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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Does Adobe Have Too Much Power?
December 5th, 2000

I do not usually like to start with a quote, especially one from a partisan politician who made the statement in the middle of an election campaign that just ended, but I think that this one is worthy. It comes from Stockwell Day, leader of the (very conservative) Canadian Alliance party, giving his two cents about Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister of Canada since 1993:

Take it any way you like. He has too much power and that power is not serving democracy well. It's bad enough that he's gagging his MPs. But now he's trying to gag the nation. Quite frankly, it's making me gag. [...] You've got to take back that huge mass of power that he has drawn onto himself and let the people experience democracy.

[...]

Democracy has been greatly diminished by this accumulation of power in the Prime Minister's office [...] Anytime somebody accumulates that much power, we know that it tends to have a corrupting influence on that individual.

If there is one thing that contemporary society tries to avoid, it is to allow any individual, group or organization to accumulate too much power. The main reason? When people hold it, they often refuse to give it back, instead wanting more and finding themselves needing to impose their will on others. Once they have that power, they can be out of control and do much damage at the expense of others.

This applies to companies as much as to politicians or individuals. When they become too dominant, it is time to knock them off their pedestal or we will all pay the price for it. A clear example of this when the US Department of Justice decided that it had seen enough with Microsoft.

Now that the fate of the company we love to hate is uncertain, I wonder if Adobe has not seized too much power itself in recent years.

It would be a slightly different type of power and distinctive use of it. MS abused the whole computer industry to impose its choices (regarding standards, integration of IE in Windows...) no matter what others thought. As nobody had the money or position to stop MS, the Department of Justice had to jump in.

Adobe's "case" would be odd. Before I get into it, though, let me remind you of Adobe's power in the computer world with a quote from their company profile:

Each day, millions of people worldwide turn to Adobe's award-winning software to bring ideas to life on the Web, the printed page and video. The rapid expansion of the Web - where dynamic, compelling content is crucial - has driven demand for Adobe products to new levels [...] In fact, a majority of the images on the Web today were created or modified with one or more of Adobe's products.

[...]

Adobe is the third largest PC software company in the U.S., with annual revenues exceeding U.S. $1 billion.

You know that I do not lie when I tell you that Adobe's presence on the Mac platform is huge. In addition to being a giant, it penetrates the design world as no other company can. Most of its products face worthy competitors, but Adobe's presence is dominant.

If a professional designer does business without Photoshop, quite a few folks will wonder what kind of designer he is. GoLive is very popular, and so is Illustrator. Acrobat is in a world of its own. With such products, there are many designers, webmasters included, who swear by Adobe software.

When they assert their allegiance to Adobe's publishing solutions, they step on a minefield. They certainly do it because of the quality of the said goods, but they also put themselves in a position of dependence.

It would be sheer sloppiness, and guess what, it could be happening! Negligence when preparing product upgrades, that is...

If you judge by this MacInTouch report and the word of mouth of a colleague of mine, Illustrator 9 is quite a flop. If you doubt the worth of this statement, hear Ted Alspach, Illustrator Sr. Product Manager, when discussing the 9.0.1 update:

In this update we have dramatically improved performance for all users of all supported systems, with additional enhancements specific to Pentium III and G4 users. We have addressed known crashing bugs (for example, the "out of memory" error messages) and file corruption bugs (such as the corruption that occurred when users would save files with a collapsed window). In total, we've fixed more than 500 bugs in this update.

[...]

Adobe Illustrator 9.0.1 is substantially faster, more stable, and delivers the sort of software experience Adobe's customers are accustomed to.

Five HUNDRED bugs, ouch!

You cannot go that far about GoLive 5 in terms of numbers, but still, it has quality issues. In fact, one could rightfully say that it stinks. Some editors of this site use it to work on the pages, and it could carry out tasks better. It seems that the migration to version 5 is not perfect and its feel is not the same anymore. Interesting.

You get the point. Some of the recent Adobe releases fall below its users' expectations in terms of quality and usability even if we know Adobe for its gift to deliver fine software.

Is this just accidental or does it relate to Adobe's position as a powerful software giant with a strong presence in the design industry? Does it possess too much power? Can Adobe afford to mess up and make people wait for fixes? If so, why?

If we cannot find a definite answer here, we should at least consider the issue. When companies enjoy great market share, they sometimes take their customers for granted and underachieve.

I know too well that there are unconditional Adobe enthusiasts among the Macintosh crowd who may perhaps think that the question is too harsh. I also know, however, that Adobe employs some of the best software programmers and engineers in the world. It is capable of doing better in terms of quality.

Let us hope that these people have not gotten too comfortable lately because of good sales and revenue. They need to surpass themselves to stun the industry, for everybody's best interests.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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