A tale of two Adobe conferences

I am just back from Adobe’s MAX Europe. The previous Macromedia/Adobe conference I attended was Macromedia DevCon in 2002. Remarkably, the gold sponsors at the earlier conference included Microsoft, there to promote .NET technology to Dreamweaver designers. Such a sponsorship seems impossible now. Back in 2002, the big product announcement was Contribute, and its competition was FrontPage. Today, it’s war. Adobe is talking “platform”: hosted services, web applications, desktop applications, and none of it dependent on Windows; while Microsoft has suddenly got the cross-platform habit with its own Flash-like browser plug-in called Silverlight. On Adobe’s side, an amazing, ubiquitous, graphically-rich runtime that just works. On Microsoft’s side, huge resources and armies of .NET developers.

Max Europe was a good conference. There’s a buzz around the products, and I didn’t meet any disappointed delegates, although there was a little bit of concern that strong designer content was getting squeezed out by the new focus on developers. The Adobe speakers seemed very approachable, and I appreciated the willingness of senior executives to talk to the press. In fact, the company has retained something of a small company feel, at least among the ex-Macromedia team which seemed to dominate at MAX. Adobe also has a clearer focus than Microsoft, which comes over as more bureaucratic and internally conflicted.

Nevertheless, it is possible that some at Adobe are under-estimating Silverlight. One speaker assured us that it only runs in one browser (false). Flex Builder is slow and awkward in comparison to Visual Studio. Adobe does have a big advantage in mobile devices – Nokia was at MAX and is putting Flash in all its high-end phones – but I am not yet convinced of the merits of Flash Mobile.

Mac count at MAX: about 50-50 with Windows on a very rough estimate. That’s proportionally fewer Macs than at FOWA earlier this month, which was maybe 80% Apple.