Adobe to Steve Jobs: 'We love you'

Yeah, but will Apple's CEO love Adobe back?

The Adobe-Apple breakup has taken on strange tabloid-like qualities over the last 30 days or so. Quick someone call in the paparazzi, but first ask if they'll be editing those photos in Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Lightroom or Apple Aperture. Today, Adobe cofounders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock responded to Jobs' Aptil 29 "Thoughts on Flash" memo with their own: "Our thoughts on open markets." Adobe is supporting the memo with a marketing campaign -- "We love Apple" ads and "Freedom of Choice" Website." Adobe's response is measured and embracing, subtly placing the blame for the breakup on Apple. In the court of public and developer opinion -- perhaps shareholders in both companies -- Adobe may prove the venerable of the two parties here.

I simply can't wait to finish this post and read what Macheads have to say about Adobe's response. Do they side with their cult leader, or one of the two largest, third-party Macintosh developers (Microsoft being the other one)? The old faithfuls shouldn't forget that Adobe products gave Macintosh its market footing in the 1980s and `90s and helped keep Apple going through the hard-luck `90s. Remember that Adobe released PostScript for Macintosh at Jobs' request. The first Apple laser printer supporting the technology released in 1985. So, Macheads, choose wisely your alliances.

Adobe borrows from "Get the Facts"

Adobe's Apple response has precedent. There is much about Freedom of Choice that reminds of Microsoft's "Get the Facts" campaign and Website against Linux. Adobe informational page "The Truth about Flash" is so reminiscent of Get the Facts. The campaign proved highly effective for Microsoft, as I expect Freedom of Choice will be for Adobe. Apple may be a growing tech superpower but Adobe's nuclear arsenal is, for now, bigger. Jobs may have launched a first strike, but Adobe's counterstrike is more impressive.

Adobe may be a dwindling superpower, but one still with huge presence. PDF is the defacto standard for government documents worldwide, and a special archival version is used by the US Library of Congress. The presumption: PDF is so ubiquitous for digital documents, it will still be around in a century for preservation of archival documents. Photoshop is so widely used it's a verb, akin to Xeroxing rather than copying a document. Then there is the hotly disputed Flash, which PC install base is nearly 100 percent, according to the third-party data Adobe presents on The Truth about Flash.

By the way, the one page shreds most of Job's arguments against Flash. For example, he asserted:

lash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. For example, many Flash websites rely on "rollovers", which pop up menus or other elements when the mouse arrow hovers over a specific spot. Apple's revolutionary multi-touch interface doesn't use a mouse, and there is no concept of a rollover. Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript? Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices.

Adobe's response:

Flash was actually originally created as a technology for tablets with touch interfaces. And today, Flash has full support for working on touch-based devices. For existing Flash content developed with mouse input in mind, Flash Player will automatically convert the touch events into mouse events. This allows Flash content designed for the desktop, to work seamlessly on touch-based devices. For new Flash content developed specifically with touch in mind, Flash Player 10.1 provides a complete set of multitouch and gesture APIs.

What is Open?

The larger, more important question is that of openness. Jobs argues that Flash fosters a closed Web -- that Apple's approach is more open. Geschke and Warnock reverse the accusation:

We believe that Apple, by taking the opposite approach, has taken a step that could undermine this next chapter of the Web -- the chapter in which mobile devices outnumber computers, any individual can be a publisher, and content is accessed anywhere and at any time. In the end, we believe the question is really this: Who controls the World Wide Web? And we believe the answer is: nobody -- and everybody, but certainly not a single company.

Geschke and Warnock present a very accurate assessment of the past (Adobe's approach to openness) and identify the challenge/opportunity for the future (anytime, anywhere computing on anything). What is open? There is much confusion about this. There are adopted standards, which can be open standards, and then there is open source. Adopted standards tend to emerge from proprietary standards for which the developer opens up the code by publishing APIs or other information. Open source applies more to licensing, where the developer lets go of the technology by way of, say, the GPL; third parties can adapt the technology pretty much any way as long as they publish the new code under the same license.

Adobe has a long history of opening up key technologies, starting with PDF and PostScript. Geschke and Warnock explain:

We openly published the specifications for both, thus inviting both use and competition. In the early days, PostScript attracted 72 clone makers, but we held onto our market leadership by out-innovating the pack. More recently, we've done the same thing with Adobe Flash technology. We publish the specifications for Flash -- meaning anyone can make their own Flash player. Yet, Adobe Flash technology remains the market leader because of the constant creativity and technical innovation of our employees.

Jobs whacked Flash and touted openness with words. Adobe's cofounders fall back on actions: Adobe's competitive risk publishing PDF and PostScript specifications. Adobe sought to establish their proprietary technologies as adopted standards, while still trying to innovate around them. PDF officially became an open standard in summer 2008, after being approved by the International Organization for Standardization as ISO 32000-1:2008.

Then there is future of computing. Morgan Stanley predicts that the number of mobile Internet users will exceed the number of desktop Internet users by 2015. Mobile devices and the cloud share common appeal: Access to your information anytime, anywhere and on anything. But that promise can't be easily fulfilled, if at all, should one company come to control the mobile device-to-cloud applications stack. Adobe's development strategy is fundamentally cross-platform -- that is horizontal. Whereas, Apple's approach is vertical, a single stack controlled end-to-end by a single company.

Yes, Apple supports adopted and open standards, but, based on Jobs' memo, where his more-closed applications stack most benefits. Flash has plenty of faults, but developers can create what they want, where they want pretty much without restraint. End users can consume the content anytime, anywhere or on anything -- well, as long as it's not an iPhone OS device. Apple's openness favors just three devices -- iPad, iPhone and iPod -- and the company exerts editorial over which applications can be published there. What's open about that?

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