Adobe extends Acrobat branding to Web services

For years, Microsoft hasn't really had serious competition in the general-purpose applications space. But if Adobe succeeds in transplanting its Acrobat brand into word processing and online services, Microsoft could have a fight on its hands.

Originally, "Adobe Acrobat" described its reader for Portable Document Format files, and the software used to create them. As "PDF" evolved to become a brand in its own right, Adobe shifted the "Acrobat" moniker to refer more exclusively to the software used to generate PDF files.

But today, the company is undertaking another shift, and this one may be a bit of a gamble: Acrobat.com will become Adobe's portal for its Web applications suite. The first beta of Adobe's Web services under the Acrobat.com name was unveiled this morning, and includes its recently acquired Buzzword AIR-based word processor.

Meanwhile, the next version of Adobe's Acrobat Pro document creation and collaboration package -- the stand-alone software package, no longer "Professional" -- will be integrated into Adobe's Creative Suite along with Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and Flash. That next version is expected to be released next month, both separately and as a part of Creative Suite 3.3.

So what is Acrobat...or at least, what is it now? From a marketing standpoint, Acrobat becomes a kind of umbrella brand devoted to the production of presentable documents by one or more parties in collaboration with one another. It's an interesting strategy, especially in light of Microsoft's recent announcement that PDF format will be an optional default in its next Office 14. That announcement means Microsoft's principal word processor can be made to produce PDFs on an everyday basis; and Adobe's announcement today positions Acrobat more into the realm of word processing, though under a somewhat different usage model -- more geared to layout and communication than handling streams of text.

But Adobe is also covering its bases against Microsoft with regard to online services, where Microsoft is building up its Windows Live and Office Live services. Though it's uncertain at this point whether Windows Live Writer will be upgraded from a blog publisher to something capable of saving PDF files, Microsoft does apparently intend to leverage its strong existing base in traditional applications to expand into the online apps realm. This could be a major revenue source for companies, provided they come up with some sort of monetization strategy -- soon -- and provided they can prevent Microsoft from locking up that space before they come up with that strategy.

Acrobat.com takes an existing brand that people already recognize and moves it into the territory Adobe needs to conquer if it intends to compete on a par with Office 14 going forward. And the Acrobat software move positions it as part of a professional software suite -- maybe not a general-purpose one, but a profit center nonetheless. If Adobe pulls this off, it could be the first serious competition Microsoft has had in the office applications suite in nearly a decade; and with Google lacking a strong independent brand in the apps space, it's conceivable that it could find itself an also-ran in this category.

Also from Adobe today comes news that it plans to integrate Flash processing capability into Acrobat 9 software. If you'll recall Adobe's history with making PDF files "interactive," its first try at that came back with Acrobat 7, when it integrated a slide show capability into PDF files. Images could be saved in PDF documents that could be played back on a track and set to music, and then burned to a CD-R; this feature first premiered in an earlier version of PhotoShop Album.

That feature ended up not working very well, as CD-Rs including burned photo albums pretending to be PDF files often refused to play on everyone's DVD players. When Adobe purchased Macromedia in July 2005, the implications were fairly obvious: Macromedia's Flash could someday become embedded in PDF. That's what's finally happening with Acrobat 9, as the company will be embedding its Flash Player in with its Adobe Reader.

The multiple-file support that Adobe had been aiming for with its earlier slideshow will be attempted once again with a feature it's calling "portfolio," with visual links in PDF portals providing access to separate files seamlessly, using a model that could perhaps be described as something of a "web."

BetaNews will have more on Adobe's news throughout the day today.

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