Adobe as Monopolist

Adobe has managed to secure a position that many vendors in the IT field would covet – a near monopoly position in a rapidly growing market. What makes this most interesting is that Adobe has just absorbed in final acquisition the last possible major competitor to that market position, Macromedia.

But first things first. Just a few months ago, I was attending a seminar with a client on Adobe Acrobat who was trying to identify whether the secure collaboration and review needs they have would fit the Acrobat system. Aside from some cost issues, there were questions as to what graphics and video formats PDF could digest and distribute with builtin display capabilities. And as it turned out, Acrobat clearly could not package graphics file+viewer to meet the customers current needs which include a number of 3D, animation, and video formats with written comments and survey forms.

An apparent crash and burn.

But upon further investigation, it became evident there was no IT supplier with the possible exception of Videostream that could deliver the many filetypes required, let alone the secure commenting and collaboration capabilities of Acrobat. A hybrid solution in which storyboards of animations, images, comments, and survey forms was deployed with remarkable success. The key ingredient here was that Adobes Acrobat supplied a cross platform general document container that:
1)supported enough graphic image layouts, written document file formats,
2)offered impeccable printing fidelity and support on variety of platforms;
3)offered just enough support of cross platform reviewing, commenting and collaboration facilities;
4)allowed users to answer survey questions and fill in forms along with their comments;
5)allowed access control of what could be seen by whom in the container;
6)allowed serious encryption where required in the documents contents;
7)had authenticated signatues and non-repudiation of receipt and/or editing.
Not Videostream, not Winzip, not Microsoft Metro could deliver such a container. Open Text and Documentum could provide a cross platform server that could deliver portions of these requirements while adding version control, central management, and statistical usage summay reports. But at a relativey high server and deployment cost to speak nothing of the training/conversion costs.

The only other container that might have competed – Flash+Flash Paper. But Macromedia requires roll your own collaboration and commenting capabilities. In addition, the 3D support is marginally better than Acrobat while video requires conversion steps.Essentially, Flash is an embeddable container that brings rich media experiences to a wide range of devices.

But now wait a second – isnt that what Acrobat does ?

Yes, but Acrobat is not gracefully embeddable, it take over the complete applications GUI interface as on HTML pages. And Acrobat is not as lightweight on the runtime and on the delivered containers as is Flash. And Adobe has yet to announce a security sandbox model comparable to Flash and Java.

So now, dear readers, you see where Adobe is. It is the only holder of not one but two cross platform object containers that have their own standalone run-time engines, the ability to deliver images, audio, animations, fonts and text documents with great fidelity. And each has its own niche as well. And the ability to impose somes security and authentication of rights on accessing those containers. And as far as this party can see, nobody else is close. Talk about a monopoly market position redoubled.

But playing against Adobe are two important factors. First, the 6As Presentation Layer puts demands of delivery on any device that Adobe Acrobat and Flash are closer to than any competition – but are still far from complete. Second, there is an implied 7th A => any mode of operation = online or offline which is also hard for Adobe to deliver in a uniform manner. In short, the market is not closed, the race is still on. And the slumbering giant, Redmond has appeared to sit up and take notice.

Microsoft is in the process of conjuring up Metro as secure document container for Vista and has developed a complete Expression Suite that is designed to offer alternatives to the Flash and Shockwave environ. And Microsoft has added more programmatic functionality to its .WMV container including the ability to contain (but not execute, that is part of the operating system) CLR code. As well WMV files are getting better compression capabilities, although they are still off the Flash compression capabilities by 20-30%. But Ballmer and Gates are acutely aware of the power of monopoly – and they dont cotton to nouveau riche treading in their Windows and GUI/Presentation Pre-eminence domain. Can you imagine the following – Adobe, Mpist talking to Microsoft, Mpist. Ode to Be a Fly-on-the-Wall.

(c) JBSurveyer 2005