The old subscription debate

This is just musing, hence its place in the Corner Bar.

I am still on SU 2021 and have not taken the plunge into SU2022 and the subscription model that entails. Or, as I prefer to think of it, rental. That’s partly because I don’t find the new bells and whistles SU2022 offers that enticing and partly reluctance to jump into something new I won’t easily be able to back out of. Once I start saving files in the new format, I am stuck with renting from here on in.

Time was when we all eagerly anticipated the annual update in the (often vain) hope that it would bring something stunning to the party. There must have been an incentive for developers to create enough new baubles to persuade people to shell out capital on a new version and they did that yearly, partly due to expectations and partly to keep the churn rate high. But here’s the thing: will that continue?

Once the bulk of users are on the subscription, what incentive do developers have to innovate and improve? Is it just me that has this vision of them in Hawaian shirts, sipping a pina colada, kicking back, and firing half their staff because they don’t need them any more?

You might say that marketplace competition will drive updates. But if you have a unique product that makes it hard to jump ship, you effectively have a captive audience. You’re sitting pretty, at least until someone comes along with something wholly better.

I probably worry too much but it will be interesting to see how many and how good the updates are over coming years. There is presumably no longer a need to follow an annual ritual or to have changes bundled together. They could be brought in one by one as they get developed. Maybe that is happening already. How would I know? I don’t rent - yet.

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In Layout I have already integrated the new sequence tag into my templates, zoom to selection is good, find and replace I might use more and more, and all the small fixes…

If I went back to my classic 2021 I would lose that.

As time goes on and more good workflow features are released it gets harder to go back to 2021.

When it’s 2031 will one still be clinging to 2021?

I don’t think you have a choice on whether to stay with Perpetual or upgrade - the version compatibility will run out at some point so it doesn’t really matter if your software is perpetual, unless you are a 1-person operation who never needs to deal with 3rd party files.

If the Adobe Creative Cloud and Autodesk experiences are anything to go by, the Subscription model has a few aspects that make me nervous.

  1. Does not seem to resolve the annoyance of having different versions each year or so. Compatibility is sometimes improved, but not always. This is compounded by #2

  2. The software development team’s efforts are often directed to create new products or enhancements that will appeal to new subscribers (ie, expand the user base or get existing users to purchase new products). Tech companies all seem to be about growth, not stability. If you are already a subscriber then what use are you to the marketing/investment department? The assumption is that you are already pretty loyal. (I think that’s a dangerous assumption, and why many tech companies fall into ruin so quickly).
    Over time, a new user base can change the very nature of the software - eg Adobe getting torn between the core groups of photographers, graphic artists and web designers…so we get spinoffs like Lightroom and XD. Are those spinoffs helping the original user base? It would be like SketchUp becoming complex and BIM-oriented but not leaving any space for the Shop users.

  3. Subscription greatly diminishes software piracy. The benefits of this are not clear cut. The “unofficial user base” will shrink, bigtime. As a user (not investor/shareholder), am I worried about 10 million pirate users? On the one hand, if they can be converted to paying subscribers then it’s good for me - more development funding. On the other hand, if they are using the software for free, but also popularising the software globally and creating many more resources and extensions (also for free) then it is a loss to me. Software firms would have to weigh up whether the popularity is worth taking a hit in subs (eg microsoft simply not pursing pirates…otherwise it will create a bigger market for alternative products).

I think Trimble have got a good model where the Web version caters to a lot of peoples needs, but the risk is that it’s not powerful enough to become a staple, and therefore offers no benefit to the Pro version. Is Web a gateway to Pro, or did it gut the SketchUp user base? Only time (and commercially-sensitive statistics) will tell.

Overall I really think an Extension App Store is the key for the future. It’s good for everyone, including Trimble shareholders.

Probably not, so you’re right, there is a time limit how long I can hold out. Mind you, I will almost certainly be retired by 2031, so…

Just a slight correction that since the new .skp format was introduced in 21 all files are automatically backwards compatible. My perpetual version of 21 will open files created in my subscription version 22 just fine.

I’m in the same boat as you: I have a perpetual license for SU 2021 (though I’m still on 2019 for reasons).

I abhor subscriptions in general, but in this case I haven’t even been tempted as there has been so little development progress (especially for all of LO’s inadequacies).

Two recent developments that are interesting to me are the release of iPad and Apple Silicon-native versions. As I see both an iPad and an M2 Mac in my future, I may decide to spring for a SU 2023 subscription (and hope that they also blow us away with significant progress on LO performance / UI consistency / extension API)

Thanks for that. I didn’t know. Certainly makes me less nervous about upgrading.

Yes, you have to wonder whether the industry in general is moving towards a mobile solution, allowing you to use the software wherever you can get a connection and without having the software on your machine. I doubt we are anywhere near having a mobile solution that is as easy to use and feature-rich as the traditional desktop approach, but who knows what the future may bring?