John Paczkowski

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Adobe Co-Founder: We Never Abandoned Apple, but Apple Is Abandoning Us

A couple of weeks ago, Apple CEO Steve Jobs published “Thoughts on Flash,” a 1,671-word execration of Adobe’s Flash platform.

On Thursday, Adobe co-founders and co-chairmen Chuck Geschke and John Warnock followed suit with some thoughts of their own. Their eight-paragraph essay, “Our Thoughts On Open Markets,” mentions Apple only once, but when it does, it is to lambaste the company for its position on Flash, a position the two claim “could undermine this next chapter of the web–the chapter in which mobile devices outnumber computers, any individual can be a publisher, and content is accessed anywhere and at any time.”

I spoke to Geschke Thursday afternoon about the pair’s letter, Adobe’s (ADBE) new “We ? Apple” ad campaign and Apple’s (AAPL) stance on his company’s software. Below, a transcript of our conversation.

John Paczkowski: What is Adobe is hoping to get out of this new “We Love Apple/Freedom of Choice” campaign?

Chuck Geschke: We mostly are using it as a way to communicate with our customers and partners to assure them that we’re not going to change our strategy and to inform the rest of the community of what the pluses and minuses are of not supporting Flash on the iPhone and the iPad. Our customers, a large percentage of them, are the people who generate and distribute information and content, and for them they have one production stream that they use to do that and they’ve gotten used to the fact that we’ve worked very hard to open up the standards that we support so that we can offer them ubiquity of output on all kinds of platforms. So the fact that Apple is precluding that puts them in a tough position because it means that they’re going to have to create that content twice, and that’s not very productive. It’s certainly more expensive than what they do today. And as you know, the content industry is an industry under a lot of cost pressure these days.

JP: Both Apple and Microsoft have said publicly now that Flash has issues with reliability, security, and performance. Do you think those complaints are legitimate?

CG: I think they’re old news. Go to our Web site and read the actual facts about Flash. We enumerate the facts about Flash there as we see them. [Microsoft and Apple] may have a different set of facts that they believe are accurate. It’s up to you to decide. But I will tell you that the Flash version we’re coming out with now–where, for the first time with the Mac platform, we can actually get to the lower-level interfaces–is going to run like the wind. And the same is true on Windows.

JP: Shouldn’t Apple have the right to define the means by which apps for its own platform can be written?

CG: They absolutely have the right. No one says they don’t.

JP: Cross-platform mobile apps tend not to take advantage of native features unique to each device. What do you have to say about complaints that write-once-run-anywhere software results in subpar apps?

CG: Well, people don’t say that about Photoshop. They certainly don’t say it about Acrobat….I’m a little confused about what the real examples of that are. If there’s a problem with the performance of Flash as demonstrated on the iPhone, it’s because we haven’t been able to access the inner layers of hardware and software we need to to provide the kind of performance we can provide on other platforms. But that’s Apple’s choice, not ours. And now, of course, you can’t use it at all.

JP: So you don’t think write-once-run-anywhere is limiting at all?

CG: Not really. I mean there may be certain features in certain environments that you’ll want to do customization for, but the more you go down that road, the more you get the experience of HTML on the Web, where the kind of browser, hardware and OS you use determines what your experience. That’s because HTML is not well codified and standardized and people sort of roll their own.

JP: How much of Adobe’s revenue comes from Flash?

CG: I would share that number if we disclose it, but I’m not sure that we do. It isn’t a huge amount of revenue, but it is an extremely popular platform that all of our apps have the opportunity to exploit when it’s distributed everywhere. Flash tools aren’t the largest piece of our business, but it’s a significant one and obviously we feel it’s extremely important to our customers and partners who want to build third-party apps in an environment where they can, in fact, put them on a variety of devices without having to re-implement them.

JP: So could Apple’s exclusion of Flash hurt Adobe sales?

CG: I don’t think it will have a significant effect. As well as Apple is doing, if you look at the number of platforms out in the market and the number of release of new ones that will occur over the next six to 12 months, it’s going to be huge. That’s a much bigger population, and we’re just focusing on making our technology operate as effectively and efficiently as possible for it.

JP: In his “Thoughts on Flash” essay, Jobs accused Adobe of abandoning Apple. “Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products,” he wrote. Is Job’s implication here a fair one?

CG: We never abandoned Apple. Apple now seems to be abandoning at least one aspect of our product line right now. No, we never abandoned them. We’ve always ported our apps simultaneously to both platforms. There have been times when Apple has changed its strategy on hardware or on operating systems that didn’t meet our product cycle, so there have been periods of maybe six months where we didn’t keep up with their latest release. But that’s our own business model; we can only afford to re-implement our products at a certain rate.

We have never, ever abandoned Apple and we don’t want to abandon them today. Everything you read in our new ad is true. I myself own probably between 8 and 10 Macintoshes — both laptops and work stations. I don’t buy PCs, I buy Macs.

JP: Why isn’t Flash an open standard?

CG: It is. What are you talking about?

JP: Flash is proprietary to Adobe. It’s not Open Source. Let me rephrase: Why isn’t Flash an open standard overseen by an open-standards body?

CG: As soon as Adobe acquired Macromedia, we openly published the SWF format and removed the requirement that you have a license to use it….No, we haven’t put Flash out to a standards body yet as we have with PDF and Postscript. But I wouldn’t be shocked if we do someday when it makes sense.

With the standards that we have built and made open to the entire world, we’ve tried our best to get them to the point where they’re mature enough so that we’re not doing design by committee. If you look at the amount of time it will take HTML5 to become a reasonably solid platform, it’s going to take a long time because there are an awful lot of vested interests trying to influence its development.

JP: Any thoughts on Steve Jobs’s claim that “Flash was created during the PC era–for PCs and mice”?

CG: What do you think an iPhone is? It’s a personal computer.

JP: One last question. What do you think of the iPad?

CG: I think it’s a neat thing. I personally have no particular interest in it; I’d much rather have a general-purpose computer. I think there’s definitely a market for that kind of product. We certainly know a lot of people that want to produce content for it and a large percentage of them are disappointed that they’re going to have to do that separately from the way they produce content for all the other devices they support.

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