Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Adobe's Linux Problem

Adobe Systems is at a critical turning point in its long, slow march in the direction of RIA platform domination (which, should Adobe emerge the winner in that sphere, could have profound implications for all of us, as I've blogged about earlier). It is time for the company to decide whether it wants to embrace Linux "with both arms," so to speak. It's put-up-or-shut-up time. Either Linux is of strategic importance to the Adobe agenda, or it is not. Which is it?

"But," you might be saying, "Adobe has made it clear that it is committed to supporting Linux. Look at the recently much-improved Acrobat Reader for Linux, and the effort to bring Flash and Flex to Linux. Adobe is investing heavily in Linux. It's very clear."

Then why has Adobe killed Flex Builder for Linux?

It's funny, if you read some of the blog commentary on this, how many Flex developers are defending Adobe's decision to abandon further development of Flex Builder for Linux, saying (like corporate apologists) there simply isn't enough demand for Flex on Linux to justify the necessary allocation of funds.

I have no doubt whatsoever that a straight bean-counting analysis of the situation will show that the short-term ROI on Flex-for-Linux is indeed poor, and that from a quarterly-earning point of view it's not the right way to satisfy shareholder interests. Agreed, point conceded.

But that's called being shortsighted. The Linux community may be only a small percentage of the OS market, but in terms of mindshare, the Linux developer community is a constituency of disproportionate influence and importance. Also, as a gesture of seriousness about Open Source, the importance of supporting Flex tools on Linux is hard to overestimate.

But it's not just about Flex tools. Adobe has had a schizophrenic Linux "strategy" for years. It back-burnered proper support for Acrobat Reader (and PDF generally) on Linux for years. Flash: ditto. And even a product like FrameMaker (which began its life as a UNIX product, interestingly, and was available in a Solaris version until just a few months ago) has been neglected as a potential Linux port, even though Adobe did, in fact, at one time have a Linux version of FrameMaker in public beta.

Adobe has a long history of going after the lowest-hanging fruit (and only the the lowest-hanging fruit) in the Linux world, and it continues that tradition today. The only problem is, you can't claim to be an ardent supporter of Open Source and ignore the Linux community, nor can you aspire to RIA platform leadership in the Web-app world of the future without including in your plans the fastest growing platform in computing.

Adobe's shortsightedness in its approach to Linux may be good for earnings-per-share (short-term) but is emblematic of the company's inability to articulate a longer-term vision that embraces all of computing. It undermines the company's credibility in the (ever growing) Open Source world and speaks to a mindset of "quarterly profits über alles" that, frankly, is disappointing in a company that aspires to RIA-platform leadership. IBM and others have found a way to invest in Open Source and alternative platforms without compromising longterm financial goals or putting investor interests at risk. The fact that Adobe can't do this shows lack of imagination and determination.

How much can it possibly cost to support Flex Builder on Linux, or (more to the point) to have a comprehensive, consistent policy of support for Linux going forward?

Conversely: How much does it cost not to have it?


  1. Yeah, it is a bit of a strange approach. The fact that the SDK is open-source suggests a willingness, though. How long can it be before a free, open-source IDE is knocked up by the Linux community?

  2. paulW7:24 AM

    Seems like it wouldn't be too incredibly hard to implement, seeing as FB is Eclipse-based. I agree with you tho Kas, seems very myopic.

  3. Anonymous8:43 AM

    I think you using the phrase "quarterly profits über alles" is in bad taste. Please look up its origins.

  4. Anonymous9:18 AM

    One should take any sponsor-driven study (like the one you linked) with a grain of salt. How many years has it been announced that 'this is the year of Linux?' Especially in the realm of the desktop?

    From a profitability perspective, it makes perfect sense. And one of your commenters brought up an interesting point: how long is it before the Linux dev community comes up with a solution on their own? Why should Adobe spend money on it if it's going to happen for free anyway?

  5. I like the Adobe Source Libraries, but that doesn't mean Adobe's figured out open source yet.

  6. Anonymous5:54 PM

    Definition of uber alles according to Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=uber%20alles):

    uber alles (correctly written in German "ueber alles") has nothing to do with the Nazis, but was a line of a poem written in 1841 which was used for the German National Anthem. It does not translate as "above all" (that would be "ueber allen") but rather "more than anything else", as in "ich liebe Dich ueber alles in der Welt" (I love you more than anything else in the world). A misleading translation was purposely chosen by the Allies during the second world war for propagada purposes.
    Deutschland uber alles

  7. Anonymous6:44 PM

    Great post! I agree with many of your points.

