Freehand: the software that wouldn’t die

In the March 2009 issue of CR, Michael Johnson wrote of a strange phenomenon: the diehard fans of an obsolete piece of software who refuse to bow to the inevitable and switch to more modern alternatives. His story, which has just topped 200 comments, has become a kind of self-help group for FreeHand adherents. A place to reminisce, to mourn the seemingly imminent loss of an old friend. But, thanks to legal action in the US, FreeHand may have a future

In the March 2009 issue of CR, Michael Johnson wrote of a strange phenomenon: the diehard fans of an obsolete piece of software who refuse to bow to the inevitable and switch to more modern alternatives. His story, which has just topped 200 comments, has become a kind of self-help group for FreeHand adherents. A place to reminisce, to mourn the seemingly imminent loss of an old friend. But, thanks to legal action in the US, FreeHand may have a future

I Would Save Freehand print by TDR for ifyoucould.co.uk


Johnson’s original piece was prompted by the discovery that, like him, many designers were clinging on to their ancient copies of FreeHand, despite the fact that the software was no longer supported and was becoming increasingly more difficult to use thanks to its incompatibility with newer applications and operating systems.

 

 

Originally launched by Aldus in 1988, FreeHand became a favourite among many designers and illustrators thanks to its ease of use and functionality. Adobe acquired Aldus in 1994 but, citing concerns that Adobe might monopolise the vector graphic software business, the US Federal Trade Commission required Adobe to get rid of FreeHand and not to acquire it again for 10 years. Once the 10-year period ended, Adobe acquired Macromedia (FreeHand’s then owner) and, although it continues to sell FreeHand MX, a version dating from that period, promptly discontinued support for the software.

 

 

However, that didn’t stop a dwindling ban of FreeHand diehards – including Spin, who used FreeHand on its Logo book (above), Jonathan Barnbrook and DixonBaxi – who continued to use the package, relying on workarounds and multiple re-starts to keep it running on modern machines. And, as the response to Johnson’s piece made clear, they are far from alone.

“I thought I was completely alone. I’m so happy. (Sniff!)” typed Frank, holding back the tears as he discovered the post.

“I have eighteen years of archived projects in Freehand, and as a brand identity designer, I’m going grey(er) at the prospect of not being able to continue using my beloved Freehand” said James Goodchap.

“Resist, resist, resist” cried Rich.

These are just a few of the 200 comments from all over the world that the post has attracted. The initial rush may have fallen away but still a steady stream comes to confess that yes “My name is x and I use FreeHand”.

But all is not lost. A US group calling themselves FreeFreeHand is fighting for the future of the software. It aims to pressure Adobe into either updating the programme itself or releasing the code and licensing to the OpenSource community, so that it may be developed by others.

Last year, along with four independent designers, FreeFreeHand launched a class action antitrust lawsuit against Adobe in California. ”Adobe has engaged in unlawful, willful acquisition and maintenance of monopoly power in the market for professional vector graphic illustration software,” the complaint alleged.  “Since acquiring FreeHand, Adobe has significantly raised the price of Illustrator while, at the same time, effectively removing FreeHand from the market by failing to update the program.”

Adobe, for its part, denies any wrongdoing and has been contesting the allegations in the suit. “Even an alleged monopolist is entitled to raise its prices and make its own product decisions,” its lawyers argued in a motion to dismiss the action. Adobe has further argued that “all companies have the right to unilaterally discontinue product lines” and that it cannot be forced to develop and support multiple product lines within its own portfolio.

At the end of March, Adobe and the plaintiffs went through a legal process known as mediation which is an attempt to resolve the issue without going to court. Hopefully, compromise can be reached. If not, the case is due to come to court on April 1, 2013.

So FreeHand lovers, don’t give up hope just yet.

Read Michael Johnson’s original story here.

 

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