Adobe makes postscript of Macromedia

Adobe's first task as master of its universe is to give clear guidance on the future of all its products. Anything less will shirk responsibilities.

Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia for $3.4bn (£1.8bn) recasts the print and Web content creation market as inhabited by one giant and not very many dwarves. Those vestigial competitors include once-powerful players such as Corel (with CorelDRAW) and Quark (with QuarkXPress), both now seem unlikely to cause Adobe anything but the smallest of distractions.

Microsoft is also unlikely to cause much loss of sleep. It has no presence in the profitable parts of content creation: the two companies do compete in online collaboration, where Breeze is up against Microsoft's newly-acquired Groove, but nobody's making money here yet.

Like a python that has just devoured an antelope, the newly bloated Adobe — which has only recently released a new version of its flagship Creative Suite — will take some time to digest its bumper meal. Some products will be eliminated, given the broad overlaps between Adobe and Macromedia product portfolio. Indeed, not so long ago the two companies were locked in a series of patent infringement battles over intricate similarities between their products on all levels.

The companies have grown together from disparate beginnings. Adobe's heritage is in print, beginning with the PostScript page description language and font technology that underpinned the desktop publishing revolution of the 1980s. The company's next big success was with Photoshop, which remains the standard in digital still image processing. Then came PDF and Acrobat, which provided the means to create and read electronic documents on a range of platforms. PDF could have formed the basis for the Web, whose widespread popularity it predates, but instead found its niche as a vehicle for highly formatted documents embedded within HTML pages.

Macromedia, meanwhile, is best known for its Flash technology, which is now the standard in Web animation (annoying though many Flash-heavy sites can be). In similar vein, Dreamweaver dominates the mainstream Web authoring space, with ColdFusion at the higher end for creating Web applications and Director/Shockwave for developing multimedia content.

The main overlaps in the two companies' extensive portfolios are in bitmap image editing (Macromedia's Fireworks versus Adobe's Photoshop), vector illustration (Freehand v. Illustrator), Web image optimisation (Fireworks v. ImageReady) and Web authoring (Dreamweaver v. GoLive). Director (multimedia authoring) and Premiere (video editing) have some similarities, but serve somewhat different markets.

The weaker of these products will be tempting targets: Fireworks (at least for image editing), Freehand and GoLive are particularly vulnerable. Adobe has a history of keeping life support switched on — it still supports DTP dinosaurs such as PageMaker (long supplanted by the far superior InDesign) and FrameMaker — but nobody pays $3bn for a hospital ward. Adobe owes it to both families of users to make its intentions plain as soon as possible, or it risks being seen as fonder of the power of monopoly than its responsibilities.

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