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What's happened to Adobe?

In early December, Adobe finally swallowed Macromedia whole. Macromedia stock has been converted to Adobe stock, and now Bruce Chizen effectively controls pretty much all the software in my OS X dock.

I have my own opinions on the implications of this merger, and the issue has been debated to death in the past few months while Adobe successfully persuaded antitrust officials from the US Department of Justice that they were not a monopoly.

Mergers are tricky things for stockholders, customers and company staff as different cultures collide, often with different aims and agendas. Adobe has a long history stretching back into the dark ages of print. Macromedia, formed a decade later out of the merger of Authorware and MacroMind Paracomp in 1992, is by comparison, a sprightly young upstart.

Macromedia certainly seemed to have a better grip on the internet, churning out a series of successful applications over the years, including Flash and Dreamweaver. Adobe fumbled the ball with GoLive - not a bad application, and my weapon of choice for doing website grunt work.

Early in its life, GoLive was perceived to write terrible code; a justified criticism that was subsequently corrected. But mud sticks, and web professionals tended to hang out with Dreamweaver, blowing raspberries at the fat kids and dorks using GoLive. Time and again Adobe tried to get things right. Hands up who uses ImageReady instead of Photoshop to prepare web graphics? One? Two? And who remembers, let alone even uses, LiveMotion?

Changing times
When FreeHand was still owned by Aldus, it was a worthy competitor to Adobe Illustrator, but under Macromedia it languished somewhat, becoming the poor cousin to Illustrator, despite some interesting features. And it was in print that Adobe really excelled. Think PostScript, think PDF, think Photoshop, think InDesign.

InDesign demonstrated that in the rarefied, slow-moving world of CMYK Adobe could unexpectedly sprint out of leftfield with a product that proved it listened to users and could whip the carpet from under the feet of Quark - a company still reeling from InDesign years after its release.

However, something happened to Adobe that gave me pause. Moments after the news of the merger was announced, Macromedia's website changed into the bastard child of Adobe and its previous incarnation.

What had been slick - and let's face it, Macromedia's website was miles better than Adobe's - became sick. The site became a shockingly bad piece of design. If this website was your pet, you'd rush it to the vet and have it put to sleep immediately.

But there was worse: box art for new software bundles combining Creative Suite software with Macromedia Studio products, looked like they'd been designed by morons.

It doesn't create a great deal of faith in Adobe's creativity. Only time will tell whether these items are anomalies or a worrying way forward for Adobe. Bruce, if you want me to rustle you up some box art and a new website for Macromedia, I think I have an afternoon free...