Developers react to Adobe's Macromedia buy

Designers, developers express mix of optimism and apprehension about merger. Companies post FAQ to allay concerns.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
Adobe Systems' proposed acquisition of Macromedia took software developers by surprise, stirring a mix of apprehension and optimism about the fate of the joined companies and their respective software titles.

While the $3.4 billion acquisition may not set any records in terms of its size, it marks the end of one era and the beginning of a new one for Web developers and designers who have watched Macromedia and Adobe increasingly compete for their loyalty over the years.

Concern among developers centered on Adobe's historical focus on graphic designers.

"What's going to happen to the Macromedia developer base?" wondered Jesse Ezell, software architect with Activehead, a consultancy in Joplin, Mo., that helps organizations build their own Macromedia Flash-based tools. "Adobe is a designer-focused company, and designers have a much different set of requirements than developers. Macromedia has tried to capture more developers, but will Adobe keep that focus?"

Adobe and Macromedia have tried to allay concerns by posting answers to "frequently asked questions" about the deal.

"This transaction will benefit customers across all segments the two companies serve--creative professionals working with Web, print and video; application developers; business users and enterprises; the mobile ecosystem, hobbyists and consumers," the companies wrote. "Combining the passion, creativity and operational excellence of two leading-edge companies will allow us to better serve customers by accelerating innovations that change the way that people everywhere are experiencing and interacting with information."

In the answers posted, developers got ambiguous answers to the questions many are now asking in discussion forums and blogs: Will the application I rely on still be around after the acquisition closes--and for how long?

"I'm concerned about all the smaller Macromedia developments that have come up through the past couple years--Flex, Breeze, Contribute, FlashPaper," wrote one discussion group participant. "What's going to happen to all these little gems? You can definitely kiss Freehand and Director goodbye now, and I was just getting back into Director since it incorporated JavaScript. Dreamweaver is probably the toughest one to call."

Developers rooted for some titles and hoped for the replacement of others.

"As a user of both companies' products, I hope Adobe acquired Macromedia to have Dreamweaver replace GoLive, and I hope Photoshop will come to replace Fireworks," said B.K. DeLong, a Web developer for Massachusetts Institute of Technology's OpenCourseWare Project. "Hopefully, Adobe will be smart and recognize the market share of Dreamweaver in addition to realizing what a powerful tool it is for Web developers."

In their FAQ, the companies tried to reassure developers and

designers that existing product plans were on schedule--for example Macromedia's upcoming Studio MX release.

And while the Macromedia brand itself is headed for retirement, Adobe said in the FAQ that it "expects to keep and continue investing in key Macromedia product brands," presumably under the Adobe name.

As for the fate of individual titles, the company said it wouldn't release a product roadmap until after the acquisition closes.

On one point, however, Adobe made its intentions clear.

"The Flash platform will be a key component of the combined company's strategy," the FAQ read.

For one professional Flash enthusiast, the merger brings a more subtle risk to developers--that the end of the Adobe-Macromedia rivalry will lessen the competitive impetus to innovate.

"Consolidation in the industry is not always the best thing," said Bruce Heavin, co-founder of Lynda.com. "I've always seen Macromedia and Adobe get better when they were on each other's heels. When Adobe had LiveMotion, I saw better things coming out of Flash. And GoLive has helped Dreamweaver progress."

That said, Heavin said the acquisition could improve compatibility between products.

"I think it will make it easy for these programs to talk to each other," Heavin said. "It could wind up making it easier for the customers and the users...In the end I think this will be somewhat of a good thing."