In Brilliant Move, Adobe Makes CS2 Illegally Free

In Brilliant Move, Adobe Makes CS2 Illegally Free

The internet was aflutter earlier this week over reports that Adobe had quietly made CS2 freely available for download. While not current software by any means, many users were excited about a chance to maybe learn Photoshop or other programs without a significant financial commitment.

Well, as most things are, it was too good to be true.

From Adobe’s forums:

You have heard wrong! Adobe is absolutely not providing free copies of CS2!

What is true is that Adobe is terminating the activation servers for CS2 and that for existing licensed users of CS2 who need to reinstall their software, copies of CS2 that don’t require activation but do require valid serial numbers are available. (Special serial numbers are provided on the page for each product download.) See

You are only legally entitled to download and install with that serial number if you have a valid license to the product!

The official story is that the activation servers for CS2 were disabled on December 15th. Thus, any licensed users attempting to install CS2 after that date would have been unable to do so. To remedy this, Adobe chose to make activation-free CS2 installers and serial numbers publicly available.

Once the full story came out, the sadness commenced. Many who’d applauded Adobe’s bold move now felt let down; Ars Technica writes “Adobe almost does something amazing by accident.

I posit that this was not done by accident, and is in fact the best possible outcome for everyone.

Let’s look at the functional result of Adobe’s move:

  1. CS2 can be downloaded and installed by anyone, without activation/keygens/cracks
  2. It is only legal to do the above if you’re already a licensed user of CS2

This is the best scenario for everyone, and here’s why.

Personal Users

Personal users are obviously going to download and install this, regardless of legality. Who’s to stop them? No activation, a clean and crack-free installer – it’s like piracy gold. Sure it’s outdated, but the basic functionality of Photoshop hasn’t changed a ton since CS2 – it’s totally fine for getting your feet wet with the program. And there’s next to no chance that Adobe’s going to come after you to enforce licensing.

Business Users

Business users will, by and large, not be installing this unless they possess the proper licenses. It’s just not worth the risk. If your business is caught using unlicensed software to make a profit (and I know firsthand that Adobe audits companies for compliance), you’ll be paying them piles of money – piles that could have bought 10 times the number of licenses you stole. Plus, let’s look at it realistically: very few media companies are going to jump at the chance to run design software from 2005. So this doesn’t benefit business users at all – except that now more potential employees will have Adobe experience.


There’s really nothing lost in doing this: it supports licensed CS2 customers, isn’t a real alternative for professionals, doesn’t poach CS6 customers, and changes nothing in terms of their legal rights, obligations, and license agreements. That last part would not have been possible if they’d legitimately released the products for free.

Additionally, they’re sneakily welcoming pirates as their next generation of professional users. Apple did this for years with Final Cut – I was in attendance a few years ago at a NAB event where an Apple exec joked about how the number of updates downloaded was something like 5x the number of licenses sold. At any time, Apple could have made their licensing more restrictive. But they didn’t, because they understood the value in creating young new users. By 2007, Final Cut Pro made up 49% of the US professional editing market.

The one thing Apple DID do was intranet-based sanity checks: if someone else on your network was running the same license as you, yours would not open. It’s the same thing as Adobe’s doing now: maintain enforcement on businesses, informally relax it on individuals.

It’s Still Illegal

Make no mistake: downloading and installing CS2 without a license is illegal. Jaywalking is also illegal. The enforcement of law has always been the grey area where matters of practicality work themselves out – I believe Adobe is taking advantage of this “customer service” move to informally expand their market share.

It’s a brilliant move.


For those asking: Installation is a bit convoluted, but as a legal owner of CS2, I can confirm it installs and runs on my Windows 7 machine.