Adobe Should Open-Source Macromedia Castoffs

Opinion: Adobe would do well to open-source some of its ill-fitting Macromedia acquisitions.

Now that the initial surprise over Adobes acquisition of Macromedia is over, its time to step back and try to figure out just what effect this deal will have on the many products in the two companies portfolios—and also on the businesses that these products serve.

Most of the synergies are obvious. By far, the biggest is the combination of Adobes PDF and Macromedias Flash, two of the most dominant formats on the Web today. Its an easy bet that well eventually see Acrobat Reader and the Flash player combined into a single product. (They should call it Karamazov, after those famous flashy acrobats.) Provided that both technologies retain their good cross-platform capabilities, this product merger would be a positive thing.

Its also a near certainty that Adobes Creative Suite and Macromedias Studio MX will be tossed in the blender to create a new Web and media development cocktail. I see lots of benefits here, since the resulting product would likely be more developer-friendly than Adobes current suite and more video- and document-friendly than Macromedias. However, there will be lots of product losses in this area, with good apps such as Adobes GoLive likely bowing to Macromedias Dreamweaver and Macromedias Fireworks likewise bowing to Adobe Photoshop.

/zimages/5/28571.gifSome customers say the merger could stifle development. Click here to read more.

But theres lots to talk about beyond these most obvious areas. Both companies have a lot of products outside the Web and digital media markets, and many of the Macromedia products that Adobe will be acquiring are outside of Adobes typical areas of interest and competency.

A large number of IT customers, for example, probably wonder what will become of products such as Macromedias Director, Authorware, ColdFusion and JRun. Will they be embraced by Adobe and well-supported and enhanced? Or will they stagnate and be marginalized, with support offered but little provided in the way of continued investment and upgrades? Or will Adobe decide to drop these products altogether?

I think customers that depend on Director, Authorware and like products should be able to breathe easy. These products can fit well into the Adobe portfolio and will greatly boost Adobes profile in the attractive e-learning and training markets.

/zimages/5/28571.gifMerger could give PDF technology a boost. Click here to read more.

More worrisome to me are the server- and developer-oriented products. For example, ColdFusion, originally from Allaire, never totally fit in at Macromedia, and its not likely to be a better fit at Adobe. ColdFusion is still very popular with many Web developers, and, for the most part, Macromedia has done a good job of enhancing it. Will Adobe continue on in this vein, or will it let the technology stagnate or ax it completely?

JRun is in similar, if somewhat less dire, straits. Adobe will probably see value in JRun as a delivery platform for many of its core technologies, but will the product be improved, or will it simply become a feature and cease to exist in stand-alone form?

The decisions that Adobe makes in the coming months will have a big impact on many companies that will become Adobes customers. Current and future projects, applications and systems at these companies could be greatly affected by the loss of core supporting applications.

Even after lots of fair and honest evaluation, Adobe may decide that some of the Macromedia products dont make sense for Adobes short- and long-term plans and that committing resources to the products upkeep would not be wise.

If Adobe does come to this conclusion for some of Macromedias products, I want the companys decision makers to consider a different course: Dont just let these products stagnate or die completely; give them back to your user community by open-sourcing them.

Some will ask what Adobe would gain by open-sourcing applications it no longer wants. The easiest but still-honest answer is a happy and much larger and more diverse user community.

But Adobe also stands to benefit in other ways. All of Macromedias products have been tuned over the years to work well with Adobes new and legacy core products. If Macromedia castoffs were to be open-sourced, it would only serve to promote key Adobe products.

And then maybe, just maybe, for some of these products, there will be life after merger.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

To read more Jim Rapoza, subscribe to eWEEK magazine.

/zimages/5/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on image editing and Web publishing tools.