An Open Letter to the Adobe Lightroom Team

I've been an Adobe Lightroom customer since the first release.  Every release since then has been evolutionary, some stronger and richer than others but steps forward.  Having spent a large part of my professional life in software, I became nervous when Adobe adopted a subscription delivery model, and I fear that very model is what is hurting Lightroom today.

In the world pre-subscription, software development followed very stringent schedules, with defined feature sets, fixes, enhancements, alphas, betas, gold masters and release candidates before final ship.  A development and product management team would be diligent on what did and did not make the list for a release driven by business imperatives such as matching the completion, quarter and fiscal year ends or company events.  Releases were few and far between.  Customers received extremely stable products but typically had to wait quarters for updates and over two years for major releases.  Some hated waiting.  Some preferred stability.  The marketplace changed and patience became endangered and software companies changed to do much smaller releases with fewer features but more often.  They also changed their entire development models to address these new demands.

With subscriptions, the demands on teams to constantly update has increased to the point of danger.  When Lightroom 6 debuted as the first release as subscription first, traditional license second, and the world was informed that this would be the last traditional license version, Adobe changed the model.  Lightroom 6 was decent.  It was advertised as faster, and made better use of the GPU.  Some minor new features were added.  Was it better than 5.7.1?  Consensus amongst serious Lightroom users was no, it was not better.  Many held back on upgrades, many still have and are risking the need for chiropractic treatment due to excessive patting oneself on the back repeated stress injuries.  As an educator and writer of reviews, I had to upgrade.  Was I all that impressed?  Not really.  The in package HDR is really just automated tone mapping of dubious value.  Panoramas are nice, but I don't use them much and if I do, I still prefer the Photoshop model.  So while the LR6 enhancements don't create enormous value for my use cases, they appealed to newer users who had not yet built skill in alternatives.  That's a business decision about where to target your software.

With 6.1 aka 2015.1, some minor fixes happened and LR users got the Dehaze slider that also showed up in Adobe Camera RAW.  This is no surprise, LR's Develop module and Adobe Camera RAW are the same thing with a different user interface.  Whether Dehaze is a killer feature is up to the individual user.  As an educator, mostly I've encountered slider abuse rather than value add, but used judiciously it can save time.

This last week we have seen the release of 6.2 (2015.2) and then a day ago a bug fix to try to stop the software from crashing all over the place.

I commend Adobe for getting this small fix out quickly.  I do not commend them for the 6.2 release at all, but understand I think what happened.  AdobeMAX was happening, a huge event for the company.  Big events are planned long in advance and I'm fairly certain that the dev and PM teams had their marching orders to have a Lightroom bump ready for that event.  

My associate and brilliant videographer Douglas Spotted Eagle is fond of saying that "perfect is the enemy of good".  He's very often right, but good has to be part of the equation.  I've worked with Lightroom long enough, and spoken with enough excellent people from Adobe to believe that any of those folks would ever want to release software before it was ready.  But someone made that happen.  6.2 has not been tested robustly.  These are smart folks.  With a rich enough test bed defined by customer real world environments, they would have found the major bugs that plagued the 6.2 release.  They also would have stringently tested against the long available developer builds of OS X El Capitan and known that something was breaking tethering for Nikon and Leica cameras.  On this point, I blame Apple because other software that used to be able to see Nikon cameras when connected by USB can no longer see the cameras even though the bloatware of Apple Photos still does.  The tether breakage is Apple's fault, not Adobe's, but they would have known in advance and been better prepared and been able to get out in front of the issue instead of being surprised.  

Adobe dropped the ball.  It's costing them customer and potential customer confidence.  Bad news travels fast and sticks like super glue.  If they fixed everything by next week, they would still be behind the curve.  I get the promise that subscription means you get new features as soon as they are ready.  But they have to be ready.  6.2 is not ready.  

There has also been a lot of complaints about the new Import interface.  It reminds me of early versions of iPhoto, pretty but lacking substance.  If it were human, it would be pretty and stupid.  Major UI changes freak people out.  Ask Microsoft about the first release of the Ribbon architecture, that's a Business School case right there.  While it's good to offer the promise of a new UI, give clients the option to use the old one if the new one is not fully baked.  The new Import screens are raw cookie dough.  Promising but uncooked..

So please Adobe, rethink your strategy for releases.  Test more deeply, and if that means fewer updates, then so be it.  We will be more patient with fewer releases if they are rock solid and do what they promise.  If you continue on this path, you will lose existing clients and not gain new ones at the same rate because buyers listen more to customers than they do to manufacturers and right now your buyers are boiling mad.