James Governor's Monkchips

Nitobi’s acquisition raises fears for Canadian innovation. Or, Adobe acquires PhoneGap. “Laggard” to Leader.

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Nitobi ninja pitYesterday Adobe announced its plan to acquire Nitobi, the Vancouver-based software company behind the PhoneGap mobile development framework, founded by friends of RedMonk Andre Charland and Dave Johnson.

The team will all be moving to SF from Vancouver, thus my headline aping this sky is falling piece about Canadian innovation in the Globe and Mail. The deal is not just a talent acquisition however – PhoneGap looks pretty fundamental to Adobe’s emerging dual platform strategy supporting both Flash and HTML5 in its tool chains.

PhoneGap allows developers to build web apps – CSS, HTML and Javascript – that make native system calls, effectively supporting all the things on mobile devices that HTML doesn’t – cameras, accelerometers and so on, which can then be packaged for distribution through app stores, withoutneeding to screw around with the native phone SDKs, packaging and so on.

Write Once, compile, run anywhere- as PhoneGap puts it.

One noteworthy aspect of the deal is that it happened just after Nitobi announced it is going to hand over PhoneGap to the Apache Software Foundation as an incubator project under the name CallBack.

The Apache move was crucial to PhoneGap’s future for a number of reasons- not least because IBM is the major committer to PhoneGap – it has contributed more code to the project than Nitobi over the last year. Of course IBM is more than comfortable with permissive Apache-licensed software – see WebSphere as exhibit A.

Adobe is also doing its best to keep grassroots developer onside. As my colleague Stephen pointed out it was a nice touch to see Adobe directly address questions about the acquisition on Hacker News (Well done Kenneth Berger)

Adobe was already working with Nitobi on DreamWeaver integration, but there is plenty more to come. Thus for example, PhoneGap Build, Nitobi’s cloud hosted compiler and packager will now be offered as part of Adobe’s new Creative Cloud platform. That means GIT integration, and the ability to pull packages directly down from Github, which is great from a Developer Experience Point of View.

Creative Cloud looks pretty interesting in its own right. Adobe says it plans to offer its creative tools on a subscription basis, rather than just in a monolithic Creative Suite package. Early versions of its new multitouch-enabled hosted Photoshop app show promise.

Developer communities seemed pretty sanguine about the deal, according to RedMonk’s quick and dirty twitter sentiment analysis. But there remains real concern that Adobe might not be the right steward for an open source framework like PhoneGap. I would say wait and see- we’ll know soon enough if Adobe does the wrong things, but I trust Andre and Dave to have chosen a good home for their technology -and more importantly their community. Adobe’s DNA to be fair has had a fair bit of open source spliced in of late- through its acquisition of Day Software, for example. All of my conversations with executives at MAX so far indicate that they are well aware that in order for Nitobi to be a successful transformational acquisition, it will need to be nurtured and given space to grow.

All in all I am fairly positive about Adobe and PhoneGap. I am glad my boys Andre and Dave have made the exit. I suspect the dark horse in the deal is Brian LeRoux – he could thrive in an ops role at Adobe.

So what about the money? Because Nitobi bootstrapped the business there weren’t any VCs to pay off in the deal. That is, Adobe and Nitobi both probably did quite well out of it. Considering Adobe is often portrayed as a laggard in HTML and Javascript its been pretty damned aggressive here. The Javascript framework space is heating up fast with VC-backed firms like Strobe and Titanium not exactly going to get cheaper any time soon.



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