Adobe dipping toes into desktop Linux waters

Job postings reveal company's increasing Linux involvement, even if Photoshop won't run on open source anytime soon.

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4 min read
Adobe Systems, maker of major desktop software products such as Photoshop and Acrobat Reader, has begun a quiet effort to become more involved with desktop Linux.

Adobe has largely been on the sidelines of efforts to boost Linux for desktop computers, the vast majority of which run Microsoft Windows. The software maker is now taking a more active role by joining a prominent Linux consortium, working to improve Linux and planning to lead its own open-source development projects, CNET News.com has learned.

Two job postings reveal some of the company's intentions. Adobe wants to hire a director of Linux market development to "identify and evaluate strategies for Adobe in the Linux and open-source desktop market" and to identify projects that "will help improve Linux as a desktop environment." The employee also will "develop strong business relationships with leading Linux distributors and partners."


What's new:
Adobe has joined a prominent Linux consortium and is launching efforts to improve the operating system.

Bottom line:
Adobe isn't committing to bring its graphics software to Linux, but the company's more direct involvement reflects the growing significance of the operating system for desktop computers.

More stories on desktop Linux

In addition, Adobe seeks a senior computer scientist who will "become maintainer and/or architect for one or more Adobe-sponsored open-source projects." Hosting open-source projects has become a rite of passage for companies--IBM, Sun Microsystems and even Microsoft--hoping to sample and perhaps take advantage of the collaborative programming philosophy.

Adobe has joined the Open Source Development Labs, the industry consortium that employs Linux founder and leader Linus Torvalds. Adobe is active in OSDL's desktop Linux working group, according to a source familiar with Adobe's efforts.

The San Jose, Calif., company confirmed its OSDL membership but wouldn't comment on most of its Linux desktop software plans. However, Pam Deziel, an Adobe director of product marketing, did say the company doesn't think there are enough customers today to justify selling Linux versions of its flagship Photoshop or Illustrator graphics programs.

"From a technical maturity perspective, the (Linux) platform is robust," Deziel said. "From a business perspective, the platform has probably not achieved a scale that is aligned with most of Adobe's markets."

Although Linux has caught on for some workstation applications such as programming or processor design, Jupiter analyst Michael Gartenberg doesn't see Linux as a good idea for graphics software sellers today.

"I would see it being very difficult to sell those applications. At the low-end side, there are simply too many free apps with similar functionality, and at the high-end side, the market is very small," Gartenberg said. "People willing to pay $500 to $800 for an application usually have no problem running Mac OS or Windows."

In one more limited area, Deziel said, customers are interested, though: an updated Linux version of Acrobat Reader, which is used to view Portable Document Format (PDF) files. "We would like the version of the Linux reader to be updated from 5.0, and we're working on that," she said. Adobe offers version 6.0.1 for Windows users today.

Linux rising
There is growing activity in the desktop Linux market. Hewlett-Packard, the No. 2 PC seller, shipped about 200,000 PCs loaded with Linux in its most recent quarter, a rate that's double what it sold a year earlier, said Jeffrey Wade, HP's manager of worldwide Linux marketing.

"The success on the server side has been so great that these customers are looking for opportunities on the desktop as well," Wade said. HP predicts that desktop Linux will outship Mac OS in 2004, though it won't come anywhere near Window's market share of more than 90 percent, he added.

Red Hat, the top seller of Linux, has chiefly focused on selling the operating system for use on powerful networked computers called servers. However, with growing interest in alternatives to Windows for PCs, the company this year launched Red Hat Desktop.

No. 2 Linux seller Novell views desktop versions of its SuSE Linux software as a means of gaining an edge over Red Hat. This month, the company is expected to begin selling Sundance, a version that merges SuSE Linux features with software from Ximian, another Linux software company the Waltham, Mass., company acquired.

And buying trends are changing. Previously, most desktop Linux interest was in Asia, but new growth is cropping up in the West. About 35 percent of HP's desktop Linux shipments go to Europe and 15 percent to North America, Wade said.

Dell, the top PC seller, is less eager about the desktop Linux market. Among Dell customers, interest on desktop Linux is "very limited, but we are getting some questions on that," said Steve Felice, vice president of Dell America's corporate business group.

But there are barriers to people interested in making the switch: Software, training and support are expensive, Felice said. "For companies with tens of thousands of employees, migrating them all is a costly exercise," he said.

Adobe has products that run on servers, such as its LiveCycle document management applications that are available for Linux. But Adobe is noting the fact that the operating system is spreading more broadly to smart phones and other devices.

"Linux is an interesting and emerging platform in a number of form factors, from servers to mobile devices," Deziel said.