Don't worry about "Microbe"

Last week the CEO of Microsoft met with the CEO of Adobe Systems. These two gentlemen have met before and they will meet again, but rumour had it that this meeting was special. Rumour had it this meeting was to discuss strategies for dealing with their common foe: Apple. And rumour had it this meeting would raise the possibility of partnership or even acquisition by one of the other to bolster strength.

Rumour had balderdash.

Adobe and Microsoft have both, in their own ways, faltered before the juggernaut that is Apple's mobile devices strategy. Microsoft has failed to prove that Windows Mobile (soon to be Windows Phone) will offer a compelling alternative to the iPhone or indeed to Android, and Adobe has failed to convince anyone (except people who were already of that opinion) that there's a compelling case for the iPhone to run Flash.

The obvious solution would be for these two to put their heads together and make Flash run so well on Windows Phone that both Flash and Windows Phone appeared to be compelling alternatives to the iPhone. Easy-peasy, problem solved.

They won't do it.

The simple fact is that Flash is built on technology that dates back decades. It is resource-hungry and not well-suited to modern operating systems. if it were not for the large amount of compelling content on YouTube and elsewhere encoded in Flash, the technology would have been abandoned long ago. It is time for a serious bare-metal rethink of what Flash is, what it is expected to do, and how it might achieve that.

Only Adobe can do that, and it won't because there is too much to be lost if it abandons the massive installed base of Flash players for the sake of modernisation. Platform migrations are difficult and painful. Ask Apple. Or, for that matter, Microsoft.

Without that kind of back to basics rethink of Flash, Adobe and Microsoft are left trying to make the existing product compelling on a mobile, touch-oriented platform. It isn't and it can't be. It is too fundamentally rooted in mouse interactions. Anyone who has used it on Android can tell you it's one of those things you think looks pretty clever for a minute, then you realise the drawbacks and go back to what you were doing — probably on an iPhone.

If Adobe and Microsoft are thinking that maybe, together, they would have sufficient industry clout to migrate everyone to a modern, compelling Flash, they're wrong. The effort and expense involved in doing so might as well go towards creating something better than Flash. Like, say, HTML5. Oh, someone already created that? My bad.

Not to mention that after the Danger acquisition and the Kin disaster, Steve Ballmer does not want to ask his shareholders to take another leap of acquisitive faith with him any time soon.

Aside from a Flash/Windows Phone collaboration, can anyone tell me what would be a compelling reason for Microsoft to acquire Adobe?

(A quick aside on the name. I've suggested "Microbe" in the headline just because thats the funniest one I've read elsewhere. In truth, a merged Adobe-Microsoft entity would more than likely be called Microsoft.)

Does Adobe want to be in the operating system business? I've seen no sign of it. Does Microsoft want to be in image-editing? Maybe a little. Getting the execrable Microsoft Publisher off the market would make just about everyone I know in the pre-press field happy, but I don't know that's compelling enough. InDesign and Publisher are not meant for the same customers.

A lot of the "analysis" I've read on the subject has gone to great pains to illustrate that the barriers that might once have existed to stop such a takeover — monopoly concerns, largely — are no longer in play. But just because there isn't a strong reason not to do something doesn't mean you ought to do it. Especially when billions of dollars are involved.

Adobe and Microsoft are talking. They have talked before and they will talk again. Meetings of their CEOs notwithstanding, the companies have a lot of customers in common. And they do indeed have a common enemy in Apple. No doubt the titans of industry mentioned that fact over drinks and nibblies during their meeting.

But that's about all.

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