John Paczkowski’s Interview With Adobe Co-Founder Chuck Geschke

John Paczkowski posted a great interview with Adobe co-chairman Chuck Geschke on Friday, regarding Adobe’s counter-campaign against Apple. The interview brings out the philosophical differences between Adobe and Apple far more clearly than the “Thoughts on Open Markets” essay Geschke and fellow co-founder John Warnock published Thursday.

A few choice bits:

JP: Shouldn’t Apple have the right to define the means by which apps for its own platform can be written?

CG: They absolutely have the right. No one says they don’t.

JP: Cross-platform mobile apps tend not to take advantage of native features unique to each device. What do you have to say about complaints that write-once-run-anywhere software results in subpar apps?

CG: Well, people don’t say that about Photoshop. They certainly don’t say it about Acrobat…. I’m a little confused about what the real examples of that are.

I can’t tell whether Geschke is being dishonest, or whether he truly is under the impression that Mac users don’t have serious, long-standing complaints about the quality and UI design of Photoshop (and the entire CS suite). And Acrobat? Acrobat is despised by Mac users. If not for Apple’s Preview (and Mac OS X’s Apple-written PDF implementation), Mac users would despise the entire PDF format.

One can argue very reasonably that there is a strong business case for Adobe’s cross-platform Mac/Windows (or perhaps better put, Windows/Mac) CS strategy. And you can argue that a decade ago, when the Mac was at its nadir, that this strategy made even more sense, and that once committed to this strategy, there’s no easy way for Adobe to extricate itself from it. But to argue that their cross-platform strategy hasn’t adversely affected the quality of Adobe’s Mac apps is to ask those of us who use their Mac apps to ignore mountains of evidence to the contrary. I hope for Adobe’s sake that he’s being disingenuous about these issues; otherwise the co-chairman of their board is completely ignorant of how their flagship products are perceived by many Mac users. The CS suite apps have evolved to look and feel like Adobe apps, not like Mac or Windows apps.

Lightroom, on the other hand, would have been a great example for Geschke to cite. I love Lightroom, and if I didn’t know it was cross-platform for Mac and Windows, I’d never guess it by using the Mac version. I wouldn’t hesitate to hold up Lightroom as the single best cross-platform app in history. But Geschke didn’t say Lightroom, he said Photoshop and Acrobat.

JP: So you don’t think write-once-run-anywhere is limiting at all?

CG: Not really. I mean there may be certain features in certain environments that you’ll want to do customization for, but the more you go down that road, the more you get the experience of HTML on the Web, where the kind of browser, hardware and OS you use determines what your experience. That’s because HTML is not well codified and standardized and people sort of roll their own.

It would be more credible if Geschke acknowledged that there are significant trade-offs involved with cross-platform development. One can certainly make the case that the trade-offs are worthwhile — that it’s a beneficial state of affairs that extremely similar versions of apps like Photoshop and Illustrator run on both Mac OS X and Windows. But it’s not credible to pretend the trade-offs don’t exist.

Apple’s position is that they fully support two platforms for iPhone OS: (1) their own controlled, closed platform: the App Store and Cocoa Touch; and (2) everyone’s uncontrolled, open platform, HTML5. Apple would be the first to admit the App Store is closed, and their endorsed open platform is driven by a specification forged by widely-respected standards organizations like WHATWG and the W3C. If HTML isn’t “standardized”, as Geschke claims, then what are these specifications from open standards organizations?

You can argue that rendering engines are not consistent in terms of how they render the HTML standards (but if you do, it’s likely that you’re talking about practical problems with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer), and you can argue (rightly) that many web developers don’t adhere to the standards in the markup they publish, but I don’t see how you can argue that HTML is not “standardized”.

There indeed are many compromises involved with web development regarding browser, OS, and device differences. In some ways, web-capable mobile devices like iPhone OS and Android, despite the fact that their WebKit browsers are among the most standards-compliant in the industry, have made web development more complex than ever before, because in addition to rendering engine differences, they’ve added new items to the matrix, including extremely small display sizes and very slow CPUs compared to “regular” PCs. But that’s the inevitable result of a truly open platform that is neither owned nor controlled by any entity. I.e. the problem with HTML as a development platform is that it’s standardized in so many different ways.

But that’s the beauty of systems like iPhone OS and Android (and Windows and Mac OS X for that matter) — they have it both ways. A native programming API that is controlled and defined by the platform vendor, and full support for the open web. Even the web falls short with “write once” in most cases, but “runs everywhere” really is true, and that, more than anything else, is why the web is so amazing and universally beloved.

Flash is associated with web browsers because for the past decade, most web browsers in use include a Flash Player plugin. But Flash is not part of the web. It’s on the web, but not of the web. Adobe is pitching Flash as a peer to HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. That just isn’t the case.

We have never, ever abandoned Apple and we don’t want to abandon them today. Everything you read in our new ad is true. I myself own probably between 8 and 10 Macintoshes — both laptops and work stations. I don’t buy PCs, I buy Macs.

I’m curious to know what type of phone Geschke uses.

JP: Why isn’t Flash an open standard?

CG: It is. What are you talking about?

JP: Flash is proprietary to Adobe. It’s not Open Source. Let me rephrase: Why isn’t Flash an open standard overseen by an open-standards body?

CG: As soon as Adobe acquired Macromedia, we openly published the SWF format and removed the requirement that you have a license to use it….No, we haven’t put Flash out to a standards body yet as we have with PDF and Postscript. But I wouldn’t be shocked if we do someday when it makes sense.

With the standards that we have built and made open to the entire world, we’ve tried our best to get them to the point where they’re mature enough so that we’re not doing design by committee. If you look at the amount of time it will take HTML5 to become a reasonably solid platform, it’s going to take a long time because there are an awful lot of vested interests trying to influence its development.

In other words, Adobe maintains as much control over its own platforms and formats as it sees fit. That sounds pretty much like what Apple is doing with iPhone OS.

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