My Adobe Creative Cloud Replacements

I don’t like subscription-based desktop software. I don’t mind it on servers because as long as the server is running, I’m making money from it. But at some point I’m going to retire, and I don’t want to be paying for desktop software for the rest of my life just in case I want to edit some project in the future.

When Adobe went to a subscription-only model, I kept using my CS6 for as long as I could. But eventually, it got too unstable on newer Windows versions. I was spending more time hacking it than using it. So I started looking for replacements, a process that took several years and is still ongoing, at least in the sense of my always being open-minded about alternatives.

The software I’m going to talk about all has one thing in common: It can be purchased outright. There may be renewal fees for extended updates after the first year, but the software won’t stop working if you choose to not renew.

Full disclosure: I am an affiliate for some of these programs because I like to sell what I personally use and believe in. But none of the links here are monetized.

Here’s the list, sorted by the job the software does. I’m only including paid software, by the way. The FOSS stuff you can test for yourself without cost or risk.

PHP and General Web Development IDE

After trying pretty much every PHP IDE known to man, the one I settled on is Blumentals WeBuilder. It’s basically a PHP IDE that also supports a bunch of other languages. It’s not a direct replacement for Adobe Dreamweaver, most notably because it’s not WYSIWYG. But I never used the WYSIWYG anyway, so I didn’t care about that.

I really can’t say that WeBuilder is the best at any one thing it does. But it does enough things well that I spend 90 percent of my work days in it. It has good hinting and syntax error detection, integrated FTP/SFTP, an integrated Web server, a PHP server (must be installed separately, but is free), and the ability to connect to databases.

Photos and Graphics

Three programs from Serif marketed as the Affinity suite and available separately or together replaced a whole bunch of Adobe software.

  • Affinity Photo replaced Photoshop and, for my purposes, Fireworks. (I never used the wireframing in Fireworks. I just used it as a Web-optimized photo editor.) It does anything you could possibly want to do to a picture, including things like batch resizing and optimization.

  • Affinity Designer replaced Adobe Illustrator, which I didn’t use often, but thought I absolutely needed from time to time. I was wrong. Affinity Designer does everything Illustrator did, at least in my own use case.

  • Affinity Publisher replaces Adobe Publisher, which I rarely used, but used often enough that I thought I needed it. Once in a while a Web client will ask me to create a brochure, figuring that I’m a computer guy and therefore know about those kinds of things. Affinity Publisher helps me perpetuate that misconception.

Video Editing and Transcoding

I thought replacing Premiere Pro would be hardest of all, but it turned out to be the easiest of the Adobe software to replace. I learned that there were very few truly horrid video-editing software apps out there.

I do a lot of video editing ranging from extremely simple to fairly complex. Here are my suggestions, in ascending order based on complexity of the job.

Filmora is actually consumer-oriented, but it’s more than powerful enough for simple editing tasks. It also has a truly one-time purchase option that’s extremely inexpensive. I’m on my third or fourth computer since I bought it, but it still happily installs the latest version whenever I run the installer. It’s a very simple editor, but it does simple edits very well.

The same company also makes something called the Wondershare UniConverter, which is a fast and easy-to-use transcoder that replaced Adove Media Encoder. It’s often bundled with Filmora; and like Filmora, will install indefinitely if you buy a lifetime license. It’s mainly useful when I need to create .webm or .ogg versions of videos for HTML5 video embedding, but it supports a staggering number of formats.

Magix Movie Edit Pro is a step up in terms of the complexity of work it can handle, but is still intuitive and easy to use. For most Web developers who occasionally have to edit videos for clients to embed on their sites or upload to YouTube, it’s an excellent and inexpensive solution.

The update service expires after a year, but the installed software won’t stop working. One possible deal-killer is that it requires an Intel processor with integrated video for hardware encoding in most codecs.

Magix Video Pro X is, on the surface, so similar to Magix Movie Edit Pro that a casual user of the latter may not notice if you sat him or her in front of the former. But it’s actually professional-grade software that has many additional features that it’s little sibling doesn’t such as object tracking, image stabilization, and many others. You can find a comparison chart here.

