Category Archives: Resources

An Open Letter to Adobe Systems

Dear Adobe,

I have been a very happy user of your products for more than twenty years. In fact, I’ve defended you repeatedly to co-workers who insisted on using competitors like Corel Draw, Microsoft Publisher and Aldus Freehand, until your elegant products became the dominant programs in all end-user creative categories.

I once wrote a happy-customer letter to you when I switched to Adobe InDesign after using QuarkXpress for many years. I made the switch after hours of research, and I actually convinced my new employer to buy InDesign. The transition was nearly seamless, with an almost nonexistent learning curve. I was very pleased that your products made my job easier.

I have never pirated your software, but over the years I’ve gained intermediate-to-advanced proficiency in Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and Acrobat. A lot of this experience was gained on the job throughout my graphic design career, but since the early 90s I have been able to purchase legitimate copies of all four products here and there. I could not afford to upgrade each time you released a new version, but have happily paid the upgrade fee every few years (mostly coinciding with the purchase of a new Mac).

The last time I bought the software outright was a couple of years ago with CS5.5. I admit I waited until I was able to qualify for the student pricing, and scored the whole package for just a few hundred dollars. I am studying to be a teacher, which means I will qualify for educational pricing for the forseeable future.

I appreciate that you provide significant discounts for educators, however I’m writing today to let you know that I’m very unhappy with your decision to force your entire user base into the Creative Cloud suite of products. Here’s why:

I am not a daily user of any of your Creative Suite products. My use of them happens in fits and spurts, mostly centered around holidays and summers. Therefore it bothers me that I must sign a year-long contract before qualifying for the educator’s discount ($74.99 is the month-to-month price vs. $19.99/month [special, limited-time price!] if I sign an annual contract). I’m annoyed about the months I’ll pay for but won’t use the software much, if at all, but the big issue for me is the fact that unless I keep paying, month after month, forever, I’ll lose access to my own work once the contract is up.

There is no baseline or comparable model with which I can compare. I am able to open files of many different types and versions now (using CS version 5.5)–even files I created years and years ago. I am filled with a sense of panic and dread (leading to anger) at the thought of not being able to open my own work after less than a year if I don’t renew.

Let’s be real: your new cloud-only, subscription-only model benefits you most, not your customers. And yes, there are some benefits to always using the latest and greatest copy of the software, but that’s never appealed to me because I was never one who needed access to all the new features as soon as you created them. Your new business model is best for high-volume, daily users at large companies, not sole-proprietor freelancers, small business owners, authors and educators like myself (who are feeling screwed by you right now).

I am sorry to say I will be looking for alternatives to Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat in the coming months. Until then, I’ll use my legally-obtained copy of CS 5.5 until it stops running.

Thanks for the memories, but I’ll be looking forward to finding a new creative partner to help me with my work from now on. A company who is happy to take my money without limiting access to my own stuff in the future. A company who cares about building long-term relationships with its customers. All of them.

Sincerely, Brooks Jones

Advertisements

Oyster is My World

oyster logoI read a lot. Like an average of one or two novels each week, more if I’m not in school or working on special projects. And I don’t want to own each book I read–in fact, I want to read many more books than I intend to own. Years ago, the library allowed me to do that most easily in the form of printed books I could borrow. More recently, I’ve been checking out ebooks from my library and reading these on the Kindle, which I love. I am also a frequent borrower of books that are part of the Kindle Lending Library (only one book per month though, which usually isn’t enough). So I still find myself wanting more, more, more books.

When I first found out about Oyster, the first “Netflix for Books” service, I knew I’d want to try it out. I was one of the first subscribers, because $9.99 per month to read anything and everything in their catalog seemed like a pretty good deal to me. They are focused only on mobile offerings (right now, just for iOS) and therefore don’t have Kindle or other e-reader integration.

Oyster shows you the most recent books you've accessed on its main mobile screen.

Oyster shows you the most recent books you’ve accessed on its main mobile screen.

After signing up and entering credit card information on their website, it’s a simple process to download the Oyster app and log in. The company has more than 100,000 titles and claims to be adding new ones regularly. Oyster doesn’t offer many brand-new releases. Instead, the company seems to have the best subscription-based backlist of traditionally-published authors available anywhere, including books in all genres.

I’ve browsed and read parts of several books on Oyster, but have completed (read from start to finish on Oyster) only four. So the built-in recommendation engine isn’t helping me find many books yet. To address this, the programmers could allow customers a way to rate books they’ve already read (similar to the way Goodreads does when you join).

However, if you already know what to search for, it’s easy to find books you like on the service. For instance, I remember how delighted I was when I discovered that many of the authors published by Open Road Integrated Media are included in Oyster’s vast catalog. I visited the ORIM Author page to browse through writers I already know about, then searched for them on Oyster to find their books. In this way I found that Ruth Rendell and Donald Westlake have several of the titles from their backlists on Oyster–it’ll take me quite a while to mow through all their books I haven’t yet read.

Oyster talks a lot about the social aspect of reading through their service, but so far none of my 300+ Facebook friends or 1000+ Twitter buddies are using it, so I’m still finding that Goodreads is a better place to share and read book reviews.

Choosing reading themes is easy.

Choosing reading themes is easy.

The reading interface and appearance while using Oyster is nice. There are several themes to choose from, and while I initially liked the Crosby theme best because of its sepia tone hues, I ultimately switched to Standard because its white background doesn’t reveal white boxes around imported graphics in books. You can easily increase or decrease font size to suit you, as well as adjust the brightness.

