Why Microsoft buying Adobe would be bad for you and me

The thought of Microsoft owning my design tools fills me with dread. Here are five reasons why.

When confronted with the idea of Microsoft acquiring Adobe , my visceral reaction was not that of an analyst or a journalist, but as a user personally and professional dependent on a variety of Adobe applications. That reaction? "PLEASE. NO. DON'T."

I've got nothing against Microsoft as a company; I'd have reacted similarly if if Apple or Google were the suitor, albeit with lower-case horror, and with a few different reasons. I don't think Adobe is perfect, either. For the most part, my objections stem from fears of the standard side effects of big mergers and acquisitions and the role that Creative Suite plays in today's contentious and tumultuous delivery environment.

It would be disruptive. All mergers and acquisitions add an element of uncertainty to product development plans. Right now, we're experiencing significant changes in the various mobile and desktop software platforms, and more than ever, content developers need as much tool stability as possible.

As a photographer and a camera tester, I rely on Adobe churning out an update to Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) every few months. Adobe does it because its core audience requires it, but it's more likely to become just a blip in Microsoft's product portfolio. With the insane pace at which cameras, camcorders, mobile devices, and Web platforms change these days, we need faster, more nimble product updates, not just an endless stream of security patches (Acrobat's leakiness nothwithstanding). And as Christopher Gizzi (@soitscometothis) tweeted "Suddenly Quark became a lot more relevant."

Products like InDesign are unlikely to be considered part of Microsoft's core strategy. Furthermore, as with any acquisition, a large chunk of Adobe employees would become redundant, and a lot of good people would either be let go or quit rather than be assimilated. None of this bodes well for the products I use.

On the Web development side, there would be a lot of product overlap between Adobe's server software and development tools and Microsoft's competing products. I doubt users who've committed to either platform would like to see theirs disappear, but maintaining both wouldn't make sense.

Even major products would probably suffer. The fact remains that Microsoft has a sad history with professional graphics applications. After taking it nowhere, the company sold its Expression Media asset management product to Phase One this year. The company has a whole Expression suite of products that ostensibly compete with parts of Creative Suite, but are too focused on Microsoft platforms like Silverlight. There are a lot of people who consider Photoshop to be bloated and hard to use, but they've learned it and need it to continue operating that way. Microsoft has a habit of drastically changing its interfaces for no particularly good reason. Did we really need a UI paradigm shift between Office 2003 and 2007?

A lot of designers hate Adobe, but they hate Microsoft more. Frankly, Microsoft has always been rather dismissive toward the design community. It took forever for the company to address professionals' need for real color management and a good font engine in its operating systems--and some might argue they're still not quite up to par. A lot of Microsoft's time, energy, and money would have to be spent towards de-alienating its newly acquired user base. Of course, it might do so by actually making the products better, but in practice, these days large companies tend to woo users with aggressive tweeting, Facebooking, and press conferencing rather than improving products.

Furthermore, a chunk of Adobe's most active--some might say passionately vocal--users work on Mac/OS X, but we would hardly expect Microsoft to suddenly make OS X development a priority. There's also the size issue: designers (and photographers) are a different animal than many other market constituents. I think they tend to gravitate to companies they perceive as more intimate as well as ones that they think share their aesthetic and philosophies, and that's not Microsoft. And therefore the quality, tone, and nature of the feedback from the community will change, probably for the worse.

I also believe that content creation tools on Adobe's scale need to be platform agnostic. Not only should Microsoft not buy Adobe, neither should Apple, Google, or anyone else with a vested interest in a particular delivery platform. Adobe's user base needs to be able to code and create for the broadest possible set of platforms in order for their businesses to remain vibrant and viable.

And finally, whatever happened to comparative advantage? Even if Microsoft did everything perfectly--and that's a humongous "if"--that doesn't mean we consumers would be better off if it really did everything.

But I'm sure you've got some opinions. Probably diametrically opposed to mine. So persuade me. Sound off in the comments.

 

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