Adobe launches server software

The graphics software leader expands into the server market with the release of AlterCast, which manages the presentation and manipulation of images throughout a business.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
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David Becker
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Graphics software leader Adobe Systems begins its bid to expand into the server market with the release Monday of AlterCast, software that manages the presentation and manipulation of images throughout a business.

AlterCast, which is now on sale after several months of testing by a few customers, marks a significant change for both Adobe and the nascent market for image management software.

Other software makers are already targeting other corporate imaging needs. Oracle has expanded its database software to allow easier cataloging of multiple file formats, including digital images. Hewlett-Packard is touting a unified approach to digital imaging that includes selling everything from digital cameras to the servers that store images.

AlterCast is the first release from the company's new Server Products Group, which will focus on applications meant to reside on servers, the heavy-duty computers that handle demanding corporate tasks such as serving up Web pages and managing e-mail.

AlterCast is meant to work with existing content management programs and other corporate software to help businesses more easily handle and alter images used for Web pages and printed documents, said Adobe product manager Allister Lundberg.

If a company decides to change its official font, for example, AlterCast allows a developer to implement the change with a few commands rather than having to go in and alter the code for every image file using the old font.

AlterCast can also automatically produce multiple versions of the same image. A shopping site that needs multiple versions of a product shot for index and product pages, for example, can create them by using a few rules instead of requiring a graphic designer to laboriously recode copies of the same image.

The upshot, according to Adobe, is that highly paid graphics designers can focus on creating images, instead of hashing out software code. "It frees up graphics artists to have more time to do creative work," Lundberg said.

Rob Perry, an analyst with The Yankee Group, said the market for image management software is in its infancy now, with only a few relatively obscure companies such as TruSpectra offering similar products.

Adobe's name and AlterCast's ability to work with tools from Photoshop and Illustrator--Adobe's market-leading desktop graphics programs--will give the company a sizable edge, Perry said.

"Adobe will be a key player because they already have a name and brand around the rest of the imaging market," he said. Photoshop and Illustrator "are the standards right now, so this is good leverage for them."

Adobe's biggest challenge is likely to be convincing corporate decision-makers that they need to invest in a new category of software. But if Adobe targets the right type of customers--catalog retailers and content companies publishing in multiple formats, for example--and reaches the right people, the company should be able to sell the software as a major time-saver and cost-saver, Perry said.

"When you get to the person who's responsible for managing the multiple renditions of images and who has to do five different versions of every photo, they'll understand this," he said. "If you're in a place that's graphics-intensive and they have a reason why they need multiple versions of things, there's a great (return on investment) argument."

Adobe is also counting on partnerships with other software makers working in the already established field of content management software, which performs similar functions with text resources. Adobe has announced partnerships with Interwoven and Documentum to blend AlterCast with their content management products.

Adobe is working with hardware makers to sell servers pre-loaded with AlterCast, which in most cases will require its own server, Lundberg said. "We recommend that it runs on a separate server because it can be very computationally intensive," he said.

Other AlterCast features include

 Automatic creation of multiple images tailored for display of different devices such as cell phones and handheld computers.

 The ability to dynamically update graphically sophisticated charts created in Illustrator and other programs.

 Integration with standard databases such as SQL and Oracle and application servers such as IBM WebSphere. Support for Java, Perl, Visual Basic and other languages allows developers to create custom interfaces and tools that work with existing resources. "We've designed the product so that programmers don't need to learn a new language to make it work," Lundberg said.

 Automatic conversion of images to file formats optimized for printing, Web display, or other functions.

Like most server software, AlterCast prices will be based on the number of processors the software runs on, starting at $7,500 for a system with a single CPU.