One thing I find annoying is the fact that it’s only possible to search the Oyster catalog through the mobile app. I wish I could search for books while I visit their website on a desktop computer. When browsing books on their website, I can add an interesting title to my own reading list, but full search capability there would be a nice added feature.

Another small beef is the fact that there is no landscape mode, on either the iPhone or the iPad. I admit it isn’t a big loss on the iPhone’s tiny screen; but when turning the iPad on its side, instead of the expected two page or two column layout, the Oyster app centers the text in a single (and fairly narrow) column in the middle. This is clunky and would be a welcome fix in the next update.

As long as the Oyster team keeps adding new stuff for me to read, I’ll be a happy subscriber for life. You should try it out too–coinciding with their iPad launch a few weeks ago, now anyone can give it a test spin for one month, free.

App: free from the Apple App Store
Service: $9.99/month, first month free

Interview with Gary James, Creator of a4cwsn.com

Do you remember the videos shown during the iPad2 launch? While I was mesmerized by the fun factor of the device, I was really touched by the way the iPad is being used to help kids with autism. It’s amazing to me that the tablet is helping these kids develop skills and gain independence.

When I connected with Gary James, founder and creator of the Apps for Children with Special Needs site, I was truly impressed with his effort to build a resource for parents and caregivers of special needs kids. He agreed to an interview, which I’m delighted to share with you today.

Apps for Children with Special Needs

the a4cwsn home page

1. Although it’s getting a lot of exposure now, the idea that mobile apps could help kids with autism and other special needs probably wasn’t as evident a year ago when the iPad was introduced. How did you discover that apps for kids could benefit these children?

A. Well, I have always been interested in electronics, computers, video games, big TVs–just like every other guy out there, but the real wake up was when my son was diagnosed with special needs. Ever since that day, I have always looked for ways to help him and also teach myself how to help others. So I have had a Mac for 10 years now and when the iPad came out, I was ready to go, knowing that this could be an amazing new way for our children to interact with a product that can help them develop mentally. Touch was the key.

2. The Apps for Children with Special Needs site (a4cwsn.com) seems like a godsend for all parents, not just those adults who support special needs kids. The app index of videos alone is extremely valuable. Did you have certain ideas in mind when you created the site, or did it evolve over time?

A. I created the site to help families like mine find apps that were useful for certain things, and at the same time show them how the apps worked so they would not waste their money if it was not what they needed. The site is evolving very, very fast. I am in the process of putting together categories unique to special needs children that will make it possible to search by therapy categories also. So if someone needs help with speech or AAC, for example, they will be able to see all the apps in those categories from 99¢ up to $350 on video before spending any money.

3. I love the JaMeos: video previews of storybook apps that can be digested in Just a Minute. With no commentary or voice over review, it’s just a brief walk-through of the beginning of a storybook app. What gave you the idea for this approach?

A. I came up with this idea after reading a story on my iPad by a company in England called Story Mouse. Their apps took me back to my childhood, when I had three TV channels and it was all about imagination and great storytelling. I think if people want to buy a book, it should start out with a good story, much like when you want to see a movie, you watch the trailers first and then decide what to do. My brother actually came up with the name as our last name is James and the clips are like cameos, thus Jameos and the abbreviation JAM worked well for Just a Minute.

4. I’d imagine that the community of parents and caregivers of special needs kids would be pretty choosy about the resources they use. What sort of feedback have you received on the site and on the tools you’ve provided?

A. I get amazing amounts of feedback from all over the world, the video podcast I provide to iTunes under Special Needs is ranked in the top 5 podcasts in over 40 countries. So I get ideas of what is missing, what people like and don’t like, apps I should look at and not look at, you name it and I hear it. I must say that most of the feedback about the site is very positive, parents telling me how much time and money I have saved them. This is why I started it in the first place.

5. I notice you’re also active on Facebook and Twitter. Have you found that social media makes it easier for people in the special needs community to connect with needed resources, and each other?

A. Twitter is a great way to get a message out to millions of people, but what I have found is that they really have to be interested in what you are saying and doing. The main issue with Twitter seems to be that people just want to have large numbers following them and don’t really care what or when they say things. Facebook, on the other hand, is much more personal. Pictures and information about interests similar to yours seem to bring together communities of great people. We recently held a Facebook party to celebrate some great developers and gave away over 300 amazing apps to people who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, including an app worth $500 and another one worth $200. What happened with the numbers was amazing, the amount of times my posts were read came to something like 600,000 in a 24 hour period. Now that is good marketing!

6. As a writer/illustrator myself, I have a big need to enrich the lives of others. Knowing that there is a possibility that special needs kids could benefit through one of my stories is extremely gratifying. What caused you to become involved with the special needs community–and have you found your work on the a4cwsn site gratifying as well?

A. I love what I do and I hope others do also. I got involved because of my children. #6 is due any day now and my other five are the reason I get up every morning. My eldest is 18 and now has special needs. Benjamin who just turned 6 is also on the spectrum so I will never stop, I will never give up and I will do all I can to help anyone who needs it.

* * * * * * * *

Make sure you both bookmark the Apps for Children with Special Needs site (a4cwsn.com) and Like them on Facebook. I understand Gary is gearing up for another app giveaway extravaganza soon! Thanks to Gary for his thoughtful responses.