People exit the Adobe Systems Inc. office in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. (David Paul Morris/BLOOMBERG)

Those waiting to grab the next Adobe Creative Suite may be disappointed — there won’t be anything for you to pick up.

Adobe announced Monday that it will no longer sell boxed versions of its software, or even the option to buy individual programs from the popular suite. And Adobe is dropping the well-known Creative Suite (most often abbreviated to CS), shifting all the programs under the “Creative Cloud” brand that it uses for Web apps, to reflect that it’s not interesting in leaving the cloud any time soon.

From now on, the company said, anyone who wants to buy Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator or other parts of its Creative Suite software can subscribe to them monthly as part of a software package. The update will be available starting next month for an annual membership that breaks down to $49.99 per month for the full suite. Those who own products from CS3 through CS5.5 will get a discount on the first year of the new cloud service, for $29.99 per month.

Individual app subscriptions also are available for $19.99 per month.

Plenty of software companies only distribute their software through downloads. Microsoft and Apple offer their operating systems through digital downloads. And when was the last time you took a good look at the PC gaming section of your local store? Digital downloads and hubs such as Steam or Origin have made those sections shrink — in some stores — to nothing.

In some of those cases, companies will also offer the option, if you really want it, for users to get a physical disc along with their download, but it’s becoming much less common.

What makes Adobe’s announcement so interesting, however, is the subscription-only approach. Even Microsoft, which is pushing its own subscriptions to Office Suite, still allows users to buy single versions of certain programs outright.

Now, Adobe is essentially letting you rent their programs — they become another service provider in your life like your cable company, utility provider or wireless carrier.

For consumers, it’s a tricky tradeoff. A subscription to Creative Cloud puts you out about $600 per year. That’s cheaper, for example, than the company’s CS6 Design Standard suite, which launched for $1,299 last year, and doesn’t have all of the programs that you get from a cloud subscription. Users could have used those programs for several years without upgrading or paying Adobe again. Sure, they may not have had the most updated technology, but they also wouldn’t be paying for programs they may not really need or want.

Subscriptions, and certainly digital downloads, appear to be where the software market is headed. And they do provide some consumer benefits, such as instant access to new features. But a move to a subscription model should also make consumers consider what they need to use and how much it really costs them in the end.

Related stories:

Microsoft debuts new Office suite, with focus on the cloud

Adobe Creative Suite 6 launches with four options

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