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Creative pros like Macs, but Adobe cozies up with Microsoft

At Adobe's Max conference, the company announces an alliance with Microsoft to focus on touch and tablets. The alliance could help both companies move beyond PCs.


A Microsoft Surface Pro 3 running a touch-enabled version of Adobe Illustrator looms above, from left to right, Adobe digital media leader David Wadhwani, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.
A Microsoft Surface Pro 3 running a touch-enabled version of Adobe Illustrator looms above, from left to right, Adobe digital media leader David Wadhwani, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Macs, iPhones and iPads are often the computers of choice for the creative sort that Adobe Systems caters to. But the company just announced a partnership with Microsoft that aims to bring some of that attention to Microsoft's Windows operating system and Surface Pro tablet-laptop hybrids.

Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella took the stage with his Adobe counterpart, Shantanu Narayen, to announce the deal on Monday at Adobe's annual Max conference in Los Angeles. And Nadella announced a big incentive to lure the thousands in attendance into the Microsoft fold.

"I'd like to give each one of you a Surface Pro 3 to take with you to get started," Nadella said, throwing a year's subscription to the Office Pro 365 software into the mix. The attendees greeted Nadella's promotional largesse with a standing ovation. A Surface Pro 3 costs $800 for a lower-end configuration, and another $129 for the detachable keyboard.

Narayen, too, exhorted them to try Adobe software on a Microsoft foundation. "Go ahead, give it a spin, and try it on Windows," he said. "I'm sure you'll be really excited to see what's happening."

The partnership, while unusual for the creative domain, makes sense for two companies struggling to adapt to new computing realities. Microsoft and Adobe both have businesses tightly linked with the old era of personal computers, but they're trying to expand to the new era of tablets and smartphones, too. Those mobile devices are drawing programmer attention along with consumers' time and money, and earlier market power is no guarantee for success in the new market.

Microsoft is pushing touch-enabled PCs in particular -- something Apple has yet to offer. That offers an attractive future for Adobe.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, left, announces a development partnership with ally and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen at Adobe's Max conference.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, left, announces a development partnership with ally and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen at Adobe's Max conference. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Specifically, it's begun adapting its core Creative Cloud software, starting with Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro and After Effects, for touch interfaces. That's tricky, but it's a lot easier than building entirely new apps for iPads and Android tablets.

Indeed, Adobe announced at Max a new version of Illustrator that adds a new touch workspace designed for using the graphic-design software not just with touch-screen laptops but also on tablets.

The Microsoft alliance is hardly exclusive. Adobe also is pushing mobile apps, mostly for Apple's iOS operating system. That includes new apps announced today such as Premiere Clip for video editing. Adobe's newer mobile apps are designed to link projects seamlessly with more powerful PC-based apps so designers can move among the different devices. With the Surface Pro, though, it's simpler, since the tablet and the laptop are the same device.

Microsoft "gets a kick" out of enabling productivity and now creativity, too, Nadella said. "We want to enable this in a mobile-first, cloud-first world, because that's the new paradigm."

The companies also demonstrated various tablet-enabled features, including touch gestures to edit curves and drop shadows, moving a tablet around to change the perspective in a 3D room view, swipe gestures to move the limbs on a sketched model, and smartphone shakes at a tablet for Jackson Pollock-style painting.

There's more to come as Microsoft and Adobe work to integrate the Creative Cloud subscription for software and online services with Microsoft's Office 365 subscription, Nadella added.

"There's a lot going on in the cloud between the two of us," Nadella said. "This is the beginning of a journey that can be really exciting for the two companies and for the creative community."

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