know that few people updated with every release, so this gives them a guaranteed income stream. Think about this – we’re always told that buying a house is so much better than renting, so why should we rent software? (Or Cars? Or anything else for that matter?) What’s more worrying is that it effectively locks you in to paying the providers pretty much forever more.

Locked In

As an example, I have a Creative Cloud full-subscription for all the Adobe products, so I can use them whenever I want with no restrictions. I use them for covers (Photoshop), for book trailers (After Effects) and even print layout (In Design). I’ve become proficient with these products to a greater or lesser extent, dependent on how much I’ve needed to use them.

However, if I stopped my subscription my access to the files I created would be gone. Yes, that’s right – choosing to stop paying Adobe means I can’t open, edit, or update my own files! As soon as you cancel your subscription, your ability to use those files ends effectively immediately. There may be the option of finding other programs to open these files, but don’t count on it, especially if you use the more advanced features.

Many years ago I learned how to use 3DS Max while working at a games company. It’s a very expensive piece of software whether you buy or subscribe. Autodesk very “kindly” offers a free student version. Which sounds generous, but really is just a way of getting people familiar with the software so that they become locked in through familiarity. The company knows people are unlikely to change and face the learning curve of a new piece of software. This is the marketing equivalent of the drug dealer handing out free samples.


So what to do? Well, when I wanted to create some 3D art for my book covers I looked around for alternatives I could afford. Unfortunately, all 3D software is fairly expensive (a knock-on effect from Max’s pricing I’m sure.) However, there is Blender, an open-source 3D editor capable of rivaling the best that Max can produce. Fair warning, Blender is challenging to learn, it’s user-interface is best described as quirky, but the fact that it’s free makes it worth the effort. Many add-ons available for Max (at an equally steep price!) are also available either as standard in Blender or as free 3rd party plug-ins. There are also plenty of tutorials and user sites to get you started. Check out the the demo reel showing some of the amazing things Blender can do.

Gimp and Paint.NET

Photoshop is a challenge to replace. The nearest open-source alternative is Gimp. This works in a similar way to Photoshop and has many of the same capabilities. As it’s open-source it’s always being updated and the programs capabilities are increasing all the time. Again, many of the features and plugins available for Photoshop are rivaled by free alternatives and if you really need to use specific photoshop filter you can now use many of them in Gimp. If you are very familiar with Adobe, there are also a number of tricks available that will make Gimp work like photoshop. There’s also a useful write-up on how to switch from Photoshop to Gimp.

There’s also the very accessible Paint.Net. This was designed as an alternative to the dismal Windows Paint many years ago, but looking at it again its grown in its capabilities (unlike the official Windows offering!) and is now a very well-featured piece of software.

What’s more, both of these apps will allow you to import Photoshop files, so that any legacy files are still usable (though they may need some tweaking.)

My Summer Challenge

So deciding to put my money where my mouth is I’ve decided to forego all my familiar commercial graphic software for the next couple of months and see if I can live with free/open source alternatives. The learning curve is high, but learning new things stretches the mind so that’s a good thing regardless of the result.

Here are a few images of some early in-progress work, from Blender and Gimp – the results will only get better.


SHUTTLE01 Shuttle

So, why not save yourself a lot of money and give open source software a try. Remember. artistic results rely more on the ingenuity and skill of the creator than they do on the software used. If you like them and find them useful, also consider donating to the projects with some of the money you’re saving from not paying for the commercial options.

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