Adobe is a vibrant software veteran that has held market leadership positions as far as I can remember.
Back in the early 80s, Adobe PostScript basically invented the desktop publishing market by giving laser printers the ability to handle graphical output. In the 1990s Adobe made the electronic distribution of documents mainstream with their Portable Document Format (PDF). PDF’s were revolutionary because they could contain specific fonts, with specific layouts, mixed with precise images into a document that could be read on any machine. In the late 90s and 00s Adobe Flash (originally owned by Macromedia) made the internet fun, powering streaming video, casual games, and interactive menus. (I am leaving out Photoshop on purpose even though it’s very popular, it not really a platform).
Although Adobe is making more money than ever, Flash is threatened with obsolescence. Flash is an extremely powerful tool, and Macromedia/Adobe has been good about improving its power and capability over the last 15 years. Flash is now being forced to prove its worth in a world it was never designed for. Flash was meant for a world with overpowered PC desktops plugged into broadband internet with no concerns for battery life. In a world where folks access the internet through under-powered Macs or phones with frail 3G connections and care about battery life, Flash looks like a power and bandwidth guzzling relic. This is a classic example of “Innovators Dilemma” where the traits of what make you successful in one era are your kryptonite in another.
In this new world, Apple (the company that put PostScript on the map!) refuses to let Flash work natively on its iPhone, and highly discourages its use on their laptops. Google pays a lot of lip service to running Flash on their Android devices, but the actual implementation is terrible. Google’s new Chrome store is getting Adobe’s biggest users to abandon their platforms in favor of HTML5.
Microsoft saw the writing on the wall and drastically pulled back their similar Silverlight technology. Pulling back was a no-brainer for Microsoft because they can fall back on their annuities from Office and Windows. Adobe, on the other hand, can’t afford to pull the plug on Flash, and needs an answer to this crisis fast. So what is a company to do? Acquire or create.
Adobe needs a brand new product specifically built for our processor/power/bandwidth constrained world. Flash is not that product. Adobe can either create a new platform from scratch or acquire a platform that fulfills those goals. They can even call the next version of Flash, and put together migration plans for their current users. It would be Adobe’s 4th grand act of software leadership.