Macromedia Inc. Tuesday announced the appointment of Juha Christensen, a former Microsoft Corp. executive, to the position of vice president of the companys mobile and devices division. Christensen and Macromedia Vice President of Products Norm Meyrowitz spoke with eWEEK Senior Writer Darryl K. Taft about why Christensen came to Macromedia and the opportunity that lies ahead.
Why did you leave Microsoft?
CHRISTENSEN: To start operating a new company in the mobile community space. And until two weeks ago I was starting up that company very actively.
From my side, generally the way I see it is that I spent the last 10 years or so on the operating system side, really helping define some of the operating systems that will define the phones that well see going forward. And I think that has been some extremely exciting years. What I want to spend the next 10 years on at least is to help enable the experiences that will light up these devices. Because once we have a phone with an advanced operating system, the missing ingredient really is the ability to create great content and services that will light up these devices—and provide meaning to them. Thats why we are aiming to go out and continue to deal with mobile operators, to help them reach out on one side to the developer and authoring community who can write the content and on the other side to the individuals who will use this content and these services. The operators really serve as proxies for these end users.
You could not have done this at Microsoft?
CHRISTENSEN: No. Microsofts aim is to provide an operating system for these devices and to provide the stack that sits on top of the hardware and powers the phone. Microsoft doesnt provide a Flash-like thing that enables an authoring community to put together the types of content were talking about here and render that onto devices.
MEYROWITZ: And in fact well be working on Microsoft phones and other phones. So we expect to be a partner with them.
CHRISTENSEN: One of the interesting things behind my reasons to come here was that actually I originally left Microsoft to form a startup and then in starting to discuss things with Norm and others at Macromedia here I realized that there was really a set of very interesting technologies, a great team of people and some aspirations that would enable someone like me to come in and take another round at helping to propagate these types of new devices out to a broad range of people. And meanwhile I could leverage the relationships I already have with mobile operators and device manufacturers to really provide this next level of software that creates these new experiences. Macromedia often calls this the “experience layer,” and I think thats a good term for it.
Can you talk at all about what your startup was going to be?
CHRISTENSEN: Yes, it was aimed at enabling people in wireless communities to communicate with each other. I think a lot of the content that will be generated in years to come will actually be generated by what you might call “amateurs,” or individuals who have a desire to reach a finite set of people. So you know in content terms you have one-to-many content on one side and you have one-to-one content on the other side. And I think the stuff in the middle, which is one-to-few content, is going to be really exciting on mobile phones. Because a mobile phone is a very, very personal device; its always with you, its always on and its intimate as well in that quite often youre the only person that sees the screen. Whereas on a PC you share it with other people who sit and look at it over your shoulder or next to you.
So the concept was really to produce some software that would enable wireless communities to offer some information and get it rendered on devices. And it turns out that a lot of the technology that will be necessary to do that is technology that is under development here at Macromedia. So with that technology youre able to do of course stuff in the wireless community space, but youre able to do a vast superset of that. If you liken it to a shopping mall, well be able to go out and get the anchor tenants … the ESPNs and the Disneys, etc., and well be able to get all the smaller shops and the community guys. Youre able to really provide a very, very wide range of developers and authors with a wide range of tools that enable them to provide a wide range of content and services that go out to all these deserving end users out there with their advanced devices.
So these Macromedia technologies, are they unannounced things? And what are they?
CHRISTENSEN: Some announced and some unannounced. The announced tools include Flash Lite [a Flash player on phones] and Flash Cast [a Flash client on phones].
So, using a cable TV metaphor, subscribers subscribe to a number of channels and those channels appear on your device based on your preferences.
So going forward do you have plans to add to the developer ranks in your division at Macromedia?
CHRISTENSEN: You know this is my first day, so its a little early to start making prophecies and predictions. Well be spending the next weeks and maybe even a couple of months going in-depth and working out both the aspirations in detail and also how we operationalize all those ideas.
MEYROWITZ: We have clearly a group already doing the development in-house. The whole notion is that there are 800,000 to a million Flash developers out there, and people who develop Flash content over time should be able to develop content for that service.
What I meant was that with your plans for a startup Id imagine you had a team in mind. I was curious if any of those folks would be joining you.
CHRISTENSEN: Were currently evaluating the whole thing, and I need a bit of time to get up to speed to start doing detailed plans.
Do you think Macromedia has a better mobile strategy than Microsoft?
CHRISTENSEN: That sounds like the question: When did you stop beating up your wife? Its a different strategy for a completely different outcome. Theyre not mutually exclusive. If anything, the more Macromedia succeeds, the more Microsoft will succeed because Macromedias stuff will light up much better on devices that are powered by Microsofts type of operating system than some of the very simple operating systems you see out there today.
So if Macromedia is very successful in helping people create applications and services, then it will be really good news for Microsoft as well.
Whats your thinking about Sparkle [from Microsoft]?
MEYROWITZ: Juha cant say anything about Sparkle since he came from Microsoft.
There have always been so-called Flash killers coming along for as long as Ive been at Macromedia. We take Microsoft very seriously. They create very good software, and theyre a formidable competitor, but Sparkle isnt out yet and all that we can tell about it is that it will be a very restrictive technology for Avalon and Longhorn.
CHRISTENSEN: I can say thats a part of the company I wasnt involved with at all. Microsoft is a big company with 60,000 employees, so the corner of the business that I was focused on was mobile devices, and what went on in the PC world was certainly interesting but not something I spent time reviewing and educating myself about.
Do you think the Sendo lawsuit against Microsoft has merit?
CHRISTENSEN: That I definitely shouldnt comment on at all, especially given that Im a witness in that case.