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Adobe CEO discusses 'Network Publishing'

MacWorld Online
John Warnock
Adobe CEO John Warnock  

(IDG) -- First came desktop publishing, the technology that revolutionized the print business and earned the Mac a loyal following among graphics pros. Then, in the 1990s, the Internet created a second publishing revolution as companies rushed to launch their own Web sites. Now, in the view of Adobe Systems, we're poised for a third wave, a new product category that the company has dubbed "Network Publishing."

Adobe presented the initiative during a press conference Tuesday, announcing alliances with Nokia, RealNetworks and other vendors; a subscription-based online collaboration service; and a commitment to support standards that will allow seamless deployment of content in print, video, online and on wireless devices. Adobe formally defined Network Publishing as "visually rich, personalized content available anytime, anywhere, on any device," including Web-enabled cell phones.

Adobe Systems CEO John Warnock, speaking to MacWEEK Tuesday afternoon, discussed the initiative, as well as Adobe's relationship with Apple and his views of Mac OS X.

A new package

Warnock admitted that to some extent, Network Publishing simply packages current ideas about publishing trends: the convergence of different forms of media, the need for efficient cross-media workflows and the emergence of wireless Internet devices. But he said there is still value in naming the category--and stating what Adobe plans to do in the space. "Tracking developments on the Internet is incredibly difficult," he said. "It can be hard to identify the megatrends."

In the early days of the Web, he observed, corporations rushed to launch sites, and "it didn't matter what it cost." Today, he said, the first questions are "What's the bill?" and "When are we going to get return on investment?" As a result, he said, companies are under pressure to build and maintain sites as efficiently as possible.

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"Publishing now is more than publishing for print, and more than publishing for the Web," Warnock said during the press conference. "It's really a content aggregation and redeployment scheme that every organization has to have to get a handle on their communication problems."

One key to this is the use of metadata--XML-encoded information that describes content. As part of the initiative, Adobe said that content created by its applications will be "meta-tagged for management, distribution and display." This is especially important given the proliferation of PDAs, Warnock said, asserting that "solid standards" are needed so "we don't do silos of development for each specific device that comes on the market." Devices, he said, should fall into well-defined categories with established standards for information exchange and display.

As Adobe continues its transition to cross-media publishing tools, its customer base is also changing, Warnock told MacWEEK. In the last two quarters, only 10 percent of the company's revenue came from software upgrades, he said, indicating that it is winning brand-new users. These users tend to be Web designers who are younger than Adobe's traditional customer base, a trend that can be seen in the company's advertising and promotions. For example, Adobe sponsored the recent X-Games in San Francisco--an Olympics-style competition for the skateboarding set--something the company probably would not have done a few years ago, Warnock said.

Paths intertwined

Adobe's history has long been intertwined with Apple's, beginning with the latter's introduction of the PostScript-compatible LaserWriter printer in 1984. Warnock himself is an unabashed Mac aficionado: His primary office machine, he said, is a 450MHz G4 Cube with a 15-inch Apple Studio Display. At home, he uses a 450MHz Power Mac G4 with an Apple Cinema Display, six printers, two scanners and six digital cameras. He has a Windows PC in his office mainly to look up stock quotes, he said.

Adobe and Apple "work very closely together," he said, adding that Adobe president Bruce Chizen "gets along famously with Steve (Jobs). We're very frank with one another." The Mac currently accounts for 35 percent of Adobe's business, he said.

The companies, he said, have one bone of contention: Apple's Final Cut Pro, which competes with Adobe Premiere. Warnock said it is "fundamentally a mistake" for Apple to sell application software because it hurts relations with developers.

During Apple's October 18 conference call with financial analysts, Jobs announced that Apple was working on two projects in an attempt to duplicate the success of the company's iMovie software . However, Warnock said he will withhold judgment until he sees what Apple has brewing.

Asked about Mac OS X and its colorful Aqua interface, Warnock admitted to a philosophical difference with Apple's GUI designers. "In Photoshop, we never put color icons on the screen," he said. "We don't want the interface to fight with what you do in the machine." Similar criticisms from designers led Apple to add a muted Graphite color theme.

He believes that OS X's BSD core "is a good, fundamentally sound OS." However, even with Apple's Carbon technology, which theoretically simplifies the process of moving Mac applications to the new OS, "native OS X is a lot of work," Warnock said. "These are huge programs."

Out of PARC

Before launching Adobe in 1982, Warnock and co-founder Chuck Geschke--who retired in April--worked at Xerox's fabled Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Xerox, which recently announced a dramatic cost-cutting program in the wake of lagging sales and a plunging stock price, is seeking partners to help commercialize the technologies developed at PARC.

"I wish Xerox the best," he said. "I think they have a really hard challenge" due to the company's heavy debt.

Aside from its financial troubles, he said, Xerox is suffering from a problem similar to the one that plagued Adobe and Apple a few years ago: a lack of confidence among investors and potential customers. In 1998, as Asia was undergoing a serious financial crisis, "Adobe hit some rough spots," Warnock said. "Adobe seems strong now. The cachet is different. But Xerox is in a nosedive."

Adobe's competitors

Asked about Tim Gill's recent departure from archrival Quark, Warnock observed that, "Tim was the technical brains of the place" and admitted that QuarkXPress "blew PageMaker--in some sense--away." However, Warnock contended that Quark's software is "aged, past its time." Adobe, of course, is promoting its InDesign page-layout software, which uses a new code base, but it has yet to make a serious dent in Quark's dominant market position.

Warnock declined to comment at length on Adobe's patent dispute with Macromedia, noting that the matter is still in litigation. However, he argued that Macromedia was "flagrant" in its violation of Adobe patents. "There has to be a certain respect for intellectual property," he said. Adobe alleges that the tabbed palettes in several Macromedia products infringe an Adobe patent; Macromedia has denied the claim and countersued, alleging that Adobe Premiere and Illustrator violate its own patents.

The Adobe CEO acknowledged that Macromedia is "an able competitor. Dreamweaver has a strong position relative to GoLive." However, he believes that Adobe's presence in multiple media--print, video and Web--provides an advantage over Macromedia's nearly exclusive focus on the Web. Referring back to an earlier remark, he contended that in a Network Publishing environment, it's not efficient "to have Web development in a silo."

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