Apple and Adobe

Much has been written lately about Apple falling out with Adobe. Here’s my version of that story.

Apple is always keen to get its customers pushed forward to the next release of their operating system. In the most recent case, they offered a very cheap mini-upgrade which didn’t even change its name all that much (Leopard to Snow Leopard). This is important for Apple, because it makes life better for developers coding for the platform, and, remember? Developer, developers, developers, de… you get the picture.

Adobe put a dent in Apple’s plans when they caused a kerfuffle about possible incompatibilities of CS3 or even CS4 with Snow Leopard. This may have put some customers off upgrading, and detracted from Apple’s long-term strategy. I could fully understand this if Adobe felt they had been loyal partners to Apple all along, and were now being left out on the iPhone. Perhaps Adobe never really understood, or perhaps had no tolerance for, the fact that Apple’s reasons for leaving out Flash are far deeper. The reason is myspace, youtube, and facebook: music! Apple budged a little bit when offering H.264 encoded videos in a special Youtube application, but the key here was that Apple could keep tabs on what was and wasn’t added, and could prevent both hit singles and blockbusters being shared free of (its) charge.

Apple knew that Adobe would be mad that Flash isn’t going to be on the iPad either, so Steve decided to lead a pre-emptive strike by shouting very loudly about how terribly Apple has suffered at the hands of evil Flash (my observation is that no browser crashes as frequently and effectively as Safari, and to make things worse, it doesn’t have any recovery either, but that’s just a by-the-by for Steve’s personal introspection).

Meanwhile, the fact that Adobe keeps a product-for-product edge in market share over Apple’s Pro apps (Aperture, Final Cut Studio, Logic Studio) would be that Adobe also serves Windows customers. So in spite of the fact that Adobe’s files are not always compatible cross-platform (well, neither so are Microsoft’s), they do at least give themselves this appearance. How to describe Adobe’s position? Well, it needs to make sure that it is tolerated on the growing Mac platform. However, at least for the time being, Apple can’t afford to lose Adobe. Adobe stands to lose the most coercive product from its lineup if the web of the future doesn’t do Flash, but if youtube et al found their way unencumbered onto Apple’s mobile devices (via jailbreaking perhaps), Apple would lose a big chunk of its iTunes store revenue. So these two companies can hurt each other a lot, and at the moment it doesn’t look like Apple is going to play nice (all the while taking the mickey out of Google – not that I have any sympathy for that latter company given its recent anti-privacy antics).

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Adobe’s Linux problem

Adobe has a problem. Dell customers have strongly voiced their opposition to pre-installed proprietary software, both the operating system and applications. After painful consideration, Dell will give in to their customers, and see a landslide of sales. HP is going down the same track. Of the big brands favoured by the tech elite, Sony will be last to go, who apparently make a special effort to include their own proprietary software with their PCs in an attempt to draw level with Apple’s functionality (my recent VAIO purchase contains the equivalent of iLife in Adobe products). When all this happens, Adobe will have only begun to port applications to Linux – a platform on which they know it will be hard to compete because the free offerings are competitive. Direct competition from a set of Adobe products that all integrate rather better with each other than existing free Linux products do (I’m discussing price here, not openness) will lead those Linux products to draw even. Note, for instance that with Adobe Atmosphere discontinued, Adobe has no product to compete with Blender, meaning that open source products could conceivably become better integrated with each other than Adobe’s line-up.

Microsoft’s quagmire is deeper still. While Office 2007 is an epiphany in office product usability, it will take years for the Wine project to catch up and let 2007 run on Linux, barring direct involvement for Microsoft (we know they’d rather die, at least while Ballmer is CEO). In fact, a full productivity suite for Windows now exists in open source: OpenOffice, Scribus, GIMP, Inkscape, and PDFCreator. The emergence of freeware Adobe Reader replacement Foxit shows that an open source equivalent can’t be far off. Nothing will stop users from leaving the Windows tax behind once they have embraced platform-independent open source applications such as the aforementioned. Open source software for Windows is already being distributed in several downloadable CD formats, such as OpenCD, and the Open Source Software CD; the Ubuntu install CDs for at least some releases have also contained open source productivity software for Windows.

The Adobe brand lures consumers with the free Adobe Reader and cheap Photoshop Elements, but Google’s free Picasa will be welcomed by many that use even fewer features than Photoshop Elements provides, and the feature-laden Adobe Reader may also be too much for some.

The only remaining disadvantage for open source software is the virtual absence of a marketing budget, meaning that it will spread at the product of the speed of word of mouth and the rate of convincing.

I believe that the reason former developing nations in Asia are emerging as ferocious competitors in the technology arena is that they have less red tape, less vendor lock-in (aka inertia), and strong recent rates of natural selection in the absence of government benefits for the unemployed and sick; therefore selection for intelligence may have been stronger in those countries. By this reasoning, South America and Africa will be next to emerge from the shadow.