Adobe CTO Talks Tough on Google, Microsoft

Josh Catone
Josh Catone

eWeek has an absolutely can’t miss interview with Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch in advance of November’s Adobe MAX conference in San Francisco. Lynch talks about a broad range of topics, including open source efforts at Adobe, the recently revealed CS 4 product updates, current and future development tools, and Adobe’s product road map. What is most interesting, though, is his take on the growing competition Adobe is facing from Microsoft and Google.

On Google’s Chrome

Google’s recently launched Chrome browser (our coverage) is thought of by some to be a competitor to Adobe’s cross-platform AIR software. AIR allows web application developers to create desktop versions of their applications that have access to operating system-level assets. Chrome, on the other hand, allows users to create launch icons for web applications that will automatically open web apps in a dedicated Chrome window. When teamed with Gears, Chrome can also take web applications offline and make them function more like desktop apps.

Essentially, Chrome and AIR offer different solutions to the same problem. So is Lynch worried? The short answer is no.

“[With AIR] you can actually install a Web application on your computer and it runs whether you’re online or offline and you can access information you couldn’t with a Web application — so being able to access your local documents and edit them in a word-processing application or a rich editing application,” he said. “That’s not possible inside the Web model with the sandbox. Doing things like notification on the screen and being able to drag and drop information between applications, these are things that AIR is enabling you to do on the computer that the Web browser doesn’t do.”

Or, in other words, Adobe feels that their approach with AIR is superior to that of Chrome, and Mozilla’s Prism project , which uses a similar method to Google’s browser to bring web applications to the desktop.

Rather than feel threatened by Chrome, Lynch said that he’s thrilled to see more browser innovation happening. “Chrome is a Web browser and I’m excited to see more innovation in the Web browser space,” he explained to eWeek, saying that Adobe is working with Google to make sure Flash and PDF work well in Chrome. “We see that as a great thing at Adobe. And the more browsers there are in the world the better it is for us.”

On Microsoft’s Silverlight

In recent years, Adobe’s dominant Flash runtime has begun to feel some heat from Silverlight, a competing technology from Microsoft that has recently scored some big distribution deals, such as powering the official Olympics video streaming web site for NBC last August. Lynch stressed that Adobe hasn’t seen a decrease in Flash adoption rates since Silverlight came on the scene. “In fact, acceleration is what we’re seeing,” he said, noting that over 90% of all web video is delivered in Flash.

Lynch also hit Microsoft for not having anything to compete with AIR. “But if you look at AIR, Microsoft has no solution in that space right now. While it’s competing with Flash via Silverlight, there is no competition for AIR right now from Microsoft,” he said, saying that on the client side they only have Windows, which isn’t really an AIR competitor. “So that’s kind of missing the point to say a particular OS is competing with AIR.”

Last spring, however, I got a demo of Microsoft’s Live Mesh platform in their San Francisco offices, and one of the things they showed me was a prototype of a future application for the Mesh that would bring web apps offline by wrapping them in a dedicated browser window and using a local SQL database to store information. Clearly, based on Lynch’s view of Google’s Chrome, Adobe doesn’t think much of this approach to bringing web applications to the desktop, but there are definite indicators that Microsoft has plans in that area.

On the Future of RIAs

Interestingly, on the future of rich Internet applications, Adobe has a lot in common with Microsoft. Lynch talked about three main shifts he identifies as changing the current web paradigm.

The first is the shift from computing on computers to computing on devices. “[There is a] radical change in how people are interacting with the Internet using devices in addition to PCs. That is an incredible transformation. The number of devices already surpasses the number of PCs connected to the Internet,” he said. Adobe is addressing this change via initiatives like the Open Screen Project which seeks to put Flash on any device with a screen.

Adobe AIR logoLynch also talked about the AIR runtime, which is cross platform, as a step toward addressing the changing computing landscape. According to Lynch, there have already been 35 million installs of AIR, with 100 million expected by year end.

“And we’re working to bring that same technology to mobile devices. And I think that might be a trend toward a ‘mobile first’ experience, which is really a reversal of how people create applications,” he told eWeek. “Right now they create largely using large screens and PCs and think about creating stuff that will be displayed on large screens and PCs. And I think that need [sic] to change.”

Some organizations are very cloud centric. Google for instance has the cloud in their soul. Others are very client centric still. I would put Microsoft in that camp. If you look at their revenue it’s largely client-oriented revenue; it’s Windows and Office. And that is something that, while they might talk about embracing the cloud and doing hosted services, I would say their soul is really still on the client. — Kevin Lynch, CTO Adobe

The second trend is what Lynch called “client and cloud computing,” and defined as “a change from applications running on a client, to really a blend of using processing power on the client and processing power across services on the cloud.” Lynch cited AIR again as an innovation from Adobe in this area, talking about how it allows developers to deploy applications on the desktop that can take advantage of local computing resources and draw information and processing from the cloud as well.

Lynch told eWeek that Microsoft is still very client oriented, preferring to rely on client-side compute power to get things done. Clearly, Mr. Lynch hasn’t seen Craig Mundie’s keynote about Microsoft’s client + cloud future — the two executives even use the same terminology to describe their respective visions of the future of computing.

As we reported yesterday, Microsoft is firmly in the client and cloud computing camp. They describe a future that is very similar to the one that Kevin Lynch and Adobe are apparently working toward.

The third trend that Lynch identified is social computing. That’s also something we’ve been talking about recently on this blog. Lynch said that all applications are going to have to start embracing that social aspect of computing or risk alienating users, who are beginning to expect it, but he didn’t expressly talk about how Adobe is addressing it.