Adobe changes development structure, puts web before profits

Adobe has adopted a start-up structure when it comes to creating teams to develop its newest "Edge" suite, but at the same time is using its clout to effectively give some of its products away for free.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

Adobe's Creative Cloud push has made its way across to web developers, with the company launching its "Edge" suite of software in San Francisco just over a fortnight ago. However, it is also using this latest batch of software to experiment with how it develops and releases its products.

The suite, which consists of Edge Animate, Edge Code (also known as Brackets), Edge Inspect, Edge Web Fonts, TypeKit, PhoneGap Build, and soon Edge Reflow have all been built in the past year, and have a strong focus involving the developer.

Adobe's engineering and software-development teams have often worked on large projects that don't require substantial changes, such as Photoshop, but in the past six to nine months, the company has done away with large structures in order to iterate more quickly. The shift to small teams echoes Google Australia's managing director Alan Noble's sentiment that in order to move quickly, problems need to be solved by small teams that are able to collaborate and share ideas.

"We've changed the way we do things," said Adobe senior product manager Jacob Surber.

"We've gone from very large, very waterfall-driven teams to very small. We built Reflow with a six-man team in six months. We are going very iteratively, [with] very small, very focused teams, and it's really changed the way that we approach design and development and refinement of these applications."

The advantage of being able to move quickly is that rather than listening to developer feedback and perhaps lose out to the large number of other developer tools on the market, Adobe has the potential to implement changes within three weeks.

"When we come out with Reflow a little bit later this year ... it will be functional, but we are working in two-week sprints, so we are going to release an update every three weeks, every month at tops, and we're going to be able to get feedback and change things extremely rapidly," Surber said.

Adobe is going to have to move fast if it wants to keep its customers happy, as the tools that it offers developers revolve around HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and the market has shown that there are many alternatives.

For example, Edge Code, which allows developers to see the effect of changes to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in real time, could be somewhat replicated by the freely available JS Bin, an open-source project that has all of its code hosted on github, or even replaced by the in-built developer tools found in modern browsers.

But while some organisations might have seen similar products as a threat and an attempt to monopolise the market by taking them out, Adobe has said that such a tactic is a sure way to lose.

"The web is a hard place to compete in the traditional sense of the word. We would much more like to cooperate with people that are doing very cool web things, because it moves way too quickly to try to own the space," said Adobe developer advocate Ryan Stewart.

"We're less concerned about tools like JS Bin replacing Brackets, and more concerned about how can we work with those guys to make the web a better place.

"If people are using things like JS Bin, [our mindset is] how do we work with those people that are creating that kind of thing to incorporate some of that functionality into our tools, or if they're using JS Bin already, how can we make that better?"

Adobe has done just that with JS Bin; the company actually worked with Remy Sharp, the original creator of JS Bin, to help out with its Edge Inspect product.

Adobe also allayed concerns over whether its contribution to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript tools are a veiled way of profiting from the open-source community by stealing its ideas. Edge Code, Edge Inspect, Web Fonts, and PhoneGap Build are available to developers for free, and Edge Animate is also being made available for free for a short period.

While some of these products do have limitations, Adobe said that they don't want to force developers into only using their products, either.

Surber said that its tools provide "the facility to get in and help you where you need to be helped, but then [are] also able to be overridden or get out of your way when possible."

This means that developers are free to use any of Adobe's free Edge products, copy out their code, and then go elsewhere if they want to, without being locked in to any proprietary format.

Of course, Adobe is going to have to make money from these products somewhere, and that's where its Creative Cloud subscription comes in.

"We can offer this for free, provide a lot of value for free, but as you increase needs as you want more integration and better services or more functionality, that's when [we hope] you subscribe to the overall Creative Cloud," Stewart said.

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