Daniel Eran Dilger
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Chronicles of Conflict: the History of Adobe vs. Apple

Daniel Eran Dilger

If you didn’t know any better, you might think this whole Apple vs Adobe thing blew up out of nowhere because Steve Jobs woke up one morning with a stiff neck and decided to take it out on Adobe. Those of you who imagine there might be more to it than that that might like to reminisce with a little walk down tech history lane.

The Genesis of Adobe

In the beginning, Xerox PARC created the graphical desktop. The personal computer was yet formless and empty, and darkness was upon the face of its software development. And then the money of Xerox moved to and fro upon the waters of innovation and PARC said, let there be icons and windows and Ethernet and SmallTalk object oriented development. And lo, there was a $15,000 workstation, and Xerox saw the Alto, and that it was good.

And then Steve Jobs saw the Alto, and he convinced Xerox to invest a million dollars in Apple. And Jobs said that Apple would commercialize Xerox’ technology and make the company rich on its investment. And thus Apple created Macintosh, which then attracted engineers from Xerox who joined Apple in order to work on products that might actually turn into something a person might actually see in the real world and not just in a PARC lab.

And then Apple released Macintosh to the people, and it wasn’t entirely clear what the new graphical computer for regular people could do. And then Steve Jobs saw PostScript, a language created by Xerox engineers who had left PARC to form Adobe Systems. And Jobs said, look! you must take PostScript and make it the language of laser printers, so that common people can create wonderful type and high resolution graphics, and it will be driven by the Macintosh.

And so Adobe licensed PostScript to Apple, and Apple shipped the LaserWriter as the first printer with a sophisticated language for describing typography and graphics, and thus verily the Macintosh and the LaserWriter brought forth desktop publishing, and the world observed and saw that it was good, and Macintosh enjoyed its first killer app. And the people rejoiced.

And then Steve Jobs left Apple to form NeXT, and he licensed Adobe’s PostScript as the language of the entire graphical desktop, so what the user saw on the screen was identical to what was printed out on paper, and it was Display PostScript, and it was good.

An Exodus from the Enslavement to Adobe

And money flowed into desktop publishing. And Adobe began to sell PostScript Type 1 fonts to publishers with Macintoshes, and it charged prohibitively high rates for Type 1 fonts and for its PostScript language.

And Apple’s countenance began to fall at Adobe’s greed, and so Apple visited Microsoft in the late 80s and proposed TrueType as an alternative format to Adobe’s expensive fonts, and Microsoft bought TrueImage and proposed to Apple that it license its PostScript-clone language as an alternative to PostScript.

And Adobe saw the writing on the wall and begged Apple not to leave and Apple agreed to keep licensing PostScript for its laser printers, but the Mac OS and Windows both began using Apple’s TrueType and fonts thus became affordable to mere mortals. And TrueType begat OpenType and never again did anyone pay huge sums for Adobe Type 1 fonts again.

Numbers of Adobe Applications

And Adobe had created Illustrator to draw on the Macintosh in 1987, and then purchased Photoshop to paint on photos on the Macintosh in 1990, and then created Premiere to edit movies on the Macintosh in 1991. And in 1994 Adobe merged with Aldus to acquire its 1986 PageMaker for desktop publishing on the Macintosh and its 1993 After Effects for motion graphics on the Macintosh. And in 1995 Adobe bought Frame to acquire its 1990 FrameMaker for building long documents on the Macintosh.

And Adobe began to notice that Windows was selling to large numbers of commodity PC makers, and it was tempted by the volume of its user base, and it sinned against Apple which had caused its birth and wealth, and it began having relations with Windows and lost interest in the Macintosh and told its user base to move to Windows because it was comely and good for use.

And Apple pleaded with Adobe to use its new technologies, saying, lo, we have created QuickDraw GX to perform complex typography and printing, and QuickDraw 3D for modeling, and PowerTalk for messaging. And Adobe ignored Apple and laughed at its plight, and Apple wept bitterly as its operating system roadmap collapsed. And Apple went looking for a new strategy to stave off death, and happened upon Steve Jobs and his NeXT Software, and Apple said, you must be our savior and Jobs reluctantly agreed to sell NeXT to Apple and see what the company would do with it.

And then Jobs grew excited with what might happen, and he usurped the leadership of Apple, and visited Adobe again with his combined portfolio of NeXT and Apple. And Adobe said verily to Apple, pay us 30 pieces of silver that we may port our applications to your operating system. And Adobe demanded huge royalties for Display PostScript.

