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Adobe cozies up to Apple's OS X

Upcoming software from Adobe could help reinvigorate sales of professional Macs, though the biggest boost--the release of Photoshop for Mac OS X--is still up to six months away.

Upcoming software upgrades from Adobe Systems could help reinvigorate sales of professional-oriented Macs, though the biggest boost--the release of Photoshop for Mac OS X--is still up to six months away.

Adobe, the maker of design software used by print and online publishers, is now in the process of unleashing upgrades to products such as Photoshop, InDesign and LiveMotion. The upgrades will take advantage of the features offered in Apple Computer's Mac OS X operating system.

Analysts and creative professionals say that Adobe's release of products for OS X could be the most significant turning point in the new operating system's adoption--particularly among Apple's bread-and-butter professional customers who buy the fastest and most expensive Macs. Sales of Apple computers designed for professionals--Power Macs, in particular--have lagged partly because of the slow delivery of OS X-native applications from large Mac developers such as Adobe, analysts and industry insiders say.

"As a designer, I'm waiting for Adobe to get their software ported over to OS X before I...use OS X on a full-time basis," said Nathan Houghton, a graphic designer in Holt, Mo.

In March, Apple released the next-generation Mac OS--its most significant upgrade in 17 years. But for software to take advantage of Mac OS X's most robust features, developers must either port--use tools to make existing software work with the new OS--or completely rewrite their applications.

Developers privately complained of stability issues with the original release of OS X, saying that these problems hampered their efforts to move their products to OS X. That finally changed in September, when Apple issued the Mac OS X 10.1 update.

In November, Microsoft started selling Office v. X, while AOL Time Warner last week released a version of its American Online software for OS X.

However, the most important application for unlocking OS X's potential and unleashing a cavalcade of new Mac sales is Adobe Photoshop, asserted Gartner analyst Michael Silver.

"We've been saying all along, there are certain key applications that have been missing," Silver said. "One of those has been Microsoft Office, but Office is more of an equalizer. It's applications, like Photoshop, that are the most important to OS X."

Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen agreed. "Many (Mac users) are waiting for Photoshop, which we intend to release in the second quarter of next year," Chizen told CNET "We think many customers will buy not only Photoshop, but OS X, new Macs and a lot of other Adobe OS X apps."

Brian Pickerill, a statistical analyst and writer in Muncie, Ind., said he believes that "the release of Photoshop will be huge for Mac OS X."

Silver sees the release of OS X-ready applications as the key for professional Mac sales.

"Once the applications are really there, yes, people have a reason to go out and buy a new PC," Silver said. "Those really high-end graphics users will buy dual-processor machines because OS X now takes advantage of dual processors--and they'll finally have applications that can take advantage of OS X's features."

Apple executives were not immediately available for comment.

In good company
Adobe's design programs certainly aren't the only ones important to Macs. There are also Quark's QuarkXpress and a number of Web-oriented design applications from Macromedia, such as Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks or Shockwave. Other products, such as Bare Bones Software's BBEdit, have carved out important niches, particularly on OS X.

But Quark and Macromedia have also been slow to issue OS X versions of their applications, though this fall the latter released Freehand 10 for the new operating system. Much could change at the next Macworld Expo trade show in January, where developers are expected to announce a slew of new design products.

"In the graphic design, pre-press and desktop publishing industry, there is a triad of applications that power those businesses: Adobe Photoshop, (Adobe) Illustrator and QuarkXPress. The release of X versions of those apps endorses Apple's work" on OS X, said Adam Masri, a Mac systems integrator in San Francisco.

Gartner analyst Michael Silver says Mac OS X is Apple's attempt to ensure that the company is in the forefront of innovation, but the story won't have a happy ending until more business applications arrive.

