One of the biggest advantages that PCs running Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows have over Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Chromebooks is the enormous amount of productivity software available for the platform. While Chromebooks have found success in the education market thanks to their low cost and simplicity, businesses and consumers who need specific software have been largely unable to use Chromebooks in the place of traditional Windows PCs.
Adobe Systems' line of ubiquitous creative products are examples of software unavailable to Chromebook users, although not for long, at least for Adobe's education customers. Adobe is offering a streaming version of Photoshop, which will run in the cloud as opposed to on a local machine, to its education subscribers, and the success of the program could lead to wider availability and the inclusion of other pieces of Adobe software. Chromebooks, along with Windows PCs with the Chrome browser, will be able to run the streaming version of Photoshop.
The concept of streaming, cloud-based software that can be run on any machine, from low-end Chromebooks to high-end PCs, is certainly an alluring one. But there are limitations, and while bringing Photoshop to Chromebooks seems like a coup for Google in its war with Microsoft Windows, it may not be as big a deal as it seems.
A Chromebook for productivity?
The streaming version of Photoshop, which will be in beta as Adobe tests the technology, has almost all of the features of the desktop version. It's missing features that require GPU acceleration, and it initially won't work with scanners or printers. Other than that, the versions are basically identical.
Except, of course, for the fact that the streaming version requires an Internet connection at all times, as Photoshop will actually be running on Adobe's servers. The big question is whether or not the software will be responsive enough for serious use. When a user clicks his mouse, that input must be sent to Adobe's servers, where Photoshop processes it, and then sends the resulting output back to the user. How long this all takes, how consistent it is, and the quality of the resulting image will determine the usefulness of the software.
It won't take much lag or image degradation to become frustrating, especially when the alternative, running the same software natively on a Windows machine, doesn't have these problems. If Adobe can manage to keep lag to a minimum, though, the streaming version of Photoshop may be fine for more casual users.
Is Windows in trouble?
While streaming Photoshop and other Adobe software may be acceptable for casual users, I doubt professional users will opt for what will likely be a second-rate experience. Adobe's software isn't cheap; Photoshop costs $10 per month, and the whole creative suite costs $50 per month for individuals. The low price of a Chromebook, then, doesn't really factor into the decision.
The streaming version of Adobe's software makes the company's products more accessible for its subscribers, but I doubt that it will replace the normal version for very many users. Professional users won't be dumping their Windows PCs or their Macs, running desktop versions of Photoshop, in favor of a streaming solution any time soon, and the very casual users that bringing Photoshop to Chromebooks may attract are unlikely to pay the high price of an Adobe subscription.
Photoshop is coming to Chromebooks, but the limitations of software streaming from the cloud make this development unlikely to give Chromebooks a boost among serious users of Adobe's software. It could make Chromebooks appear even more attractive to education customers, but with Windows laptops now matching Chromebooks on price, it may not matter very much. For professional users, Chromebooks are still not a viable replacement for a PC.
Timothy Green has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Adobe Systems, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.