Adobe reflects on 25 years, looks to the future

Adobe is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2007. Adobe executives took some time to reflect on its accomplishments, its relationship with Apple and what lies ahead for a company that has done so much in the industry.

A bit of history

Adobe was founded in 1982 by John Warnock and Chuck Geschke, and incorporated in 1983. Named after Adobe Creek that ran behind Warnock’s home in Los Altos, Calif., Adobe has gone on to employ almost 6,500 people and reported revenues of $2.575 billion in 2006.

The company has introduced several market changing technologies and products over the years including Postscript, PDF and, of course, its flagship product, Photoshop. Adobe also controls other popular applications like Dreamweaver and Flash, through acquisitions.

Adobe began buying companies in 1994 when it bought Aldus. Over the years they purchased several more companies including Frame Technology (1995), GoLive (1999), Accelio (2002) and perhaps the biggest acquisition of all, Macromedia in 2005.

The Apple relationship

Adobe and Apple have a very important strategic relationship. When you think of design, Adobe comes to mind and with that, you obviously think of Apple’s Macintosh computers. That relationship has flourished for many years, but occasionally it appears the companies may butt heads.

One such occasion was when Apple was rumored to be making a Photoshop killer. The industry worried that Adobe may abandon the Mac if Apple competed with it head-to-head on a photo application.

As it turns out Apple introduced Aperture, which is more of a workflow tool that complements Photoshop. However, Adobe countered by offering its own workflow application shortly after called Lightroom. The stage was set for a showdown, but both companies took the competition in stride, insisting there was room for both in the market.

“We understand that in many fronts we will be partners and there are areas that we will compete with each other,” said John Loiacono, Senior Vice President of Adobe’s Creative Solutions Business Unit. “When Apple announced Aperture, internally we scrambled, but we didn’t whine or complain, we worked to get the product we had out the door.”

The end result, according to Loiacono, is that Adobe, “simply brought out a better product.”

Aperture and Lightroom aren’t the only areas that the companies compete. Several years after leaving the platform, Adobe announced in January 2007 that it would bring its high-end video editing suite back to the Mac. Premiere now competes with Apple’s Final Cut Pro, but Adobe says that does not cause any problems between Apple and Adobe.

“It’s pretty straightforward from our perspective,” said Loiacono. “In the end, the Mac customer benefits—that’s good for the Mac user base.”

The biggest challenge for Adobe so far

When you consider everything Adobe has done over the years, it seems difficult to pick out one event that challenged the company the most. From switching to PowerPC and then Intel-based Macs to innovating and integrating technologies, Adobe has been through its share of difficult tasks. However, for Loiacono, the choice is clear.

“The Macromedia integration has been the biggest thing for us,” he said. “Adobe had some incredible products and Macromedia had a lot of youthful energy — that filled in a lot of gaps that Adobe had.”

Loiacono explained that there were many things to consider with the Macromedia purchase. They had to decide which pieces would be integrated with Adobe applications, which applications would remain as standalone products and how would it all be done without adversing affecting the shipping version of Creative Suite at the time.

“In the end we did a pretty decent job of managing that whole process,” said Loiacono.

Looking ahead

Adobe’s work is far from over. While many improvements were just introduced with Creative Suite 3, Loiacono said there is still lots to come.

Adobe is looking to the online world for many of its future features. Leveraging services, in both its consumer and pro level applications, is the next big challenge for the company.

“I think it will be a critical component going forward,” said Loiacono. “It’s not going to be a replacement for our applications, but I do see that new types of features will be augmentation services based online.”

Loiacono points to applications like Kuler — a web-hosted color choosing application — as an example of how online services can help the design community. Adobe says users shouldn’t worry about the future of their favorite applications — in the hustle to create new innovative ways for people to work, they still remember where they came from.

“Are we taking our eye off the ball? Absolutely not,” said Loiacono. “You will see fascinating tools in all of the applications and more integration between Macromedia and Adobe in the future. We did a ton of stuff in CS3, but that was just the first cut.”

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