In the old days, 15 years ago, the heated battle between Aldus, Adobe, and others served to better the whole of the industry, and perhaps the state of software overall. When Adobe and Aldus were leapfrogging features like a poker-game, they grew small applications into large graphics development platforms. Adobe invented a vector-based illustration program (Illustrator) based around their PostScript language, and Aldus came out with a competitive product (Freehand). Much like a poker-game, this was the equivalent of Aldus saying “OK Adobe, we’ll call your vector program, and raise you colour, edit and preview.” Adobe would answer back with better layer support and the like. This battle came and went for years, with the end-result being the graphic professional benefiting. We, as users of the software could sit back as observers, and reap the rewards of hard-working software developers battling to provide more, and better features for our tools. When I go back to look at early versions of applications like Illustrator and Freehand, it is astounding to see what they have become over the past decade or two.
Some of this additional ability can be attributed to the increased capability and performance of modern computer systems and operating systems, but that is not the end of the story. Upon retrospective, the real innovations as far as featureset and abilities are due to software engineers discovering increasingly elegant solutions to the problems encountered in the growth of desktop graphics and prepress. The bottom-line here is that we, the users, have benefited from the competition that exists between vendors.
This Purchase your competitor has happened before from Adobe (whom many might see as the Microsoft of the graphic-arts industry) when they bought Aldus. When Adobe did so, there was a great deal of speculation as to what was going to happen to Freehand, and their already strong PageMaker product in the mix of all of this. Many thought that Freehand and PageMaker would just be killed, and brought to EOL (end of life). Adobe surprised the world, by selling Freehand to Macromedia and vowing to keep PageMaker viable. This was good news not only to the high-end graphic arts industry, but to a huge installed-base of amateur desktop publishers, people who do small newsletters, menus, and the like. Many of these people loved PageMaker.
Macromedia had a few really good ideas and applications for internet development tools in the works, and they expanded into that aspect of graphic arts. Its flagship www protocol, Flash, has become a near ubiquitous standard for animated graphics and banners on the internet. Macromedia developed a new set of tools focused around www content creators and vector drawing. This served to add competition to Adobe’s other recent acquisition, GoLive, a www/html editor. Once again, Adobe was competing with the company who owned a competitor to its vector drawing program, but also its new web-page layout program, as well as bringing a new www animation protocol with Flash. Once again, the user benefited from the competition by having enhanced capability with the tools because of the leapfrog effect.
It is my opinion that it is not always a good thing for Adobe to buy the competition whenever it threatens. We, as print-professionals, are increasingly at the mercy of the software developers and the content creators who use these tools to create the jobs we must print. Huge strides have been made in the past ten years to solve a lot of that problem, as we all know, less than 10 per cent of native application jobs (Quark, InDesign, Freehand, Illustrator etc.) are printable to press without some human intervention. A great deal of this hands-on approach has been nullified recently by adoption of true PDF workflows, where the simple process of writing a PDF file from the creators machine is a pre-flight, and helps to assure proper printing downstream. So, although, the problem of disparaging production techniques, and preflighting have been greatly reduced by PDF, it is important to remember who owns PDF. Adobe.
So, while it may have come to pass that Adobe has become the Microsoft of the graphic-arts industry, it is, to its credit, a worthy standard. It has opened the PDF specification to allow other developers to write PDF compliant files, and it writes consistently high-quality applications for the print industry. It has proven that its dominance over the raster-edit community (Photoshop) has not hindered the development of new tools and features for Photoshop. Photoshop has not languished in its lack of competition, and its features have expanded to meet almost magical capabilities from user-input and excellent software engineering. The same can be said for Acrobat, which has increased in capability since it’s inception.
It will be interesting to see what Adobe has planned for its new acquisition, and the tools that it now have control over. Most significantly I think, will be the fact that Macromedia’s Flash technology will be better supported by the core applications in the Adobe platform, and that it can make its competitive products better with inclusion of technology from the new acquisitions. Adobe can enviably pick and choose the technology that it implements from both companies code-base, and perhaps build better applications for all of us. Competition is healthy however, and we, as an industry, should watch closely the trends that come from this new, rather earth-shaking event. It is not every day one of our largest software solutions vendors is bought by the largest. The next six months should prove interesting as Adobe shares their plans on what they intend to do with Macromedia’s technology.