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Adobe and Microsoft having creative differences? Part 1: in the beginning

an image of the Adobe and Microsoft logosIndustry behemoths Adobe and Microsoft look destined to come to blows over their creative differences in the not-too-distant future. What with Adobe inking a deal with Mozilla and Microsoft’s Expression of interest in the creative market, we have all the makings of a colourful exchange. So has Microsoft painted themselves into a corner, or is Adobe drawing all the wrong conclusions?

Actually, this isn’t where this story begins. In fact, this is actually only where we are now. So let me take your right back to where it all began:

“In December 1996, Macromedia acquired a vector-based animation software [package] called FutureSplash and later released it as Flash 1.0.”

All of a sudden, we had a ‘proper’ interactive web. But things could have quite easily died an early death had it not been for some canny deal-doing on the part of Macromedia:

“Initially, the Flash Player plug-in was not bundled with popular web browsers and users had to visit Macromedia website to download it, but as of year 2000, the Flash Player was already being distributed with all AOL, Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers.”

Without someone pushin’ the Flash Player plug-in, things could have been very different.

Not one to be left out in the cold, Adobe moved to release their own interactive web authoring tool, under the name of Adobe LiveMotion.

Now personally, I felt LiveMotion was the better application of the two, and so did Adobe. Problem is, not enough of those like me agreed.

Adobe had three things going for them – firstly, they had the market share to move this product. Secondly, Adobe had a lot of experience with timeline-based editing, what with the likes of Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects, they had all of the ingredients to make this work. And lastly, Adobe had what they must have felt was the trump card in going down the standards route with the SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format.

In the end, all of these things counted for nowt! Adobe lost out to Macromedia and that was that. Or was it?

Long memories abide not failure or any such things reminiscent of defeat. And failure at the hands of your most bitter enemy are the worst memories of all.

But to know your enemy is to know their strengths as well as their weaknesses.

OK, enough of The Art of War commentary. Hopefully I’ve made my point without labouring it too much.

In time, Adobe must have become so familiar with the strengths of their foe that the only way to beat them was to buy them.

So on April the 18th 2005, Adobe announced that they were to swallow Macromedia – their long-time rival – for a sweet $3.4 billion.

But why did Adobe buy Macromedia?

Adobe made their fortune from software centered around publishing. Macromedia based their efforts on much the same idea, but the kind of publishing their software enabled was of a strictly digital format. With the exception of Freehand, Macromedia were all but digital from top to bottom.

However, as with any environment, certain factors bring about change and focus shifts in different directions. Macromedia hadn’t had their day yet and Adobe could see this. The foundations of what defined publishing were on the move, a move that began to encompass the web as a legitimate peer delivery platform for content.

And when Google began to demonstrate that web advertising wasn’t just a niche provision of service, Adobe would have seen the gaze of their target audience eyeing a much different means of getting content delivered to their target audience.

No matter how you choose to spin the buy-out, there’s no way you can argue Adobe only bought Macromedia just for Flash.

There’s no doubting that Flash was a key part of the purchase, but Flash itself isn’t so much the reason but the mechanism through which Adobe would hope to enhance their own format, that being the sizable and homely Portable Document Format, otherwise more commonly referred to as PDF.

Put simply, Adobe wish to build a platform for content production, management and delivery, with the PDF format being the one format to rule them all.

This sounds like end-to-end stuff to me!

Of course it is. And it’s a colossal area, one ripe for growth. And guess what? It’s an area that’s been recognized by eyes other than those within Adobe.

Remember when I said: “to know your enemy is to know their strengths as well as their weaknesses”? Well, Adobe is now to Microsoft what Macromedia was to Adobe .. a threat.

One to be removed from the theatre of war either through strategic acquisition or by commercial annihilation.

And what with Microsoft’s purchasing reach limited by law, that only leaves one option…

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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