Where Is Adobe Going?

by Bob Seidel

Some of the most commonly used software products are from Adobe (formally Adobe Systems Incorporated), such as the Flash capability used to animate many web pages, the portable document reader (PDF files) and the top-of-the-line photo editing product Photoshop. Adobe is a $3 Billion revenue company that we need to pay attention to, as its moves will affect our use of software on your PC and on the Internet in the future.

What prompted me to write this column is that Adobe has just released version 9 of their ubiquitous Adobe Acrobat Reader software, and following their strategy you can get it as always for free. Just go to www.adobe.com and click on "Get Adobe Reader". Should you upgrade? Technically - no. The industry is getting worried that Adobe has begun to move towards "bloatware" and Acrobat Reader 9 is seen as a continuing example of that. A review of it in the most recent "Computer Shopper" by Matthew Murray says that the software isn't yet suffering from the symptoms of severe bloat, but it's begun coughing regularly!

"Bloatware" is software that has expanded its available features far beyond what the average person or company needs. The result is software that is big, often buggy, and requires increasingly more and more PC resources to run it. What is even worse is that the developer often changes things and if you upgrade the software you will have to go through a steep learning curve just to get back to where you were!

So why do companies do it? The answer is easy: revenue. Just selling you a piece of software once doesn't generate long-term revenue for them - they need to keep churning - to keep you upgrading every year to 18 months. Obviously they have to attempt to make the upgrade desirable to get you to part with your hard earned dollar.

Many people consider Microsoft Office bloatware. The basic features of Word and Excel were available even in the 1997 version and would probably satisfy 90% or more of users today, but Microsoft made very significant user interface changes in the 2007 version - especially with the change to the "ribbon" instead of traditional menus.

Adobe is using a number of strategies that are becoming more common for the software industry. The first is to give away the reader, but charge for the writer. The idea is to legitimize the file format by giving away the software to read it for free (Reader). But if you want to create (write) a document, you have to buy their full version, which in the case of Acrobat costs $449 for the Pro version. Ditto for Flash; using Flash animation on webpages is free but if you want to create Flash animation you need Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash or Shockwave Flash) and that will set you back $699.

Secondly, Adobe tends to sell a fairly inexpensive consumer version and then charge big bucks for the full version. In this case, both Adobe Photoshop Elements (photos) and Adobe Premiere Elements (video) are less than $100 and excellent. But if you want the full version, expect to pay in the mid-hundreds.

And finally, Adobe has begun to move into online version of their software. The Adobe AIR platform now supports a number of online applications and this is obviously the direction that Adobe is taking. Rather than waiting 12 or 18 months to get your upgrade money, they can sell you a subscription perhaps even on a monthly basis.

Right now I don't favor online applications because of performance and reliability issues, but perhaps this is the wave of the future. But you lose choice. I never upgraded from Photoshop CS2 to CS3 and saved the money. I have a friend who is a beta tester for CS4 and he says it is great - I will probably plunk down my money then. If you work online you get the benefit of not having to constantly install and configure the software but you are at their mercy when they decide to change it.

Oh, and by the way, if you download Reader 9, you get acrobat.com (the online version) and Adobe AIR for "free" whether you want it or not.

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at bsc@bobseidel.com. For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)