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Adobe freezing out Apple's Mac OS X?

Handbags at dawn

Updated The Web is rife with rumours of a chill in the relationship between Adobe and Apple. Adobe has supported the Mac for 16 years and its commitment forms a crucial part of Apple's appeal to the design and publishing industries.

An unconfirmed product release schedule forwarded to us - and we stress it is uncorroborated - suggests that while classic Mac OS updates will continue to arrive in quantity over the next six months, their OS X counterparts will remain under wraps. The missive also suggests that OS X development has been put on the back burner. Adobe has yet to commit to porting its flagship PhotoShop product to OS X. Here's the list:

Mac OS X ports underway

InDesign 2.0
Premiere 6.0
After Effects 5.0
Adobe LiveMotion 2.0
Adobe Illustrator X (alpha builds)
Photoshop 6.0
GoLive 6.0 (alpha builds)
Acrobat 5.0
Streamline 5.0 (alpha builds)
Pagemaker 7.0

MacOS and Windows release schedule

InDesign2.0 - August
LiveMotion 2.0 - October
Illustrator X - Late October-November
Streamline 5.0 - December
Photoshop 6.5 - December
GoLive 6.0 - Early January

That list contains both good news and bad for Mac OS X users impatient to see native applications. More progress has been made on Carbonising the Adobe stable than has otherwise been reported. On the other hand, there's little evidence that Mac OS X apps will appear anytime soon. And at the very best, they'll lag a generation behind for the foreseeable future. Worse still, if our source is to be believed, OS X development has ground to a near halt.

Our source attributes Adobe being dismayed by bugs and performance issues with the OS X Carbon libraries, necessary to port classic apps, and longer term doubts about the competitiveness of the PowerPC 7450 processor and its successor, the G5.

That's pretty ironic, as Reg Mac guru Tony Smith points out, as the Carbon libraries were created largely because Adobe and other software developers were so distressed about the prospect of porting to Rhapsody's Yellow Box API, now known as Cocoa.

We requested comment from Adobe last Friday, but it hasn't returned our calls.

Adobe has maintained parity with its Mac and Windows releases to date, and given its large installed base, will continue to do so.

The latter suggestion we certainly take with a pinch of salt. Much of the Mac publishing business isn't particularly performance sensitive, and in general is extremely reluctant to change, as the number of Macs running QuarkXPress 3.3 out there demonstrates. These users don't like to upgrade versions unless there's a tangible benefit, let alone change applications, let alone upgrade to a new OS...

This inertia helped Apple in the crisis years of the mid-1990s, when other business users abandoned the Mac, but it may haunt it now Apple seeks to bounce users up to new OS X. Graphics pros and publishing professionals won't be bounced anywhere.

Adobe also recognises the realities of the Mac publishing business. While the marginal cost of maintaining and marketing its Mac products might look unattractive, the downstream benefits for Adobe of priming the print infrastructure - think of those font and PostScript revenues - make a long-term shift to Intel risky.

Apple's decision to go for the PDF-based Quartz as a 2D imaging model was seen as a sign of a closer relationship between the pair. When Adobe developed Display Postscript, Quartz's predecessor, Steve Jobs' NeXT was the biggest customer. Publishing to PDF has been the talk of the print industry for some time, and it's a process helped enormously by Quartz.

Publishing is an infrastructure business, and while Apple may only be the front end of the beast, the rest of the animal expects to be fed Apple-generated victuals. That end of the animal - the neck down, if you like - shifts platforms even slower than the content generators.

So while talk of Adobe walking away from the Mac simply doesn't ring true, we suspect the current spat is calculated to give Apple food for thought in the quality control department.

Update [11/7/2001] Adobe strongly refuted the information contained in the schedules published above, and told us it was based on out of date information. Adobe this week said InDesign and Illustrator would be its first products released on Mac OS X.

We'll update this page with an interview we have scheduled with Adobe for later.®

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