July 21, 2006
Source: Knowledge @ Warton
Having completed the acquisition of Macromedia in December 2005, Adobe Systems now controls two of the de facto standards for electronic content — the Portable Document Format (PDF) for electronic documents and the Flash SWF format used for web-based animations and interactive content. Adobe believes that combining these technologies with a unified set of software development tools and programming interfaces (“APIs”) — creating what Adobe terms its “Engagement Platform” — will uniquely position the company to deliver a new generation of software development tools.
As he explained when Knowlege@Wharton spoke with Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen following the completion of the acquisition, Macromedia’s Flash technology was the key strategic asset that motivated Adobe’s acquisition decision. In addition to integrating Flash into Adobe’s other technologies, Adobe also has to convince developers that Flash is more than a tool for creating simple web animations and can serve as the foundation for developing full-fledged web applications.
But Adobe’s ambitions are greater than merely integrating its developer tools and expanding the use of Flash. With its forthcoming technology, code-named “Apollo,” Adobe hopes to lay the foundation for an entirely new category of software applications.
Currently, programmers can create traditional “native” software applications that take advantage of the full capabilities of the computer on which they run but are locked to a particular operating system. Or they can build light-weight web applications that run in the web browser — and hence work on any operating system — but have limited capabilities.
With Apollo, Adobe hopes to provide a third alternative that provides the same cross-platform capabilities of a web browser, but with a richer set of features — such as the ability to work when the computer is not connected to the Internet.
These moves put Adobe on a collision course with companies like Microsoft which have a significant investment in operating-system native applications. And Microsoft has announced products that compete with Adobe on almost every front — from its Windows Presentation Foundation development environment that stands in contrast to Apollo, to new file formats that compete with Adobe’s Flash and PDF.
This battle for the next-generation development environment may be the biggest gamble in Adobe’s history. Before his panel discussion on “The Future of the Desktop” at Supernova 2006, Knowledge@Wharton met with Kevin Lynch, Adobe’s chief software architect and senior vice president of Adobe’s Platform Business Unit, to discuss Adobe’s vision for the future of software applications on the web, the desktop, and mobile handheld devices. An edited version of the conversation follows.