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Microsoft fails creative kids by not offering affordable alternatives to Adobe CC

Photoshop on Surface
Photoshop on Surface (Image credit: Windows Central)

As a youngster, I was lucky enough to have parents with the foresight to realize computers were the future of industry. After watching an episode of the UK show "Tomorrow's World," my parents took out a very risky loan to get me and my brother a PC. It had a blistering 8MB of RAM, and a 700MB HDD, rocking Windows 95 in all of its pixellated glory.

Tomorrow's World talked about this mythical creation called the "Internet Superhighway," where info could be shared instantaneously around the world, upending basically every industry on Earth. They talked about touch screen devices, mobile computers, and various other innovations that would make much of what we know about work and play obsolete.

BBC show "Tomorrow's World" used to showcase cutting-edge tech.

I can't thank my parents enough for getting me us that PC. My life probably would have turned out extremely differently had they not done so. Thanks to Windows and the internet, I was able to learn skills that I'm not sure are taught in any meaningful way even now in UK schools, from web design, networking, video editing, and much more. As a kid from a poor background, I had to "bend the rules," a little bit to get those skills, though.

Yohoho and a bottle of rum

Source: RarePirates in Sea of Thieves steal gold and treasure, not software, but you get the point: piracy. (Image credit: Source: Rare)

The downside of being one of the early adopters of the internet as a youngster in the 90s, ultimately, was that it made regular school extremely, extremely boring. Our I.T. classes that focused on "How to Copy and Paste in Word" and "How to doodle a cat in MS Paint" fell slightly short of what I was already learning at home, with HTML and eventually CSS at the fore. Using websites like LissaExplains.com and kids' site NeoPets.com's HTML tutorials, I had a rudimentary understanding of what I wanted to do later in life: make websites, build audiences, and entertain people.

There was no YouTube back then of course, but some small video hosting websites had sprung up. Newgrounds.com was one such website, and to this day, features tons of games and cartoons from users around the world. I wanted to learn how to make animations, and make them I did — poorly, but hey, it was something.

I also begun my journey into web design using a free tool Microsoft used to include with Windows, called Frontpage, which gave you a bare-bones GUI for making websites.

Source: BetaArchive.comWeb 1.0 was a charming place. (Image credit: Source: BetaArchive.com)

I had the basics of web design down, but what about cartoons? The Newgrounds community were using magical tools called Macromedia Suite to design websites and make animations, using tools like Macromedia Dreamweaver and Flash. They were shiny, comprehensive, powerful, and ... very expensive.

As a kid with no income, from a family with limited financial resources, piracy was effectively my only option if I was going to bludgeon my way to my goals of becoming a world-renowned animator. And that was back when you could buy software to own it. An insane concept, I know. Someone literally burned and mailed a copy of their Macromedia Suite for me to use.

I was a lucky kid. I had a PC with the means to run powerful tools, and lived in one of the first cities in the UK to get internet access. Many kids around the world are nowhere near that lucky, particularly outside of North America and Western Europe.

I didn't end up working at Disney, but I did build websites that featured cartoons that entertained tens of thousands of people, across our own little site and Newgrounds too, which gave me the skills that eventually led to me working here, writing this article.

Some of my earliest cartoons from my mid-teens, now "borrowed" onto YouTube with hundreds of thousands of views.

To get there, kid Jez had to effectively steal software from companies that charged rather high prices to access cloud software. In adult life I was able to afford picking up these software packages legitimately, but at these prices the vast majority of families couldn't even dream of being able to pick them up, especially for their kids. Without early access to these tools, I'm not sure I would have managed to claw my way out of a life with minimum prospects, as someone who simply, for whatever reason, couldn't deal with mainstream education.

What are Adobe and Microsoft doing now?

Microsoft has some excellent educational programs for schools and students, with Minecraft Edu's accessible coding courses available for a relatively cheap price, at $5 per user per year. Minecraft Educational Edition has a wealth of lessons across STEM packages with some deep learning experiences for programming, all available through the Minecraft Edu website.

Adobe also offers all of its apps to students for $20 per month (opens in new tab) for the first year, moving up to $30 per month after. It's regularly priced at $53 per month. Both services require affiliation to some form of an educational institution, though, potentially locking out youngsters like my past self who may not have "gelled" with mainstream schooling systems.

Piracy is not a route any kid should be forced to explore, especially in 2020, where the desire for free or cheaper software licenses creates an environment ripe for exploitation, malware, and phishing. Could Microsoft be doing more here?

Where are the built-in creative tools for Windows?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'm not suggesting that Microsoft should go out and make a full Adobe Suite-lite for Windows by any means, with Dreamweaver and Adobe Animate, etc., but we don't even have a credible video editing suite on Windows. Apple's iMovie on OSX is miles ahead of Microsoft Photo's rudimentary features, with no meaningful updates in ages. Even inShot on Android is better than Microsoft Photos for making videos. Microsoft's promising Paint 3D tool seems to be effectively on hiatus as well.

