Just flying back from Adobe MAX 2010 I’m coming away with the sense that Adobe has finally realized the value of the web over Flash, giving them a fighting chance where once they seemed a little too “let them eat cake.” It’s a few more long days of marching to get out of the woods, but they’re at least pointing in the right direction…finally.
Still not dead yet
Adobe has suffered from three things of late, only the second two of which I and you, dear readers, really care about:
- Poor Creative Suite 4 sales and/or sentiment – why upgrade? We just buy every other version anyhow.
- Apple hates Adobe & delights in kicking sand in their face in front of the ladies. Everyone left Apple for dead (that weird $150 million Microsoft injection aside back in 1997), and now Apple’s back like an angry beefcake with a well cut 2×4 ready to bludgeon Everyone into a shallow grave.
- Too rabid of a belief in Flash as a development platform, and the strategy and portfolio neglect that came with ravishing attention & affection on Number One Son.
After this week’s MAX, Adobe seems to have removed of enough of this chaff – not all – to start taking control of their own destiny and start having a real tools strategy beyond “skip intro” that can could grow into one of their future cash cows, web & app development.
Several years ago, at MAX 2006 my take away from the gold-encrusted halls of the Venetian was that Adobe was trying to fork the web with its Flash ambitions. Their line, the Macromedia injection still fresh, was that it was a better platform than the stagnated and hard to develop web technologies available (Ajax at the time). Of course, it was Apple and Facebook who succeeded at forking the web, each in their own wickedly clever and bold ways. In retrospect, Adobe never stood a chance against those dynamos.
After years of keeping web development in the closet, from the Adobe MAX keynotes and news this week, it seems like Adobe is now leading their conversation with web, and with the charged Rorschach-semantic inducing “HTML5″ at that. (The only tech-term that’s less precise and more vaguely all encompassing than “HTML5″ now is “cloud,” “SOA” having been exiled off to the old folks home long ago.)
If you look into their eyes, you can pretty much believe that these Adobe folks really mean it when it comes to servicing web developers, not just Flash developers. Their technology is both ancient and early. You may have forgotten the Dreamweaver and ColdFusion empires Adobe has in recently, Flashier times; their “HTML5″ tools – like all of HTML5! – are a work in progress.
As James Governor said in one of our meetings, Adobe’s success in the web development market requires violating one of the top Adobe marketing taboos: breaking up Creative Suite bundling, if only for the web development tools products. More than doing that (which, to be fair is done somewhat across Dreamweaver, Flash Builder, and Coldfusion – keep it up!), pricing will be a tough nut to crack. Web developers pay more for coffee in a year than they do for tools, and even the price of the lowest level of Creative Suite will keep developers in the black stuff for months.
To crack the web developer market, Adobe has to move into the $50-$100 price range that TextMate and (lower rung) IntelliJ tools swim in – IntelliJ lets you spend more money if you decide you’re not a “student” in the school of life. It’s a miracle that those two pervasive tools can pry cash out of skinflint developers, and they’re clearly setting the pricing bar. If Adobe could figure out monetizing cloud-based services (Cf. Code2Cloud or Adobe’s own BrowserLabs), then the numbers might work for free tooling, but Adobe just doesn’t seem ready for that in the short term, despite the sleeping giant that is Adobe’s SaaS portfolio. (Said giant’s slumber is a constant source of befuddlement for me.)
It goes without saying that the tooling has to be “agnostic,” working with whatever web, HTML5, Ajax, mobile, etc. technologies that come out, treating Flash as a feature (as James put it, I believe) rather than the platform. So far, this “new Adobe” hasn’t done anything to make me think they won’t, but it’s a shaky sentiment.
An Excess of Opportunities
Given that Apple isn’t thought to be slashing at Adobe’s sinews anymore, when it comes to platforms and development, Adobe actually has several great opportunities.
Adobe has an under-appreciated (by The Market) asset in Day software (once the acquisition closes, blah, blah) which brings them an overly goodwill-encrusted seat at the open source, and thus, developer relations table. While Day may not be widely known as a brand to all, their deep tie-up with the Apache Software Foundation and the Java community is critical, valuable, and real. Adobe hasn’t always maximized how they use open source tactically, so the developer relations energy that Day brings is Adobe’s to loose, or use.
Pulling back, the fragmentation in the Java market and Oracle’s “I’m not here to make friends” attitude is creating developer relations vacuums right and left in the Java world at the moment. VMWare/SpringSource are inches away from filling those holes, but there’s still time for others. And while “Java” may seem like the antithesis of what Adobe would be interested in, the question is: how many other technology ecosystems are out there? There’s such a small pool of them at the moment (Java, PHP, “web,” iOS, and mobile…see below for “tablet”) that it’s bad risk management to ignore any of them.
“Our people are our most valuable assets.”
And that’s Adobe’s lowest hanging fruit when it comes to this: letting their engineering out of the house. Adobe has done a poor job of having their developers talk to the developers they sell to. Don’t get me wrong, it happens, but it’s a far cry from the salad days of IBM developerWorks and the (sadly revenue-disconnected) developer relations success Sun had around Java. The web would be a more exciting place, and more favorable for Adobe, if their Computer Scientists were given carte blanche to talk to the outside world and given incentives too. The more outrageously frank and transparent the better – e.g., James Gosling has done a suburb job in developer relations for the Java community now that he doesn’t actually work for Snorkle.
(I should say: I have no reason to believe one way or the other if Adobe engineering is “locked up,” but they certainly could be pushed to be more chatty in public.)