Acquisition fever

With Adobe buying up Danish software developer Pixmantec and Microsoft purchasing iView Multimedia, there's acquisition fever in the air. For most of us the news is greeted with a disinterested grunt - we don't care what these corporate hotshots do with their loose change.

But large corporations, such as Adobe and Microsoft, who have a legal obligation to their shareholders to make money, don't just buy companies on a whim. There has to be some cold, hard, dollar bill reason. Perhaps they want to build market share or even simply crush the opposition. They're not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.

So, how does this affect you and I? In 2002, Apple Computer bought Nothing Real, the developer of high-end compositing software Shake. This strengthened Apple's portfolio of video products, but the company immediately nixed support for Microsoft Windows and IRIX, making it available for the OS X and Linux platforms only.

Apple recently announced that it was dropping the price of Shake from $2,999 to $499 (with an educational price set at an astonishing $249). While compositors were busy high-fiving, Apple quietly mentioned under its breath that it was ceasing development on the application while it turned its attention to a new product, which they code-named Phenomena.

Imagine you are the disgruntled Shake user who happened to use a Windows PC to do your HD compositing. First they force you to use a Mac, then just as you've got used to the idea, they kill the software stone dead. No-one knows what the upgrade path to Phenomena will be like, but there will be many in the visual effects industry holding their breath and trying not to look panicked.

An uncertain future
More recently, Adobe bought Macromedia in one of the most shocking corporate takeovers to hit the world of digital content creation. On paper it was easy to see that Macromedia's strong web applications would bolster Adobe's lacklustre and underperforming products. But there are several overlaps, and many people's favourite applications will undoubtedly get the chop. In May 2006 Adobe reassured FreeHand users that it would continue to support and develop the package, but I'd put money on Adobe quietly dropping it within a few years.

Likewise, Creative Suite 3, set for release in 2007, will include Dreamweaver instead of GoLive, leading many to speculate that Adobe's own WYSIWYG web authoring tool will be shown the door any day now.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. Adobe's purchase of Pixmantec - the developer of RawShooter, a raw photo workflow environment - can only improve its Lightroom offering, which seems to be inching ahead of Apple's clunkier Aperture.

It's speculated that Microsoft could be buying iView in order to offer Vista users an iLife killer, but the resulting competition will inevitably drive Apple on to further innovation, leaving Redmond in its wake.

Corporate buy-outs are something of a lottery, sometimes working in favour of the user, sometimes not, but almost always working in favour of the shareholders. Be aware that when acquisition fever is in the air, even your favourite application isn't safe.

Jason Arber is a designer and co-founder of Email him at

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