Can Quartz Crack Adobe?

Is it safe? Like Laurence Olivier's evil dentist in "Marathon Man," I seem to have drilled straight into a nerve with my last column on Adobe Systems' relationship - or lack thereof - with Macintosh's OS X.

Is it safe? Like Laurence Oliviers evil dentist in "Marathon Man," I seem to have drilled straight into a nerve with my last column on Adobe Systems relationship - or lack thereof - with Macintoshs OS X.

The miracle of hyperlinking means I dont have to step back over the dirt Ive already kicked upup. In a nutshell, I said that Ive found Adobe mighty uncommunicative about its plans for Apples next-generation OS and hoped aloud that the preeminent developer of Mac graphics software will start articulating its Mac OS X roadmap more clearly.

Judging from the responses Ive seen from graphics and design pros in the audience, there are many of us whose decision to upgrade to Mac OS X hinges on the arrival of Carbonized Adobe apps - or equivalent Mac OS X-native offerings from Adobes competitors. (Just to explain the royal "we" in that last sentence: I dont even play a graphics pro on TV, but my lovely wife has depended on Adobes Mac products for her illustration work since the mid-80s.)

To their credit, a number of Adobe staffers have stepped up to the plate since then to reaffirm what the company has already stated publicly: that most of Adobes core graphics applications will be Carbonized in their next major revs. (At the same time, they disabused optimists in the crowd of the notion that those revs will arrive in time for Julys Macworld Expo in New York; citing budget constraints, the company this week acknowledged that it is breaking precedent and skipping the show.)

However, I still havent heard an answer to my deeper question: Will the combination of Mac OS X and Adobe software confer special advantages on the Mac as a graphics platform? And if so, why arent we hearing more about it?

Its a question Ive been asking since late 1996 (when Apple announced that it was acquiring OpenStep, which featured imaging technology based on Adobes Display PostScript) and kept asking after Apple announced that the shipping version of Mac OS X would feature Quartz, an imaging layer based on Adobes Portable Document Format. (Nota bene: Apple rolled Quartz itself from the public portable document format (PDF) spec, reportedly because Apple and Adobe were unable to agree on licensing terms for Adobes version of the format.)

Considering that Apples new, rock-steady, Unix-based, modern OS is built on Adobe technology, it would seem that Adobe is in a prime position to wring unprecedented potential out of graphics packages developed for Mac OS X.

After all, PDF is the connective tissue linking together Adobes extensive product roadmap. PDF is the lingua franca enabling Adobes ambitious Network Publishing scheme for multipurposing content for a welter of platforms and networking technologies. Its the centerpiece of the companys plans for publishing workflows unified under the Adobe banner. And its the universal solvent Adobe proposes for every conceivable situation involving the dissemination of text and images.

Isnt an OS built from the ground up to display PDF a dream come true for Adobe?

I assume any Adobe package built with Mac OS X in mind will be able to make more efficient use of system resources and achieve hitherto unknown levels of integration between the images displayed onscreen and those output to any electronic or print medium. Furthermore, those capabilities should easily outshine anything possible from equivalent Windows products.

Am I missing something here?

Adobe has offered a few hints that some plans may be in the offing to exploit the publishing power of Mac OS X. At the last Seybold Seminars gathering in Boston, the company offered a technology demonstration that appeared to be a Carbonized upgrade to InDesign, the companys new desktop publishing flagship. Part of the demonstration: manipulating a Photoshop file with full transparency directly within InDesign. (PDF transparency is one of the advertised strengths of Quartz, although the demo didnt make clear what part, if any, Apples imaging layer made in the festivities.)

I expect that InDesign 2.0 will indeed be among the first Carbonized applications to arrive from Adobe; furthermore, based on the buzz I hear, it will arrive long before any Mac OS X version of QuarkXPress, the current heavyweight champ in the desktop publishing market. And if InDesigns Carbon enhancements do make a difference in its competition with XPress, that could provide Adobe with a significant inducement to pump up Mac OS X-specific features of Photoshop and Illustrator, to name two of its other key applications.

In wooing its growing base of Windows users, Adobe has made a selling point of its applications feature parity across platforms. Nevertheless, its original Mac constituency is still a huge part of the companys business, especially in the graphics arena.

By dint of Adobe technology, Mac OS X is uniquely equipped to be the showcase for Adobe applications. Is Adobe prepared to alter its cross-platform vision to acknowledge that special relationship?

Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is managing editor of Ziff Davis Internet.