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Memo to Adobe: Engage Open Source

Christopher Tozzi

June 13, 2011

3 Min Read
Memo to Adobe: Engage Open Source

As Adobe faces increasingly stiff competition on different fronts, one might think the company would be eager to reach the broadest base of end-users possible.  Yet its record of engagement within the open source channel remains lackluster at best.  Let’s take a look at Adobe’s trends on this front, and what they might mean over the long-term.

Things are not what they once were for Adobe.  There was a time when Flash’s hegemony on the Web was virtually unchallenged.  It was also once common to hear people refer to PDF documents as “Adobe files,” signaling the ubiquity of Adobe Reader.

Now, times have changed.  The HTML5 video tag and other technological changes mean that Flash, though still widely popular, is no longer the only option for embedding videos in Web pages, and there are plenty of alternatives to Adobe Reader out there, many of them free and much lighter on system resources than Adobe’s offering.

Meanwhile, having an enemy in Steve Jobs, as Adobe does, is less than ideal for the company.

Adobe and Open Source

Despite these challenges to its market share, Adobe continues to exhibit little interest in engaging partners or users within the open source channel, which it has traditionally neglected.  Beyond the fact that virtually all of Adobe’s code remains closed, consider the status of Linux support within the following popular Adobe desktop products:

  • Flash: Adobe supports 32-bit Flash on Linux, but with notable limitations, such as lack of support for hardware acceleration–which means playing Flash videos fullscreen gives my dual-core CPUs a heart attack, and is virtually impossible on my netbook.  Meanwhile, as Caitlyn Martin notes, Adobe’s beta 64-bit flashplayer for Linux seems to be dead.  (Adobe claimed, in response to Martin’s post, that it remains committed to delivering a stable 64-bit Flash plugin for Linux users, but I’ll believe that when I see it.)

  • Acrobat Reader: a Linux and Solaris build of this application exists, but it’s not exactly easy to install, nor is a 64-bit version available.

  • Acrobat Standard/Pro/Suite: no Linux support.

  • Air and Flex: these run on Linux, but are of little utility to most users.

  • Photoshop: runs pretty well using the wine emulator, but no native Linux support.

Given the small size of the Linux community relative to users of other platforms, it may come as no surprise that Adobe developers afford Linux relatively little attention.  Lest this post be dismissed as just another rant by a Linux user who feels left out, however, I’d argue that the consequences of Adobe’s neglect for Linux extend beyond failing to reach the desktops of a comparatively small group.

By proving reluctant to commit seriously to supporting Linux, Adobe shuts itself out of other opportunities in the open source channel which involve more than just the narrow Linux demographic.  If it built closer relationships with Linux users, it would also establish itself as a potential partner for open source developers and vendors, which might create new partnership possibilities that the company could use at a time when it faces aggressive competition on many fronts.

If full-featured Flash plugins were introduced for both 32-bit and 64-bit Linux architectures, for instance, Adobe might find it easier to forge a stronger better relationship with Canonical or other companies behind popular Linux distributions, which could in turn create new opportunities for integrating Adobe’s server products into Ubuntu Server.

This is all theoretical, of course, and Adobe doesn’t need to take desktop Linux seriously in order to achieve success in other parts of the open source channel.  But providing better support for desktop Linux users certainly would not hurt the company, particularly given the circumstances in which it currently finds itself.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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