Monday, September 18, 2006

In the World of Blogging, Be Carefull What You Ask For.

Is Adobe hopping to get the free advertising boost of the blogosphere? If so, maybe they should have a re-think.

In the distant past I was a fan of Windows. In the less distant past I was a fan of all things Apple, and in the less distant netherworld of unreleased betas I was a fan of Adobe too.

At some point the future of all of these companies was in doubt and they worked hard to survive. But then, to a greater or lesser extent they all achieved the ability to draw residuals on their past successes. The iPod has remade Apple. So much so that I wonder if they even want to be in the computer business any more. MS still makes tons off of Windows and Office, but predictions of the eventual decline on those revenue streams are almost universal. Adobe, long a one-trick pony, after MS pulled the font rug out from under them, Acrobat made a lot more sense as a “perpetual” revenue generator and they did a great job of promulgating the format to just about everywhere from Linux, Apple's OS and even to Palm pilots and such. Small companies could of course survive for decades on these income streams, but these aren't' small companies, so they have to find ways to get larger streams to flow out of these existing products. This is almost never good for existing users, who are in many cases completely happy with what they have. All they need is for that existing capability to keep up with OS upgrades (most of which they don't need either but are forced into). And so the march of “improved” technology goes on.

I was a beta tester for an Adobe product called Atmosphere back in, oh, 2000 or so (maybe earlier). Way back then they already had a system that would allow you to set up a 3D chat room on any ordinary web page, complete with customizable avatars, sound, etc. Not quite the full experience of Second Life, but for what content creation involved (a few hours of tinkering) quite impressive. Someone skilled in the tool could produce a 3D landscape that was breathtaking and approached a photo-realism that I haven't seen anywhere else. The only problem was that the code was buggy as heck. After two years of delays it seemed to have gotten worse rather than better. They changed the scope from being a separate program with a plug-in for web work to only a plug-in and no separate viewer. The plug-in only worked with IE, and many of the beta testers (like me) had already switched to Mozilla. FINALLY they announced the production product, as if they had given up on fixing the bugs. Ahhh, but they had promised all beta testera a copy of the production product. I got mine. Shortly thereafter the product was unceremoniously discontinued, and the production team made to vanish. The next version of Acrobat had some sort of 3D capabilities built-in, which I've never seen operate as I had already begun my migration away from Windows and I suspect that's the only place it will work (if it does work).

Call it bloat, or featuritis, the unfortunate requirement of being a publicly traded company impels these companies to abandon common sense and make former things of beauty into eyesores while they scurry to discover something new. A poor user has to hope against hope that these new endeavors such as Xbox and iPod will be such runaway sucesses that the companies will leave the old stuff alone, but that doesn't seem to be the normal course of events does it?


PS: Unless I'm missing something, your pointer to the Acrobat video points to a page that requires you to have Flash version 8 (not available for Linux yet), nevertheless, it automatically directs me to a product update page which doesn't exist, although the script doing this never discloses that fact and instead just waits for something to happen that isn't going to happen. Finally I discover that the actual video, on Podtech, is in a Quicktime format that I could have even played on my Linux machine. I cringe that they pay people to put this stuff together. It's probably just as well for Adobe that I don't spend much time blogging about them.

PPS: I haven't kept good score, but I think Adobe has failed miserably to honor a promise made by the company CEO a few years back for consistency across platforms. They in fact aren't doing any better now, and in my casual observation are doing worse than before the promise was made. They got off to a great start in making PDF format an open standard, but I'm not at all sure that that openness applies to new features that are continuously forced down users throats. Not surprisingly, other formats which are more open, and do the orignal job better, are startting to have more appeal. DJVU creates better looking documents that render faster, and given the choice when downloading a document I'll pick the DJVU format which is usually about half the size. I suspect this new version of Acrobat will only make matters worse.

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