It really does feel like Windows isn't oriented around creativity when you consider the lack of homegrown software.

Our Exec Editor Daniel Rubino has previously written about how the lack of video editing options on Windows leaves many creative types feeling "locked in" to Apple, owing to its popular Final Cut Pro software, which is a buy-it-to-own affair, far cheaper over time than Adobe CC, even when you consider student pricing tiers. But sure, people from poorer backgrounds like mine likely aren't even considering MacBooks as an option, but that doesn't mean Microsoft should simply wash their hands of including similar features in Windows.

I think if Microsoft doesn't want to create its own creative tools, it should cut some form of deal with Adobe to have some pre-installed "Lite" versions of its software on Windows to offset the gulf.

It really does feel like Windows isn't oriented around creativity when you consider the lack of homegrown software, leaving kids to yearn for expensive Apple devices or down the route of piracy for Adobe Suite, and that's a bit of a shame. The Surface Go 2 would be an ideal affordable alternative for many, but it simply doesn't have the affordable tools to match. Why?

Jez Corden
Jez Corden

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

43 Comments
  • I do not understand the comment: Microsoft DOES offer Adobe Premiere Elements, in the Windows Store, same for Photoshop. I would argue that it does what 98% of the video editor needs. And considering the number of people that edit with their iPad, it shows it is good enough.
    Otherwise, Resolve is free. On the photo editing front, Capture One Pro / DXO and i think still Lightroom are a one time purchase and very reasonably priced.
  • Shouldn't they include a free basic one built into the OS, like old Movie Maker?
  • and why should they do this? Affinity makes fantastic apps for windows 10 that mirror most of Adobe and cost $25-$50 in a one-time payment. Software tools for developing almost anything are completely free. Visual Studio Code, free access to cloud resources, free access to Unity, Unreal Studio (to build games) come with literally 1000s of tools for free. Autodesk will give their tools away for free to anyone with an educational account. Inkscape, Gimp and Autodesk Sketchbook are all fantastic free apps. Of course the entire Libreoffice suite is available for free to anyone.. I fail to see the point of this article.
  • They do. Open Photos, click New Video. Not super full featured but you can import videos, photos, arrange them, do transitions, snip, caption.....If you are a consumer wanting to do a short video compilation for Grandma, it's just fine, and not hard to use. If you want to do more, why do you think MS is responsible for providing you the tools? Tons of options out there. Many you don't need to steal. Take a look at Corel if Adobe is too pricey. (https://www.videostudiopro.com/en/products/videostudio/pro/?hptrack=mmvsp) They have photo software as well, among other stuff. Oh, and if MS did invest in making a free Final Cut Pro competitor and including it with every copy of Windows, people would fire that thing up on their 4G Pentium Gold Surface Go, try to render a 4K movie and come to the conclusion, "This thing sucks."
  • I didn't realize photos gave an option to snip and clip videos. This is acceptable then. The OS should provide a basic option for video and photo editing. Baked in apps on a phone do this. That's why MS should provide this. Its not about wanting something for nothing, its about offering parity with your competing operating systems. It's also about providing accessibility for kids and others that don't have the ability to just buy software from the store.
  • OK, they do hide it well. They did a bunch of advertising on the video capabilities early on, but MS has never known how to market. They also didn't follow up on a lot of the features they advertised. :(
    On the parity part, no reason a desktop OS needs to be on parity with phone OSs. Parity with MacOS's app offerings isn't worth the effort. Nobody is going to run out and buy a MacBook because they have a better free video editor out of the box. People who buy a Mac for video editing aren't using iMovie to do it.
  • You are not getting it. Microsoft makes devices that compete with Apple’s devices. If Microsoft wants people to start being creative using a Surface product, they should offer homegrown software to compete with iMovie, GarageBand and other starter Apple software.
  • I want to read that comment.
    (3 times Like)
  • Then it follows Apple should have pen and touch support on Macs if they want to compete with Surface, or any number of Windows PCs. Nobody buys a Mac because they have iMovie, GarageBand and Photos. They buy them because of what else they can do with them. and they like the products. MS doesn't really care all that much if you don't specifically buy a Surface. Their bread and butter is the cloud and subscriptions at this point, and having a free offering to compete with iMovie shipping on Windows doesn't enhance that. Wasted effort.
  • I use PowerDirector and does much more than I need. I also used the more expensive Vegas Pro in the past (used to be Sony). Not as stable but had it bit more features.
  • etc., but we don't even have a credible video editing suite on Windows. Apple's iMovie on OSX is miles ahead of Microsoft Photo's rudimentary features, with no meaningful updates in ages This is so true, and so sad. I have downloaded the old Windows Live Movie Maker to do my videos for my students. Can you believe this? This is from the now defunct Windows Live suite 2012...remember?
