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Adobe SaaS Offerings

Last week at the Adobe Analyst Summit, I encountered several SaaS offerings from Adobe that I hadn’t fully thought about or even know about before. The two interesting take-aways for me were:

  • Adobe doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention for the SaaS offerings it has.
  • Adobe uses SaaS more as a feature — or an “end-point” — than the sort of all-encompassing replacement for desktop technologies.

SOA End Points

This last point is most interesting to me as I’ve come to appreciate the concept of being an end point in an SOA world. I believe it was Dave Rosenberg of MuleSource that I first heard that phrasing from: the point being that in an SOA world (or, the public web which I consider “the first” and most successful SOA), any given piece of software has to act like a part of a larger system instead of as a whole.

On the implementor side, this is a major shift in thinking: the natural tendency of software, esp. commercial software, is to deliver on suite dreams and do everything.

Adobe’s End Points

So, what are Adobe’s SaaS offerings at the moment? They are:

Adobe Document Center

Document Center this is a hosted version of Adobe LiveCycle, in two flavors: regular and “pro.” Essentially, Document Center lets you share, well, documents with other people and manage the DRM around those docs. PDF + LiveCycle allows you to embed DRM in documents you send out to do things like limit who can see the document, track who looks at the document and when, and even expire the document. Where technologically possible — via plugins — other documents like .doc and .xls files can (or will?) be DRM’ed as well.

As you can imagine, the PDF crew analysts liked this quite a bit. Back at Adobe MAX, I sat in on a demo of some of this functionality in LiveCycles and it was, technologically, quite nifty.

One of the unanswered questions (because I haven’t asked enough yet) I have around the open standard’ing of PDF is around this technology: will this functionality be part of the ISO standard, or is it some sort of “extension”?

Acrobat Connect

Formally known as “Breeze” (a much better name), Acrobat Connect is Adobe’s desktop sharing platform. You know, like WebEx. In RedMonk’s experience, Connect is the easiest to use of the many desktop sharing services we have to use daily (WebEx, GoToMeeting, and occasionally, Microsoft LiveMeeting). Adobe sells a hosted, SaaS installation of Connect for folks who don’t want to run their own installation.

One interesting point is that Adobe is promoting the idea of a “persistent room,” nicely addressed by URL. That is, instead of going to some URL and having to go put in a meeting number, any given person or team has a permanent URL, for example, to make one up, One of the scenerios in the Adobe presentation was to put it on your business card. Now, that’s no big differentiator (in that it can, if it hasn’t already been, be copied), but it’s a nice idea.

One little question I didn’t raise at the time was: why Acrobat Connect? That seems a little strange, doesn’t it?

Adobe Remix

Remix is a hosted video editing service that (currently) works with Photobucket. It does stripped down video editing, pulling together clips and even editing clips (cutting out unwanted video). Once you edit the clip, it’s hosted at Photobucket, and you get the (now) usual HTML code to embed it in web pages.

CNET’s Josh Lowensohn has a much more in-depth write-up and screencast.

Stock Photos

As part of Adobe Bridge (a sort of spanning layer in in the Creative Suite, as I understand it), Stock Photos is a service that provides just that: browsing and purchasing stock photos as provided by Adobe.

James actually commented to Tom Hale (who was giving the presentation on Adobe SaaS) something along the lines of “that doesn’t seem like a very good space to be in, for how saturated and cut-throat it must be.” To which the reply was a sort of “moving right along” agreement. That said, it seems like the opportunity to create a channel between all of the online photos — including things like Creative Commons search in flickr — would be excellent. I use the CC search on flickr almost exclusively for my stock photos in Keynote, and I’d love it if it was just baked into the software, saving me the hassle of going from the web to my desktop applications.



Yesterday I mentioned kuler in passing. Of all the Adobe SaaS apps, it’s both the simplest and coolest. (OK, maybe buying stock photos is the simplest: you got me!) Essentially, people go to and can create and browse color schemes.

Once you’ve created or found one you like, you can suck it into Illustrator, PhotoShop, and InDesign as an Adobe Swatch Exchange file. Of more interest to the end point idea, those products in Creative Suite 3 integrates directly with kuler. Or, if you’re not using one of those products, you can cut-n-paste out the RGB hex, CMYK, and several other color-to-number values.

