A 5,000-strong group of Freehand-using graphic designers is demanding that Adobe restart development of the vector art app, sell it or make it open source.

Free FreeHand is a growing group of designers who have banded together to try to protect the software they use for their livelihood, FreeHand, from extinction.  

FreeHand is a rival to Adobe Illustrator, but has been owned by Adobe since 2005, and has not been updated since.

“With Adobe’s CS5 just released and millions of Illustrator users, why does Adobe care to suppress FreeHand? A niche user audience of an estimated 20- or 30,000 designers should not be of concern to a corporation like Adobe,” group spokesperson Christine Stepherson told PC Advisor.
 
“Letters and more than 1,000 postcards have fallen on deaf ears at Adobe. The request has been to make upgrades or release FreeHand to the open-source community. But after Adobe’s ten-year strategy to shut down its main competition, many feel that the likelihood is slim.”

The US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are rumoured to be discussing starting an antitrust inquiry into Apple's policy of requiring iPhone and iPad developers to use only Apple's programming tools.

Stepherson references Adobe’s possible legal action when she asks whether “Adobe has turned the mirror on its own practices”.

While Free Freehand understands that Adobe is a private company that decides where to invest its R&D, if updates can’t be made to make the product useable for the future, the FreeHand community believes Adobe should release the product to an open-source community.

The group has not ruled out legal action as a means of persuading Adobe of its commitment to this cause.

"Corporations that buy and bury the products of others, just because they are unable to produce a better product, do harm to our society. Not only do they act unethically, they also obstruct progress in this country — all in the name of corporate profits!" states the group on its website.

FreeHand software Adobe vs Free FreeHand

FreeHand is a widely used vector-design application that is an essential tool of professional studios and graphic designers.  It is used in the graphic design, clothing and textile design, illustration, education, and cartography industries. Like its rival Adobe Illustrator it is a vector software application that allows infinitely scalable shapes and effects.

FreeHand was created by Altsys and licensed to Aldus, which released versions 1 to 4. When Aldus merged with Adobe its future was deemed at risk because of Adobe’s rival Illustrator vector program.

Following intervention by the Federal Trade Commission to prevent a purchase due to anti-competitive characteristics Adobe was forced to return FreeHand to Altsys soon after the merger.

Altsys was then bought by Macromedia, which released FreeHand versions 5 to 10 and 11/MX. In an ironic and possibly fatal twist Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005, returning FreeHand to the home of Illustrator.

FreeHand "basically hasn’t been updated in eight years", complains the Free FreeHand group.  

Without updates, FreeHand is no longer supported by newer technology, forcing FreeHand designers to run outdated operating systems on old hardware or switch to Adobe’s flagship product, Illustrator. 

Free FreeHand expects the software to be completely unusable on pending operating systems sometime in the next five years, if not earlier.

On its FreeHand product page Adobe states that: “No updates to FreeHand have been made for over four years, and Adobe has no plans to initiate development to add new features or to support Intel-based Macs and Windows Vista.

“To support customer workflows, we will continue to sell FreeHand and offer technical and customer support in accordance with our policies.

“While we recognize FreeHand has a loyal customer base, we encourage users to migrate to the new Adobe Illustrator CS4 software which supports both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs and Microsoft Windows XP and Windows Vista.”

Free FreeHand accuses Adobe of creating a monopoly in the vector-editing software market?  

“The important and over-arching topic is that consumers no longer have a choice in the programs they wish to use to make a living,” says Stepherson.   

“Free FreeHand believes that competition and options should exist in the marketplace and feels that it is vital to creativity in the design world.  

“We have asked that Adobe either provide updates to the software to make it viable on current operating systems, or release it another company or an open-source community.    

Free FreeHand believes that the open-source community could quickly make FreeHand compatible with new hardware and operating systems. It points to existing examples in open sourcing software, including  Solaris (Sun Operating Systems) as Open Solaris, Netscape as Mozilla (Firefox, Thunderbird, Camino), StarOffice as OpenOffice (NeoOffice on Mac OS), and Visio’s product IntelliCAD.

“The lack of competition is also not good for users of Adobe Illustrator. The lack of innovation and total price control means Illustrator users are getting a lacklustre product with each upgrade and have nowhere else to turn if they are unhappy with the product,” Stepherson warns.  

The group demands one of these actions of Adobe:

  1. Release FreeHand to the Open-Source community.  
  2. Sell 'FreeHand' to another private interest.
  3. Develop and maintain FreeHand as a full part of the Adobe Creative Suite lineup.

The 5,000 active members of Free FreeHand are led by the organizing efforts of:

Thomas Thü Hürlimann, former Art Director of Macworld & Computerworld Switzerland, a graphic designer & multimedia artist who has worked with FreeHand since 1987 (Aldus version 1.0); Jabez Palmer of Bez Design, Seattle, whose first experience with MacDraw on a Macintosh Plus in 1986 made an indelible impression on his psyche; and book designer Mark Gelotte, who began computer arts with Aldus FreeHand 3. 

Free FreeHand can be reached at freefreehand.org.