The main reason to love Magix Video Pro X is that it manages to pack phenomenal power into a very simple GUI with a very shallow learning curve. On the down side, it’s expensive up-front at USD $399.00, and the annual update renewals are also very expensive at USD $159.00. I recommend it for people who are not primarily video editors, but who occasionally need the power of professional editing software without a steep learning curve.

Like Movie Edit Pro, Video Pro X requires Intel graphics for hardware rendering in most codecs. I have an i9 processor and an NVIDIA discrete GPU. I stick a dummy plug into the integrated graphics HDMI port to make the Intel graphics available to Magix. It works fine.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Studio is what I recommend if you need professional editing power and don’t mind a steeper learning curve than Video Pro X. It’s not exactly an Everest slope, but you can’t just sit down in front of it having never used an NLE before and expect to edit a video. (With the Magix products, you can.)

DaVinci Resolve’s greatest strength is its color-correction capabilities, which one could spend a lifetime mastering if they wanted to. But they’re kind of nested, for lack of a better word: You can do simple corrections pretty, well, simply; but you can also dive head-first into the ponderous world of subtleties of color if that’s your thing.

If you frequently collaborate with others on Video projects, Resolve also includes a database-driven project server that almost makes me wish I still had employees just so we could use it for the sake of sheer coolness. But alas, I’m a one-man show since I sold the rest of the business.

DaVinci Resolve is also inexpensive at USD $299.00 for a lifetime license that’s truly a lifetime license. There are no renewal fees or update fees (at least not since I’ve been using it). Blackmagic also gives you a free license if you buy almost any of their hardware.

Blackmagic also makes the version of Resolve before the current version, or a public beta of the current version, available for free. So if you wanted, you could download version 16 for free and use it forever; or you could download a beta of 17 to decide if you like it well enough to buy it.

Some Other Stuff that I Like

This software is just stuff I like that has nothing to do with Adobe.

Macrium Reflect is, hands down, the best backup software I’ve ever used on Windows – and I’ve actually had to use it a few times. I had a bad update hose Windows once, and bad RAM corrupt the OS another time, and Macrium happily bailed my ass out both times. It can install a recovery environment in the bootloader, on a flash drive, both, and probably others (like a CD-R).

Macrium also has a free version, with fewer features, which I haven’t tried.

Mountain Duck is a little program that allows you to mount a remote directory (such as an S3 or B2 bucket) as a local mapped drive. It also does FTP, SFTP, WebDAv… Frankly, I doubt there’s any kind of storage or protocol that it doesn’t support. It’s licensed per-user on an unlimited number of machines.

I mainly use Mountain Duck to work remotely. All my work files are synchronized to Backblaze, and Mountain Duck lets me work on them from my laptop. But it can do many, many more things.

GoodSync is a file-synchronization program. It can sync files pretty much from anywhere to and from anywhere else. It can do it manually, automatically on a schedule, automatically after a change, or any other way you want it to. It can do versioning, propagate deletions, not propagate deletions… Basically, it can do anything that has to do with moving ones and zeros around.

I use GoodSync in many ways, including syncing or backing up (it can do both, as well as restore) my local files to Backblaze. If I ever needed to restore them, I could just reverse the direction and they would download. I also use it to make local file backups, as well as to back up the backups.

I’m kind of a backup nut. You can never have too many backups.

MailWasher Pro is another application for which a lifetime license really does mean lifetime – as in the rest of your life. Upgrades, updates, and new versions are all free.

I mainly use MailWasher to screen out mail I’m not interested in on a given day, but don’t want to unsubscribe from; and to report spam to SpamCop. I’m a long-time SpamCop reporter who’s reported hundreds of thousands of pieces of spam. MailWasher makes it easy.

And that’s about that. If I think of anything else, I’ll add it on.


Thanks Richard, my weekend suddenly filled up. Shall evaluate a few of these today.

My pleasure. Please let me know what you think of them. So much depends on how a program fits a user’s personal workflow.


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