There’s even RSS feeds, an OS X dashboard widget, and a little “post this to” icon at the bottom of the page: they’re hip that whole Web 2.0 scene!

As a sort of pot-shot, kuler is a great example of the frustration with Flash apps when it comes to getting a URL for a particular “artifact” in a web application. I wanted to link to the color scheme in the above screen shot (“sleeping with ghosts” by “christain”), but, of course, the URL in Firefox was just Perhaps there’s some “here’s the link!” icon somewhere, and you could hunt it down in the RSS feed (?)…but…come on, it’s the web: URLs, bub!


knowhow is a managed community of building up tips, tricks, and best practices for Adobe tools and, presumably, common scenerios and contexts people who use tools encounter. That is, you can go into the knowhow panel and find out what people are saying about the magic wand tool in Photoshop. At first, that may seem cheesy, but I imagine people do all sorts of Google searching for such info daily. Why not have it in the app?

The interesting aspect of knowhow is that it pulls some of it’s content from a account. Adobe is essentially tag gardening with it’s knowhow account. In the FAQ, they even (quite enthusiastically) ask people to for: them with content. So far, knowhow has 3 “fans” (4 after I added it ;>) in but, hey, it just came out.

I’m not sure if it’s part of knowhow or something else, but Adobe also has a hosted knowledge-base/in-tool panel integration service around CSS tips and work-arounds in different browsers.

As with kuler, knowhow is also from Adobe Labs and is now integrated into CS3.

Device Central

In a nut-shell, Device Central is a hosted repository of profiles for simulating tests on different handsets and mobile devices. As a developer in that space, you (hopefully) want to test on the widest range of possible devices. Of course, you can’t always spend the time and money to buy and use every single device, doing absurd things like taking it into elevators and tunnels to test out poor connectivity.

A with kuler, the architecture is a central store of these device profiles that integrates directly into Creative Suite desktop products. I’m not sure if there is or will be a community web-site where users can contribute or if Adobe maintains full control over the profiles. Of course, you know I’d suggest the first.

As context, at the Analyst Summit, as at Max 2006, Adobe plainly stated it’s intention to expand into the mobile and handset market device market. They’re using Flash (FlashCast and FlashLite) as a platform and they’ve signed some early deals with NTT DoCoMo and (recently) Verizon. So, naturally, being a tools company, you can see how Device Central would fit into the mobile device push.

Narrowing Down SaaS

Many of the SaaS technologies above are more features than full products. Hence the point of being an end point in an SOA rather than a complete suite. As such, though, they’re not giant revenue for Adobe as a company — the Connect numbers were projected to be the highest over the next few years.

But, even as “just features,” most of the above is incredibly interesting in that Adobe is doing SaaS right now. More importantly, they’re certainly taking it into consideration for their product lines. I often comment that most vendors don’t fully include the web and internet in their product management thinking. They don’t ask the question, “what would our software look like if we took the web for granted, as an integral part of all software and user experience?” So, it was fun to learn that Adobe has so many offerings, in use now, to study in reference to that thinking.

At the moment, the most interesting take-away (for existing vendors looking to go SaaS, at least) is to narrow down your SaaS efforts to the feature level instead of worrying about everything but the kitchen sink. As seen repeated in kuler, Device Central, and others, the basic pattern is creating and gardening a knowledge base community, and then pulling that knowledge into Adobe tools, such as in context sensitive panels. Taking this SaaS-as-feature approach, again, to me means eating some SaaS humble pie and asking how your software can work along side and with other software and services rather than being The Master Platform for everything.

Of course, I have open questions (pun!) with some of Adobe’s offerings above: namely, I’m not sure what the IP and access licensing is. Could GIMP integrate with kuler and knowhow? Could other Mobile/Handset IDE’s work with Device Central? I haven’t dug around too much for answers, but my hope is that the answers would be closer to yes than no. After all, in this version of SaaS, users are contributing a large part of the value — in color combos, CSS and Creative Suite tips, and even code — and I’d think that those users would like their content to be as maximally usable and portable as possible. And hey, don’t we all agree that platforms and tool thrive — yes, even, commercially — when they’re more open than not?

Disclaimer: Adobe is a client, as is MuleSource.

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Categories: Community, Conferences, Development Tools, The New Thing.

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13 Responses

  1. Thanks for the share. Keep up the very good work, I’ll subscribe to your blog.

Continuing the Discussion

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