  • You have dozens of options for video editing suites on Windows that are far better than iMovie and/or cheaper than Adobe. Why does it need to be made by Microsoft to be considered?
  • GIMP, SketchBook, Krita, Mischief, MyPaint, etc. are and always have been free. I don't understand why you think Microsoft should put the money and support into building professional quality software into their OS and then give it away? All it takes is a short Google and you can find lots of very powerful drawing/editing/processing software out there that is totally open-source and free (as in beer) or free (as in free.) If you want to learn an Adobe Product I think you should be complaining to Adobe, not to Microsoft.
  • Nobody is "effectively forced into piracy". It's a choice, period. You broke the law. You have zero credibility in any further discussion on the matter.
  • Wow. There is a problem here and it's not with Microsoft.
  • TL;DR: Don't buy Photoshop. Buy something else. And if you're a pirate, own up to it. Don't play the victim. If you want cheaper Photoshop, move away from Photoshop. That's how capitalism works (Or should work. This is America). Adobe's not going to offer a better deal when they stand unchallenged as the top dog. I won't sit here and pretend I wouldn't love some free Photoshop/Premiere level software. But Adobe has made it clear - they don't want your business if you can't afford it. Vote with your wallet and go somewhere else. Affinity photo is great. As jlabelle pointed out, Adobe's Element software is affordable and powerful. There. Are. Options. Now, I'm not a saint. I've downloaded a song too. But stop with this victim narrative. A business is not obligated to sell you anything at a price that you personally deem "affordable." And if you decide to steal it, you're not a victim, you're not a hero, you're not writing a wrong. You're just stealing. I'm not judging. I've done it too. But I'm not going to pretend that my hand was forced. It wasn't. I was just poor and I didn't feel like saving money to get the thing I wanted. Jez's whole story is one big useless boohoo. The moral of your story can't be, "I was poor. I stole a bunch of stuff. Then I used it to not be poor." Speaking as someone that was poor and broke as a child, it's not just Photoshop. There's a lot that sucks about being poor and broke - at any age. And there's a lot you can steal to make your life better. Jez argues that kids shouldn't be forced to piracy. If a "kid" can't afford something, that's probably because they're a kid. They can't afford most things. IMO, arguing that companies should make professional grade software cheap "for the kids," is ridiculous. And it's always software. No one ever talks about all the hardware kids can't afford. There are no bleeding hearts for all the kids that want a full music studio. Furthermore, what Microsoft includes with Windows and how Adobe prices their software is two separate issues. Let's not forget, Adobe's playing both sides (Mac/PC) and they're not letting anyone off the hook. You can argue that Microsoft should have better built-in software (and yeah, they should), but it's not Adobe that's stopping them from doing it.
  • Well-said! (this add to meet the minimum comment length requirement)
  • Ditto. (this add to meet the minimum comment length requirement)
  • Perfectly explained. I'm guilty of piracy myself, so I see my hypocrisy here and absolutely understand the appeal, but that doesn't make it right. It's theft, which is not OK. Adobe's inflated prices are probably why many of us avoid Adobe (and create an opportunity for competitors), but they're free to price however they wish.
  • I don't really think they are inflated. Consider this is professional level software. Meaning people make a living using it. Professionals price their services based on what they need to provide those services. Adobe has no reason to price their professional software so any amateur hack can afford it. There is plenty of stuff out there for us. In any business quality tools cost more than amateur or hobbyist tools.
  • This isn't Microsoft's responsibility. There are dozens if not hundreds of apps for video/photo editing on Windows that are sufficient for kids and other beginners, and are cheaper than Adobe apps, if not completely free. There is never a "need" to pirate. It's not Microsoft's job to hold you by the hand and direct you to their suite of tools in preference to third-party ones. That's what Apple does. Microsoft actually trusts the user enough to let them decide on their own what tools they want to use.
  • What cave have you been living in? Black Magic Design - DaVinci Resolve 16. A professional near full-fledged editor used in Hollywood, commercials and by almost every serious amateur. Available for Windows, Linux and macOS. The price? Free. Only some very professional features that starters won't need require a pay-once-use-forever upgrade of $299. This software used to cost $25k. Now it is free. Microsoft doesn't need to waste resources on this, although simple Windows Movie Maker type functionality would be welcome and I generally agree that some creative software in the spirit of Apple's iLife suite would be welcome (basic photo editing, basic video editing, basic audio/podcast editing).
  • I was waiting for someone to say this. Why is everyone so enamoured of Adobe? There are a ton of great alternatives on all platforms that won't break the bank, or tie you in to a subscription for life.
