Adobe PDF has tended to be a footnote in the ODF story to date, principally figuring into the saga by presenting a somewhat troubling question: did the Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD) draw too fine a distinction in saying "no" to the Microsoft XML Reference Schema (especially after Microsoft agreed to make modifications to its license terms) while saying "yes" to Adobe PDF? But an interview with Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen indicates that Adobe's control of PDF - and now Flash - may give it a far bigger role from the desktop to mobile devices in the future than ODF may give any other vendor.
Adobe PDF has tended to be a footnote in the ODF story to date, principally figuring into the saga by presenting a somewhat troubling question: did the Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD) draw too fine a distinction in saying “no” to the Microsoft XML Reference Schema (especially after Microsoft agreed to make modifications to its license terms) while saying “yes” to Adobe PDF?
This entry isn’t about reopening that question, however. Instead, it’s to highlight an extremely interesting, lengthy and detailed interview of Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen at the Managing Technology @ Wharton section of the Wharton Business School Web site. In the course of that interview, Chizen expresses the belief that neither ODF nor the XML Reference Schema present any threat to Adobe Ã¢ï¿½“ which he believes is too far too well entrenched to be dislodged. Instead, he believes that ODF, and Microsoft’s actions in response (including the inclusion of PDF support in Office) will be a boon to Adobe (more on this below).
The interview comes as Adobe is hard at work integrating Macromedia (which it acquired late last year) into both its operations as well as its strategy. That acquisition is notable in several ways, with gaining ownership of the Flash format for interactive Web content chief among them, giving Adobe control of a second key de facto standard. The acquisition also makes Adobe the fifth largest software maker in the world.
As the interview notes in its introduction:
Adobe plans to leverage [PDF and Flash] and other core assets to provide an “engagement platform” that it hopes will provide the foundation for the next generation of software and application development — both on the web and on users’ desktops.
Adobe’s vision is grand. CEO Bruce Chizen hopes that Adobe will provide the interface for any device with a screen — “from a refrigerator to an automobile to a video game to a computer to a mobile phone.” Such ambitions put Adobe squarely in the sights of Microsoft, which currently dominates desktop software development.
And Microsoft is moving quickly to counter Adobe’s moves. It has announced a number of products poised to compete directly with Adobe’s core products. Microsoft’s strategy includes, among other initiatives, positioning elements of the forthcoming Windows Presentation Foundation to compete with Adobe’s Acrobat and Flash applications, and potentially undercutting Adobe’s profitable Acrobat product line by including PDF creation in the next version of Microsoft Office.
In other words, if you haven’t had Adobe on your strategic screen, it’s time you begin to pay attention, if Chizen can indeed deliver on his vision. Certainly it appears that Microsoft is giving credence to Adobe’s ambitions, which is telling.
There’s far too much in the interview to summarize here, but let’s take a look at least to the portion that relates to ODF. Here’s what Wharton asked, and what Chizen answered on that topic:
Knowledge@Wharton: PDF’s status as a published standard has always been key to your positioning. But, as you know, Microsoft is submitting Office Open XML to [the standards organization] ECMA to get it published as a standard. And Sun and others are supporting [an alternate] Open Document format. Since one of PDF’s big competitors has always been native application file formats, do you see this move toward standardization on the part of these formats as a serious competitor to PDF going forward?
Chizen: I would if PDF hadn’t become the standard it’s become. Because you have so many mission-critical workflows built around PDF — everything from IRS tax forms to FDA drug regulatory submission documents to U.S. court electronic briefings — and because Adobe has a 20-year history of not messing with the open specification process, I believe the community at large trusts the approach we have taken. This is demonstrated by their willingness to adopt us as their standard.
I had said above that I wouldn’t go back into whether the line drawn by the ITD was too fine, but I will take a moment to note that one of Chizen’s comments above is particularly interesting on this question: ” Adobe has a 20-year history of not messing with the open specification process, I believe the community at large trusts the approach we have taken.” Which is one of the main of the points made by the ITD in justifying its decision.
I also mentioned above that Chizen thought that PDF support in Office 12 would be a boon to Adobe’s business. Here’s how that conclusion was developed in the interview:
Knowledge@Wharton: One of the other things Microsoft has announced is the ability to save as PDF in Office 12. This means that, once that happens, non-Adobe technologies are creating PDF in MacOS X, in StarOffice, and on Windows in Office [applications]. Isn’t this a challenge to one of your major revenue streams?
Chizen: Maybe. But we don’t think so. First of all, it’s somewhat flattering that Microsoft has validated a document format that is not theirs, but one that is Adobe’s — which suggests that their customers were demanding that it do so.
We had anticipated for many years that the revenue we achieve around PDF creation would, at some point in time, go away. It’s an open standard! There are many clones out in the marketplace today that create PDF and compete with Acrobat.
What we have done over the last five years is added functionality beyond PDF creation in our product line-up. If you look at Acrobat today it is much more than just simple PDF creation. In fact, we have a product, called Acrobat Elements, that just does PDF creation, and it represents a relatively tiny piece of our overall revenue — less than one percent. Most customers choose to buy the more feature-rich products, Acrobat Standard and Acrobat Pro, which do annotations, digital signatures, web capture [and so on]. And many customers are buying LiveCycle, the server products for mission-critical workflows. That suggests to me that even though PDF creation will become free with products like Microsoft Office, our revenue streams will continue on.
In fact, with more PDFs being created from Microsoft Office, it gives us an opportunity to take those PDFs and do more with them, like building mission-critical workflows around them.
To date, Chizen’s name hasn’t had the name recognition of Gates, or Jobs or Ellison. But if he succeeds in accomplishing all that he lays out in this interview, that may not be true much longer.
[To browse all prior blog entries on this story, click here]