There's a new reason for Photoshop to be famous.
Yes, it's still the program that just about every photographer and designer on earth uses to retouch or even reimagine photos. Yes, it's still the only program whose name is a verb.
But now, Photoshop is also the biggest-name software that you can't actually buy. You can only rent it, for a month or a year at a time. If you ever stop paying, you keep your files but lose the ability to edit them.
You have to pay $30 a month, or $240 a year, for the privilege of using the latest Photoshop version, called Photoshop CC. Or, if you want to use the full Adobe suite (Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere and so on), you'll pay $600 a year.
The price list is stunningly complex. The fees may be higher or lower depending on how many programs you rent, whether you already own an existing version and which one, whether you commit to a full year or prefer to rent one month at a time.
Microsoft is conducting a similar experiment with the latest version of Office. An Office 365 subscription is $100 a year. But there's a big difference: renting Office is optional. You can still buy it outright if you prefer.
Not everybody will pay more than before under the new plan. If you use three or more Adobe programs and you upgrade to the latest versions every year, you'll save money by renting.
But if you use only one or two programs, you'll pay much more by renting — especially if you were in the habit of upgrading only every other year, for example. Here's the math: Photoshop CC alone will cost $240 a year. In the old days, buying the annual upgrade cost $200, and you didn't have to upgrade every year. In three years, you might have spent $200 or $400; now you'll pay $720.
So far, the switch to a rental-only plan may sound like a rotten deal for many people. Adobe, however, points out that rental customers gain vast advantages. You'll always be up to date with software that's constantly improving; the subscription comes with access to Behance, an online portfolio where you can display your Adobe-created documents; and you also get 20 gigabytes of online storage.
There are alternatives to Photoshop, of course. They include ACDSee, PaintShop Pro, Pixelmator and Adobe's own easier-to-use but less powerful Photoshop Elements.