And Jobs brought his operating system to Macromedia and then Microsoft, and they all scoffed at the idea of porting their apps to a new and unproven operating system, and thus Apple was forced to start over and develop a legacy API called Carbon to enable their old code to work on the new operating system. And Apple removed Display PostScript and created a new imaging model based on PDF, which Adobe had released as an open specification. And so Apple no longer needed to pay Adobe royalties for Display PostScript.

And Jobs returned to the developers after working on Mac OS X for five years and said, lo, we have created all you have asked for, and your old code will work natively if you only do some simple Carbonization work, and look! we have done this ourselves with the Finder. And in 2001, Macromedia brought forth a Carbonized Freehand and Microsoft brought forth a Carbonized Office v.X. But Adobe sat on its hands and refused to Carbonize most of its apps for several years.

And in 2002, Adobe released InDesign for Mac OS X before QuarkXPress, making Adobe the second to the last major Mac developer to support Apple’s new operating system. Adobe then ported AfterEffects and GoLive in 2002, but didn’t port Acrobat, Photoshop, or Illustrator for Mac OS X until the end of 2003 as part of Creative Suite. In 2003 Adobe also canceled Premiere and FrameMaker for the Mac, and focused all new development on Windows. And Adobe made great money from Mac users on Creative Suite, and CS2 in 2005.

And in 2005, Adobe bought Macromedia. And that same year Apple said, lo, we have ported Mac OS X to Intel, and we shall verily migrate the Macintosh to Intel in 2006. And Adobe joined Apple on stage and said this was good. And then for a year Adobe said it would not update Creative Suite 2 or its Macromedia Studio 8 suite to run on Intel Macs natively. And then Adobe did finally release Creative Suite 3 as a Universal Binary in the spring of 2007. And Apple was greatly annoyed.

Adobe Judges Mac Ruthlessly

And Adobe reviewed its resources for Macromedia’s Flash, and it assigned a development team of four full time employees to maintain development of the Windows version of Flash Player. For the Mac version, it had a half time assignment for one employee who was not a Mac expert. And so Flash Player for Mac continued to be unstable and serve as the number one cause of crashes system wide for Mac OS X, and would regularly consume 100% of the Mac’s CPU in a spin lock while idle. And the people blamed Apple, and Apple was greatly annoyed.

And sources within Apple reported, “anyone who’s ever written threaded code can tell you that this is a brain-dead beginner mistake. They finally fixed this a couple of months ago, after years of Apple engineers telling them to get their act together.”

And Flash for Mac was so terrible that Apple was forced to develop a mechanism to isolate the Safari plugin in Snow Leopard so that when it crashed it would not always kill Safari, as Flash was verily an awful piece of software. And Adobe did not care, because Flash Player was free, and it planned to make its money from Windows and to simply use Mac users to sell them slightly rewarmed, high priced versions of Creative Suite apps on a regular basis, just like Microsoft and its Office suite.

Lamentations over iPhone

And then in 2007 Adobe noticed that Apple had created the iPhone, and that it was comely in appearance. And Adobe longed to have Flash on the iPhone, for it wanted its HTML alternative to cover the entire Earth. And Apple said no, your desktop version of Flash is too unstable and too big, and your Flash Lite version is not good enough and will not run the Flash content users expect. And Adobe told the people that Flash for iPhone was right around the corner and that it was working with Apple, but this was not true at all. And the people waited.

And then iPhone users began to forget about Flash, and began to consume more than half of the Earth’s mobile web traffic, and Adobe began to panic because it lusted after mobile licensing fees for Flash. And Adobe grew embarrassed and fashioned fig leaves for itself after recognizing its nakedness, and Steve Jobs banished Adobe from the Garden of iPhone.

And Adobe wept bitterly and its days were frustrated and its nights were filled with terrors, and the work of its hands bore little fruit as Flash Player for mobile only worked on Android and webOS and some vaporware mobile product Microsoft planned to release sometime in the future. And Apple said no, the iPhone will not ever run Flash for we do not want to be enslaved to your platform, for we have worked with W3C partners to develop HTML5 as a way to deliver rich interactive content, and do not need Flash anymore.

And Adobe cursed Apple and Steve Jobs and made great noises and gnashed its teeth and ripped its garments apart and scraped its festering boils with shards of pottery. And Steve Jobs did not listen. And so Adobe said we shall build a tower to heaven, and our Flash Professional shall create an army of App Store titles based on Flash games, and Creative Suite 5 shall trump Steve Jobs and his refusal to license Flash Player. And Steve Jobs looked down upon the tower and he confused their languages with SDK section 3.3.1 and interest in Flash Professional CS5 was scattered.