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On the design front, Apple's biggest Mac OS X supporter to date is Ottawa, Canada-based Corel. The company has been churning out new OS X applications at a rapid pace, looking to fill the void left by larger Mac developers. Under its new Procreate brand, Corel this fall unleashed OS X versions of Painter 7, KnockOut 2 and KPT Effects, a collection of plug-ins for photo editing and design. Corel also released Graphics Suite 10, which includes the CorelDraw page-layout and design application and Photo-Paint for editing and retouching images.

Adobe's upcoming Mac OS X products will warm what looked like a chilly relationship with Apple earlier in the year. San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe, for example, skipped Apple's Macworld trade show in July in New York. Apple showcases new products at the trade shows, which are must-attend events for Mac software and hardware developers.

Adobe does plan to attend Macworld in San Francisco next month.

"Adobe hasn't exactly been Apple's poster child for OS X," said Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal. "Certainly applications from Adobe, Microsoft and other major Mac developers are vital to Mac OS X's adoption."

But Adobe's initial tacit support for OS X is turning vocal.

Adobe's "Windows business has been growing," Chizen said. "But from a creative, professional perspective, the true creative professional or designer is still predominately Macintosh."

Chizen emphasized that next year "the adoption of OS X is going to happen. All of our key design products, like Illustrator, InDesign, LiveMotion and, of course, Photoshop are going OS X."

This fall, Adobe released its first OS X applications, namely Illustrator 10 and After Effects 5.5. The company also has circulated beta, or test, OS X versions of its InDesign page-layout application and GoLive, which is used for Web-page design. Both products are expected to ship as early as January.

Reviving professional sales
Apple certainly needs help with sales of professional systems--PowerBook G4 notebooks and Power Mac G4 desktops--which slumped during the company's fiscal fourth quarter that ended in September.

Power Mac sales dropped 34 percent in units compared with the same period a year earlier, although sales rose 10 percent from the previous quarter. PowerBooks took a stiffer hit, with sales down 34 percent year-over-year and down 46 percent from the previous quarter.

Apple sells the bulk of Power Macs and PowerBooks to so-called creative professionals, such as those doing page layout and design, photo editing and movie production.

To help boost professional portables sales, Apple revved up the PowerBook in October, with faster processors and other system enhancements. On Monday, the company made combo CD-rewritable/DVD drives standard on PowerBook.

It is possible that the company will release faster Power Macs during Macworld in San Francisco next month. The Power Mac G4 tops out at 867MHz, but new models could push well beyond 1GHz.

Still, computers and operating systems don't sell without applications. There, even Apple has shown caution. Although the company has shipped OS X on new Macs since May, the older Mac OS 9.2.2 is still the primary operating system and the one that loads first.

Masri believes there is pent up demand for new Macs that won't be released until more OS X applications reach the market, particularly for professional systems.

"Graphics industry professionals don't use those apps in a vacuum," he said. "Each application has a vibrant plug-in market that makes them more powerful, and those developers need release-quality software to build on. So, I see X versions of these apps as an enabler for this entire industry."

Fight or switch?
Even as Adobe puts its full development muscle behind OS X, the company faces a quandary about expanding into a new market: DVD authoring and production.

Earlier this month, Adobe cut a licensing deal with Sonic Solutions, for using the company's DVD authoring software in upcoming products. But in the Mac market, such a move could put Adobe on a collision course with Apple.

Apple started shipping Power Macs with DVD recording drives early this year. The company also offers two DVD authoring packages: iDVD 2 for consumers and its industrial-strength DVD Professional. The latter product is not yet available for OS X.

Adobe's CEO made it clear that DVD will be an important market for the company, particularly given the technology's rapid adoption by consumers.

Creative professionals will "be able to edit their video in Premiere, edit their images in Photoshop and be able to create DVDs in a very creative way," Chizen said.

But they may not be able to do that on a Mac with an Adobe product.

Making a Mac DVD product is "something we're still evaluating," Chizen said. "The challenge on the Mac is that it would be competing against Apple with their DVD Pro solution. If we believe they will have an unfair advantage, then we will probably choose not to compete against them."