PDF In-Depth

Editorial: Adobe-Macromedia -- Untangling the web

December 07, 2005

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The end of 2005 is almost upon us, and no one can rightly deny that it's been an eventful 12 months. This calendar year has seen some events that, for better or worse, may go down in the annals of history. For instance, just look to the world's most visible software company, who this year not only announced details about its pending Windows Longhorn operating system (OK, they do that every year), but also pledged to add native PDF output support and publish the specifications for its jealously-guarded Office file formats.

The main event from a PDF-centric worldview, however, was the blockbuster acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe. Scanning through forward-looking commentary on the web, it seems that, while PDF-heads mostly see the benefits of tighter integration between PDF and the more dynamic Flash technology, creative types fear that the responsive, customer-focused Macromedia culture will fall prey to the more bottom-line motivated, "soulless corporation" culture of big business.

The cynical observer may begin to wonder if, perhaps, Adobe's recent efforts to foster a community of Acrobat User Groups have been part of a PR campaign to quell just this sort of speculation. It's possible, but a more optimistic reading could be that the former Macromedia staffers acquired with the deal are well suited to assisting in just this sort of initiative.

It's truly said that the nature of a company or team closely reflects that of its leaders. While there will be some management changes that coincide with the deal, the combined company will retain Bruce Chizen in the top job, along with Shantanu Narayen as president & chief operating officer and Murray Demo as vice president & chief financial officer. Doctors John Warnock and Charles Geschke will stay on as co-chairmen of the Board of Directors, while Macromedia's chairman, Rob Burgess, has joined the Adobe Board.

Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen and former Macromedia CEO Stephen Elop

Erstwhile Macromedia president & chief executive officer Stephen Elop will become Adobe's President of Worldwide Field Operations, and a quick look at his corporate bio helps to translate that role into plain English:

As president of worldwide field operations for Adobe, Stephen Elop oversees the company's global sales organization and is responsible for all customer-facing functions, including sales, field marketing, go-to-market partners, customer care and professional services.

In other words, he'll be responsible for keeping customers happy, which was long a Macromedia strength. It's a shrewd appointment, and one that could give both original and acquired Adobe customers reason to hope for a more hands-on relationship with the vendor.

What about the products? While, there has been little more information since my last article on the topic -- and nothing surprising even then -- Adobe has confirmed the common assumption that it would consolidate the complementary Creative Studio and video tools from Adobe with the Flash Professional and Studio 8 packages from Macromedia. The jury is still out on products that directly clash or simply don't fit, such as Macromedia's ColdFusion and JRun.

PDFzone columnist Don Fluckinger extolled the potential benefits of closer integration between PDF and Flash back in April and revisited the acquisition's possible upside in October. I share his optimism as it regards the future of the PDF format, but there will certainly be growing pains as the new Adobe consolidates products and staff to avoid unnecessary duplication. With the size of the organization, it'll be some time before we see how the deal really pans out. Will the landmark merger between two of graphics arts' most bitter erstwhile rivals be a marriage made in heaven or hell? I doubt that my fingers are the only ones crossed hoping for the former.

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