A Revelation of Adobe

And Adobe saw four horsemen of the apocalypse ascending from the sea, the the rider of the white horse was Steve Jobs and he was bent on conquest. And a second horse, red, was given to iPhone to take away market share from smartphones, and to cause phone makers to wage war and to fall upon their own swords. And a third horse, black, was carrying the scales of the iPod touch, and it measured out music playback from iTunes and sold many apps and starved other mobile platforms of mobile application demand. And fourth horse, pale, had a rider named iPad, which pundits called Death. And it caused famine for tablets and plague for slates and killed with a sword. And none of the horsemen used Flash.

And Adobe frightfully woke from its vision of terrors, and realized that its days of monopolizing the web with Flash content were over. And Adobe began creating new apps for iPhone and for iPod touch and for iPad, and began porting its Creative Suite to Cocoa as Steve Jobs had asked it to do ten years ago. And Adobe continued to develop Lightroom and Adobe earned profits for its efforts.

And then Adobe began building HTML5 development tools, and it charged reasonable prices and built cross platform products and the people rejoiced and Adobe’s death was spared and it lived comfortably for many days next to Apple. And Steve Jobs said thank you and Adobe said no, thank you. And they all lived happily ever after.

  • John

    I really enjoyed this, Dan. Very entertaining ……

    …… and informative!

  • pa

    I can’t be so optimistic about the ending. It would be better if a another company would emerge to replace Adobe.

  • http://yahoo.com ysysarchitect


    Brilliant writing! I continue to recommend your blog, great writing!


    I see the scriptures are silent on how Steve Ballmer or Bill Gates fit into this story, but who knows, maybe that can be revealed too! :-)

  • Buzz Lightyear

    Awesome! In the stratosphere, Dan! :D

    This piece here should be nominated for the Best Blog Post Award 2010 in the creative journalism genre (only if there was one). Perhaps one of your readers or yourself can start one. Just a thought…

  • mrfezzywig

    Ok. So it’s REALLY sac-religious… but I laughed my ass off!!!

  • nowhereman


    Truly one of your best. Hilarious and informative – a great mix.

    Nice touché on Adobe ‘knowing itself’.

  • http://www.cyclelogicpress.com Neil Anderson


  • bonze

    Lord, I do loathe Flash, and by implication all things Adobe, but if this sunny scenario should come to pass I know that my heart shall be full of forgiveness for misdeeds past…

    …but you will get me to give up GIMP and pay $$$ for Photoshop when you pry the cash from my cold dead fingers…

    And note: Installing Flash on my machine Flash started eating 80% of my CPU cycles, pretty much all the time, under 10.6.2 and 10.6.3. After installing the latest Security Update, this moderated dramatically, so folk, do not put off installing that update; it will yield unexpected dividends.

  • enzos

    Thanks, Bonze. Thought the Macbook was running cooler after the security update.

  • gslusher

    To add a bit: Adobe didn’t just screw over the “pros” who used Macs. They did a number on us lowly amateurs who didn’t want to spend a fortune on CS3. Photoshop Elements is enough for most non-pro photographers. However, Adobe
    chose not to update Photoshop Elements for the Mac for a long, long time. The Mac version stayed at 4.0.x while the Windows version was updated several times. Finally, Adobe came out with Elements 6.0 for the Mac–skipping v 5, though (if I recall correctly) it was missing a few features of the Windows version. There was NO reason for this, other than that Adobe didn’t give a damn about Mac users. They also had problems with their RAW converter for Elements 4 that they never fixed. (They said that a particular RAW converter was compatible with Elements 4, but it was not–it caused Elements to crash, often upon launching.) If I could find a substitute for Elements (one that would run the Photoshop plug-ins I use), I’d drop it.

  • airmanchairman

    Yossef { 04.14.10 at 5:02 am }
    Good piece Daniel. כל הכבוד Can you rewrite it in Hebrew ?

    Better still, can anyone program this blog as a scrolling faux-Hebrew font disappearing into space like the Star Wars intro? And publish it as a link or a video?

    LoL! Most hilarious bit was without a doubt is “And Adobe cursed Apple and Steve Jobs and made great noises and gnashed its teeth and ripped its garments apart and scraped its festering boils with shards of pottery. ” Quality, outstanding!

    Dan, you are a poet and clown of the highest order…

    POP! There go my ribs….

  • http://alabama-marketing.com/ dredman

    Lo, what a comely post. Brilliant :)

  • The Mad Cow

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  • Quark108

    Steve last year:
    “Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.”

    Adobe today (http://blogs.adobe.com/conversations/2011/11/flash-focus.html ):
    “HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively,” he said. “This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across multiple platforms.

    “We are excited about this, and will continue our work with key players in the HTML community, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and RIM, to drive HTML 5 innovation they can use to advance their mobile browsers.”

    I guess Mr. Jobs was right all along!

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