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Adobe Systems

Adobe Systems is a computer software company, founded in December 1982 by John Warnock and Charles Geschke after they left Xerox PARC to further develop and commercialize the PostScript page description language. Apple Computer subsequently licensed for use in their LaserWriter printer product line in 1985, thereby sparking the desktop publishing revolution. The company name comes from the Adobe Creek which ran near the company's original offices in Mountain View, California. The headquarters of the company are located in San Jose, California. There are about 3400 employees working for Adobe in 2002.

Adobe's first retail product (the PostScript language doesn't count, since it is licensed to manufacturers, not sold to end users) was digital fonts. In 1996, the company announced the OpenType font format, jointly with Microsoft, and in 2002-03 Adobe completed the conversion of its library of Type 1 fonts to the new format.

In the mid-80s, soon after introducing PostScript, Adobe entered the consumer software market by introducing Adobe Illustrator, a vector-based drawing program for the Apple Macintosh. This was the logical outgrowth of commercializing their in-house font-development software and to help popularize the use of laser printers. Unlike MacDraw (the standard vector-based drawing program for the Mac), Illustrator described all shapes with the more flexible Bézier curve, and provided a level of accuracy sorely missing. Font rendering in Illustrator, however, was left to the Macintosh's QuickDraw routines and would not be superseded by a PostScript-like approach until Adobe's own ATM (Adobe Type Manager[?]) and Apple's eventual adoption of TrueType.

Although Illustrator was an excellent product (still) highly valued by the prepress industry, Adobe eventually hit its stride with the introduction of Adobe Photoshop for the Macintosh in 1989. Although there were competitors, Photoshop 1.0 was extremely stable, well-featured, and of course came from a major player that could afford to market it professionally. It was a combination that soon eclipsed all else.

If Adobe made any mistakes with the Macintosh, it might have been their missing the opportunity to develop their own publishing program. This was done instead by Aldus (which released PageMaker in 1985) and later Quark (which released QuarkXPress). Adobe was also too late to address the emerging Windows DTP market, and thus let Corel Corp. dominate it with Corel Draw. In a classic failure to predict the direction of computing, Adobe released Illustrator for Steve Jobs' ill-fated NeXT computer but a far-too-featureless version for Windows.

History has been kind, however. Since it always had PostScript interpreter licensing to fall back on, Adobe simply outlasted its rivals in the late 80s and early 90s, and eventually bought them out or, like Microsoft, kept improving its applications until they met or exceeded the competition's. For reasons unknown, Corel never leveraged their Draw product to do professional illustration—users quietly derided it as something only office users would touch—so when Illustrator was finally revamped for Windows, prepress users found it too good to ignore. Corel's interest in acquiring WordPerfect from Novell Corp. at the same time may have proved to be a key distraction. In 1994, Adobe took over Aldus and thus acquired PageMaker.

Adobe's latest efforts are mainly centered on Portable Document Format. Although sales of their Acrobat product (which is a PDF file generator) were slow to start in the mid-90s, Adobe kept with the product, perceiving long-term revenue potential, which has since panned out. There are also ancilliary benefits, such as providing a common, high-quality data exchange infrastructure for their publishing applications.

Among open software advocates, some see Adobe as overly aggressive. This started with their choice to make their high-quality Type 1 fonts encrypted and a proprietary format, allowing them to charge licensing fees to any other company wishing to make them. The size of the fees were a factor in Apple and Microsoft's decision to develop their own standard, TrueType. At the show at which TrueType was introduced, Warnock followed TrueType talks from both Apple and Microsoft VPs, and was near tears as he said that they were being sold "smoke." A few months later Adobe published the Type 1 specification, and soon released the "Adobe Type Manager" software, which allowed for WYSIWYG scaling of Type 1 fonts on screen, just like TrueType. However, these moves were too late to stop the rise of TrueType, which became the standard for business and the average Windows user, with Type 1 retaining the graphics/publishing market.

The most damaging incident for Adobe's reputation was the FBI's arrest of Dmitry Sklyarov for what Adobe said was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Sklyarov was arrested July 17, 2001 at the Def Con[?] conference in Las Vegas, NV, apparently at the behest of Adobe Systems, according to a DOJ complaint, and was charged with distributing a product designed to circumvent copyright protection measures. Sklyarov helped create the Advanced eBook Processor (AEBPR) software for his Russian employer Elcomsoft. This particularly angers those who see copyright protection as opposed to free speech, because Adobe co-founder Warnock said in one interview I am probably the strongest free-speech advocate you will ever meet; I own a copy of the first printing of the Bill of Rights! I hate censorship in any form. From this you can probably guess how I feel about the telecommunications bill. Yet it was (according to some) a similar bill that Adobe used to attack Sklyarov.

At the same time, in many circles Adobe is considered one of the most principled of the major software companies, and one that treats its customers well. Adobe also treats its employees well, and has over the last several years (2001-03) climbed Fortune magazine's rankings as an outstanding place to work. In 2003 Adobe was rated the 5th best company to work for in the USA.


Financial information

Adobe Systems entered in 1986 in Nasdaq. It has a market capitalisation of US$6.176 billion (February 2003) and shares are traded at about US$26.5 (February 2003). It revenues are of about US$1.2 billion (2002)

See Also: Photoshop, PDF, PostScript

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