  • I think I can explain Adobe. It has become the sort of de-Facto standard for this sort of manipulation, video, photo, graphics... If you are doing stuff for yourself, amateur, hobby, even professional, you can use anything that gets the job done. If you are trying to get a job in the industry, it is highly likely the job requirements will mention familiarity with Adobe products. So learning Adobe is maybe more than beneficial. Doesn't make stealing it right, and doesn't mean MS needs to provide a facsimile for free. Just a comment on why Adobe.
  • When i was young and dumb, I thought i was entitled to a lot of things for free. Now that i look back on it. I was just plain stupid... I never had a right to grab any software (over dial-up and and than High-Speed phone line) lol. Seriously now days there are so many options. Kids can get whatever they want for free. The options are limitless. Brian
  • I've never seen a comment thread turn on a writer faster.
  • The writer made the cardinal mistake of mentioning poverty. There are fewer things hated more in western and especially American society than the poor. Especially poor people of color.
  • David, what a racist comment. No one mentioned, nor probably even considered race here. People are saying that piracy is wrong. If anything, holding people without money to the same standards as we would all hold white collar criminals or all the rich college kids sharing their pirated MP3 files via Napster circa 2000 is the most egalitarian perspective. I was in the same boat as Jez, but years earlier. My mother spent all her money to get me an Apple ][+ when I was 10, which began my exploration of computers and learning to program and write games (we couldn’t afford any, so it was piracy or write my own and I did both). But I know that there were other families even poorer who couldn’t have afforded that at all. Neither my piracy nor anyone else’s is ever justified. It’s criminal and with good reason: it’s stealing the work of people who didn’t give it to me. I agree that Adobe’s pricing is absurd, but that’s why I still use Corel’s suite over Adobe’s products where possible. That doesn’t change that it’s Adobe’s choice and I have no right to steal from them because I don’t like their prices. I do have a right to dislike them as a company and vote with my wallet by taking my business elsewhere, which I do. I was wrong for committing piracy as a kid, just as I would have been wrong for stealing a candy bar from a store or the TV from your house. Jez was wrong for doing it. We all were. That’s not classist or racist. It’s ethics and the law.
  • Racist because they wrote it or racist because it's true?
  • Racist because David Fleetwood assumed a discussion on theft implied race. Theft is wrong regardless of income level or race. I want to emphasize that my comment only applied to David. No one else here has done that. Jez certainly didn't.
  • No, i don't think he assumed that in this instance. He simply pointed out that there is a big divide in how different races are treated in the US. Examples of it occurring are all over the place. Even without the income level taken into consideration, this is still the case. At the same time,, it really didn't need to be brought into this discussion as it had nothing to do with the article.
  • I was confused by your response until I got to this one. I never conflated theft and race. I said very simply that people in this country hate poverty and by extension the poor. And that the only thing worse than being impoverished in this country is to be impoverished and a person of color, in the eyes of many if not most people. I said nothing about theft. That's in your mind, and says a lot about you to make that leap.
  • Wow! Way to
  • I mean I didn't say it disapprovingly. "I am forced to pirate software despite there being plenty of affordable and even free alternatives and despite the fact that I buy gaming hardware and write about it on this website" rings hollow. Your comment is a non sequitor.
  • It also needs an inbuilt DAW like MacOS GarageBand.
  • I usually agree with you on a lot of things Jez, but not this one. It's not Microsoft's responsibility to ensure they have a photo or video editor baked into their OS. It's a great positive, but it should not be an expectation. especially seeing as there are countless options available paid or free.
  • Most of non-commercial users are using pirated Adobe software. The reason is simple, they just want to add gradient or remove the background. W10 offers free tools like Photos and 3d-Paint. Except, you'll need GIMP app. which is quite powerful tool for free.
  • GIMP. DaVinci Resolve.
  • I go download Adobe for Mac Book immediately.
    Okay for idea Pc with good configuration have expensive price.
    Time to selfie.
  • Doesn't the Photos app provide some basic photo and video manipulation and editing? Like I seem to remember that being a huge deal a year or two ago...
  • Adobe could knock of 10-20 bucks off their plan and be right in line with M365 pricing...it's really them being the jerks
  • If Microsoft wants to compete in education market... Helping young students to quickly make creative videos is important right out of installed Windows
  • I guess the attitude of commenters here explains why vast numbers of creatives prefer the Mac environment. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Mac gets them in on the ground floor with iMovie & Garage Band, lets them expand their horizons with FCP, and then when they become a professional, they buy Adobe tools for Mac. Sure, there are some free or inexpensive options on Windows...but do you think those options are not available on Mac as well?! Apple's bundling of its own excellent creative apps creates a universal experience and keeps users on the platform. So, why doesn't MS do this? Do they hate money?