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Adobe & Macromedia

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.

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10 Comments

  1. craig cline

    Well put, Horatio! But I suspect the acqusition had more to do with Adobe’s keen yearning to move into the enterprise market – I doubt the creatvie products figured much into it at all. Macormedia has a hefty suite of development tools used by corporate webmasters to build database driven web sites. They also have the window dressing (Flash etc) to dress them up. And as I’m sure YOU remember, Norm Meyrowitz’s demo of content ushed to cell phones several years ago at Seybold has been continuously tweaked and improved and I gather was one of the major reasons for the acquisition. So who might they unload Freehand on? Quark comes to mind!

  2. Thad McIlroy

    Craig,
    I’m not sure I agree with you on this one. Adobe is well entrenched now in the enterprise market — Acrobat has finally seen to that. Check this week’s Economist ) if you have any doubts about the real strides they’ve made. It’s true that Adobe’s pure Web tool (Adobe DropDead…oops, GoLive) hasn’t gone anywhere, but inarguably any Web publishing group currently using any of Macromedia’s Web tools is also using Photoshop and/or Illustrator and/or Acrobat…so these are already Adobe customers.
    Flash-in-the-pan hardly feels like the golden fleece; if Adobe thinks so, it’s been fleeced.
    I’m going with Forbes’ headline “Adobe FINALLY Makes Big Buy” (emphasis mine). Wall Street has been expecting Adobe to do something with all its cash and inflated share value, and it had to be something big. It’s even bigger than it had to be given that, as Forbes points out, “Adobe could have purchased the company much cheaper at almost any time during the past two years, but Adobe Chief Executive Bruce Chizen says he didn’t want the company to get distracted from building its own enterprise software business.” Indeed two years ago Adobe could have made the purchase for one-third the price. Saving two billion dollars…fun. Building an enterprise business…priceless!

  3. craig cline

    Well, I wasn;t arguign that the acqusition made sense or was a good one, just trying to look at it from Adobe’s perspective. In spit of PDF and the forms products, Adobe has long felt it had to occupy a bigger share of the enteprrise space to compete effectively wtih Microsoft. So you take that, and Wall Street’s pressure to do something big with all that cash, and you get macromedia – which has a strong set od web development tools that appeal to the enterprise plus the mobile stuff, which kinds nudges Adobe into another chunck of the enterprise market. But as with the Frame acquisition, $3.whatever billion is a lot to pay for some duplicated products, Flash, and development tools…..(the Frame Mac users’ who are already up in arms over Adobe’s decision not to port Frame to OS X, are saying “Watch out, publishers” on their mail list today…)

  4. Bill Davis

    Fontographer may indeed still be in Macromedia’s product suite, but it is hardly the best font development tool on the market (amazingly they continue to sell it even though it hasn’t seen an update in over 5 years, and can’t run on Mac OS X!). FontLab has evolved to become the primary tool for any serious type designer or font developer – especially for OpenType fonts as you’ve pointed out.

  5. ThadMcIlroy

    Bill: you are too kind! A visit to Macromedia’s website reveals that the last Fontographer update was from the 4.1 version to the 4.1.3 verion (Mac only). This took place May 29, 1996! I guess not every product thrives in an acquisition.
    Thanks for pointing out FontLab.

  6. ThadMcIlroy

    A very funny “translation” of the infamous Adobe FAQ available here http://daringfireball.net/2005/04/adobe_translation

  7. Trish Meyer

    Adobe may have bought Aldus to get their hands on PageMaker, but you are wrong about PageMaker being the only Aldus app still around.
    Adobe After Effects (nee Aldus, nee CoSA) is an award-winning motion graphics app that is alive and well at version 6.5; it’s the defacto standard on both Mac and Windows, with Discreet Combustion and Apple’s Motion far behind. (Even Apple’s Motion 2 is tauting its integration with After Effects.)
    IMO, the most valuable tool in the MM pot is Flash Video, as it is capable of delivering a rich interactive entertainment experience that is not possible with simple “movie players” (QT, Windows Media Player and Real). Flash Video already has phenomenal penetration with through the Flash player (around 96-98%). –
    Trish

  8. Sylko

    Good news…
    Fontlab Ltd. is pleased to announce the licensing from Macromedia Inc. of the Fontographer product line

  9. David Locke

    If you are Forbes, I suppose that a software company finally being able to sell into the enterprise is a good thing, but if you are a software company that path is the path to the local minima. Enterprise software is a dead end.
    The two companies went enterprise, because they were lazy and worse, because they are in the late mainstream market, where software companies go to die.
    These days software startups go enterprise to M&A, so the next question is who is going to buy Adobe. Nobody can afford Acrobat anymore, so that market is contracting. The enterprise market for Acrobat is a subset of the desktop market for Acrobat. They didn’t sell any new customers in the enterprise market. They raised prices and upsold. Be small and die I guess.

  10. bala

    Typography software

    Typography software
    Technology is one of the major factors behind the great change in the actual typography development. With the personal computers came new softwares as Fontographer and FontLab, which facilitated the proccess of making digital f…

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