    I wanted to know what you and others think about Silverlight and more specifically Moonlight. Microsoft is "sponsoring" by providing funding, internal test suites, and paying for licenses for codec distribution. In return the Mono team builds and distributes Moonlight with their set of tools.

    I find this approach quite reasonable. If Adobe partnered up with a company like IBM or Sun/Oracle to do such a thing would that be better or worse than the current situation?

  8. Anonymous8:33 PM

    I had been on the fence about learning Flex since there wasn't good Linux tool support. I was told in a mailing list by a Flex evangelist that the beta of flexbuilder for Linux was good enough. I'm very glad that I held off investing my time learning Flex. Unfortunately, unless Sun/Oracle delivers on JavaFX for Linux, there is no good RIA tool for development on Linux.

  9. Darren12:46 AM

    Can't you use IntelliJ for developing Flex applications on Linux? I don't think it has a Design View but I rarely use that anyway. I know it's pretty expensive and Linux users generally don't like to spend money which is really the crux of the problem anyway...

    These posts always seem kind of pointless to me. They either argue that Adobe should be a community service and not interested in maximising profits to its shareholders or that there is a justifiable ROI in Adobe supporting a niche tool like FB (in the scheme of things) on Linux, completely ignoring the reality that eventually Linux users are going to develop a free alternative and, more obviously, why would Adobe want to encourage developers away from OS's that support their cash-cow products like the CS suite?

  10. Anonymous1:33 AM

    Like it or not, Adobe is a for-profit entity with a fiduciary obligation to its shareholders. Getting angry at Adobe for putting profitable endeavors before the wishes of Linux users (who don't exactly have a track record of being willing to pay for their software) is like getting angry at the rain for being wet.

  11. Anonymous2:07 AM

    I cannot understand these last 2 comments... We have valid licenses for Flex Builder now... that we use on Windows machines. But we would like to run it on Linux machines, as that is what most developers in the company use. We don't ask for a free Linux version, we ask for a working Linux version (current version on adobe labs is useless for debugging). We pay for Flex Builder now... what a lame excuse to suggest that Linux users generally don't pay for most of the software they run...

    If Adobe wants to be king of the RIA world, and have a big mouth about cross-platform deployment and such, then just make it possible to develop these programs on several platforms.

  12. Well, I am using IntelliJ on Linux for Flex Development, which surpases Flex Builder anyway. Once you've tried IntelliJ you'll quickly recognice that Flex Builder is not nicely supported by Adobe in general - on all platforms.

  13. Adobe will make a turbo boost for evolution of Linux specially ubuntu, but they don't wanna bet

  14. but i think they are concerned about linux as they made, Flash plugin for both 32 and 64 arch. and Air too (still beta as i remember)

  15. "I have no doubt whatsoever that a straight bean-counting analysis of the situation will show that the short-term ROI on Flex-for-Linux is indeed poor, and that from a quarterly-earning point of view it's not the right way to satisfy shareholder interests. Agreed, point conceded.

    But that's called being shortsighted."

    Is it really? Adobe is running a business and not a charity and honestly many people who use Linux favor FOSS or OSS software that they don't have to pay for. So how in the world do people expect Adobe to make a business case for spending money to support development in this environment? The business world is a brutal jungle filled with dangerous enemies(ahem competitors) and to support a system where you are not making money is suicide...

  16. Anonymous8:52 PM

    We are in a recession. Adobe has laid off workers and frozen the wages of their current staff. Other projects have been discontinued including content syndication via the Adobe Media Player.

    I'd guess Adobe's focus is coming through the recession with a stronger platform than they went into it with and trying to stay out in front of Microsoft's Silverlight.

    I was disappointed when I heard about Adobe pulling back from Flex Builder on Linux. But I understand it.

  17. Not_trippin5:23 PM

    Let me make sure I'm understanding this right: You guys who talk about Linux users not wanting to pay for anything... so... you're saying that the only reason anyone would choose Linux over Windows is because Linux is free?


    Oh... sorry.

    Seriously though, personally, I would buy a new PC with Windows preloaded and reformat the hard drive and load Linux. Except that I am forced to use Windows due to the fact that my work requires the use of Adobe Creative Suite, which doesn't work on Linux even under Wine. Money is not the issue. Sure it doesn't hurt that Linux is free, especially when it is superior to the OS that isn't. But it isn't about money. It is about dependability and stability. And yes, there is short-sightedness on Adobe's part because Microsoft is losing its edge. Do people honestly not see this? Already most of the internet is Linux-based, and in another five to ten years most personal computing will be as well. And even the strongest company needs to recognize trends and be able to make predictions about where things are headed based on it if they want to stay strong. Mock me now, but mark my words... Linux is the wave of the future.

  18. hi..Im college student, thanks for sharing :)


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