How did we become sheep? In fact eunuched sheep? Why is anyone pretending that the acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe has anything to do with the customers of either company? This is a deal only for the management and shareholders of Adobe and Macromedia. Anyone who pretends otherwise is a fool. Graphic designers and webmasters should be greeting this with the same enthusiasm that Buckingham Palace received the news of Prince Charles and Camilla.
Adobe is famous for making acquisitions that could be funded from the expense accounts of its senior executives. Most amount to spare change (and have a similar impact on Adobe’s corporate fortunes). Adobe’s last big purchases were Aldus and FrameMaker, both in the mid-90s. As far as I can tell PageMaker is the only extant product remaining from Adobe’s purchase of Aldus, and it’s on life support. A year ago Adobe made it clear to PageMaker users to upgrade to InDesign pronto, or face product upgrade and customer support hell. Adobe continues to pretend that FrameMaker is a going concern, but it’s an ill-kept secret in the industry that the next version of InDesign will be announced at FrameMaker’s graveside.
What’s the win for either company’s customers? Better products? Better customer service? More innovation? Give me a break! These are two great companies, leaders in their field both in terms of innovation and customer service. But they are competitors. And in the dog-eat-dog world that we call “capitalism,” the larger dog eats the Chihuahua for lunch, and we all call it “synergy.”
In today’s CNET we were offered the kind of analyst’s quote that passes for informed critique:
“Consolidation in the industry is not always the best thing,” said Bruce Heavin, co-founder of Lynda.com. “I’ve always seen Macromedia and Adobe get better when they were on each other’s heels. When Adobe had LiveMotion, I saw better things coming out of Flash. And GoLive has helped Dreamweaver progress.”
That said, Heavin said the acquisition could improve compatibility between products.
“I think it will make it easy for these programs to talk to each other,” Heavin said. “It could wind up making it easier for the customers and the users… In the end I think this will be somewhat (emphasis mine) of a good thing.”
I’d never heard of lynda.com before today. An authoritative expert, no doubt — the site helps “media designers & communicators understand how to use professional tools and design to enhance visual communication through web, print, and motion graphics.”
My first reaction to today’s news was “where are they going to dump FreeHand?” You may recall that Adobe ended up with FreeHand once before, after acquiring Aldus in 1994. Legal action by Altsys, FreeHand’s developer, and some semblance of a Federal anti-trust department, forced Adobe to return all rights for FreeHand to Altsys. And then Altsys promptly sold itself to Macromedia.
Those of us more than 11-years-old recall that Altsys’ big product was not FreeHand but Fontographer (FreeHand may have generated more cash, but Fontographer was the product that put Altsys on the map). Fontographer was the first, and, as far as I know, remains the best product for creating digital fonts (OpenType fonts excepted). I’d long ago forgotten about it, but see tonight that it remains available, buried on Macromedia’s site. So Adobe got that in the bargain (let this serve as a reminder to Adobe management — they probably didn’t notice along the way!).
The official FAQ of the announcement is a model of corporate bafflegab:
“Why are the companies joining now?”
“Both companies are experiencing great success and momentum and have great opportunities ahead of them, and believe that together, they will be better able to achieve their combined vision with greater synergy. We also believe the joining of two healthy companies will lead to a more successful combined company.”
Wow! That certainly makes sense to me!
Analysts who are trying to be provocative are positioning the takeover as a stab against Microsoft. According to Monday’s Wall Street Journal:
“Microsoft already regards PDF’s success as a long-term threat. The next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn and due out next year, is expected to include features to move documents around companies and the Internet, and aimed at eliminating the need for PDF.
‘There’s a huge battle brewing’ between Adobe and Microsoft, said Andy Warzecha, senior vice president of Meta Group, a unit of technology-research firm Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.'”
Zowie! That faux-battle is a subject for a separate critique. But tell me how does the acquisition of Macromedia make the least bit of difference in this “battle”? Adding Flash to PDF makes no sense whatsoever (though no doubt, some engineers will find the bandaids to do so). SVG was Adobe’s “Flash-killer.” It seemed like a joke at first, but has gained W3C endorsement (including endorsement from Macromedia). It’s a more complex format than Flash, and far less ubiquitous, but offers significant features that Flash doesn’t even reach for. On top of that, SVG is a direct descendent of PDF, and shares much of the code base. Flash is the bastard cousin of PDF.
As I think about the acquisition tonight, only two things are clear to me. First, Adobe needed to do something that would make headlines to justify its recently inflated share price and reputation. With its share prices suddenly inflated into the stratosphere Adobe could afford to make an all-stock deal for Macromedia (Macromedia shareholders take note: sell ASAP). Second, there’s no better time to make an obviously anti-competitive acquisition than during the reign of George Bush II.