SmoothSpan Blog

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Adobe Enters the Office Wars

Posted by Bob Warfield on June 2, 2008

 I was a General in the Office Wars once. I remember it vividly. I built a product called Quattro Pro (originally Surpass) and dove in head first. For a while, we did extremely well. QPro sold over $100M in its first year and catapulted Borland forward mightily. For a time it was thought the company could rival Microsoft. Indeed, we seemed to be fighting with Microsoft on nearly every front, but it was not to be. Quattro Pro was ultimately sold to Corel Draw, and I haven’t seen or heard much of it since. Today, I am a confirmed Microsoft Ofice user. Mostly.

There are exceptions, and they center around the areas of document editing of two somewhat specialized kinds. First, I do all my blogging in the WordPress editor. Anyone who has ever cut and pasted to a blog from MS Word knows it is awesomely painful. This is typical Microsoft and a bit of typical limitations of the Windows UI. Many have discussed how the clipboard is an abomination of UI design, at least as implemented by Microsoft, so I won’t revisit. I am, BTW, writing this post in BuzzWord, and will report on how well that went at the end. 

Getting back on point, Adobe has some new announcements that boil down to a big splash in the Office Wars. It had been Microsoft with their On-premise suite against a bunch of web upstarts ranging in size from mighty Google to smaller players like Zoho. Adobe is interestingly in the middle. They are more a traditional On-premise company like Microsoft, but they are also an incredibly important part of the web ecosystem with products ranging from their Creative Suite to platform offerings like Flash/Flex/AIR.

This particularly offering is a starting point. It consists of BuzzWord, ConnectNow, and Share. BuzzWord, is the hip web word processor that Adobe recently acquired. It has a cutting edge UI that Rick Treitman, who briefed me, likes to compare by saying it is the iPhone experience for word processing. I have to admit, it has that minimalist + successively disclosed power + hip “it’s the new black” look that Apple is so good at and which made me fall in love with the iPhone immediately.  

Next up is ConnectNow, which is a slimmed down version of Adobe’s WebEx competitor, ConnectPro. What’s slimmed down? Well, you can have meetings with up to 3 participants for free. If you want more, you better get ConnectPro. We used it to do my briefing, and it was first class. It was prettier than WebEx, though I can’t honestly say it did anything from my side better. Nevertheless, it was fully integrated with the experience and was pretty cool.

Lastly, we have Share, which is a “desktop in the cloud” where you keep your documents and files. We saw BuzzWord documents and images during the demo, as well as PDF’s. Speaking of PDF’s, the big news in BuzzWord is its ability to create PDF’s. You can view them in Acrobat 9 seamlessly through this new web experience as well.  

Overall, I liked the new suite, though I found it to be a little short of what I would’ve hoped for. Notably missing, but coming soon (they wouldn’t say when) is AIR support, so I can run BuzzWord when there is no Internet and sync back to Share later. Also notably would be more applications. They have a great start on a collaborative suite around word processing, and that’s powerful, but I need more. A slide show capability like PowerPoint and a spreadsheet would be ideal. One could argue some of the components they give web designers in the Creative Suite might also be handy.

How did it go writing this post in BuzzWord? It was certainly pleasant, and it looked good when I pasted into WordPress. However, like MS Word, there were tons of extraneous tags scattered all around the text when you look at the HTML source. I rate it better than MS Word for this task, but not hugely so.  

How would I rate their chances for success? Good, but it’s a long haul. They’re starting with a word processor, which I think is essential. The last Office Wars were won because of Word more than the other apps. But they missed the fact that suite selling is powerful. Organizations and individuals feel like they’re committing to these products forever. They want all the bases covered.

There is a unique opportunity for Adobe, because the design center may have changed. Back in the First Office Wars, the design center was really around desktop publishing. WYSIWYG was a big deal. The level of document formating and how well your products eschewed things like embedded codes versus getting with what modern desktop publishers did was key.  

Today, I don’t hear much about desktop publishing. There is an opportunity to change the design center to the web. For Adobe, this is the best of worlds, and it is the worst of worlds. Why? Because they clearly get the web, but they also clearly have a foot firmly planted in desktop publishing territory. So, they made sure to do PDF before looking much at HTML. Really slick UI that fixes the sins of the past and extends towards the web and what it means to create documents for the web versus dwelling too much further on desktop publishing seems viable.   And why can’t I add a link in really few keystrokes?  Specifically, we need a keyboard shortcut at the very least.

Meanwhile, how does Adobe partner effectively? There is a little bit of danger that a lot of would-be Flex lovers have to decide whether Adobe is Switzerland enough to embrace that platform or whether Adobe means to go after them.  There is an API that sounds interesting for Share, but I would love to see more of a partner ecosystem.  That’s tough when you’re pushing UI.  UI wants to be totally fascist and doesn’t partner well because it doesn’t compromis.  Just ask Steve Jobs.

Adobe, good opening gambit, but many more moves are needed to win this round of the Office Wars!

Related Articles

Eisman-sf says they love ConnectNow to facilitate their own internal collaboration.

Ryan Stewart shares some good screen shots, but you may as well just go try it. 

Michael Coté makes clear that Adobe has been at SaaS for a little while, and the big news here is they’re simply unifying their offerings into a coherent suite.  Pricing is free and they’re now dragging WebEx into the fray.  Seems like a lot of people want to commoditize WebEx.  I wonder what Cisco thinks of that?

Larry Dignan asks whether good UI is compelling enough to drive a suite to success.  I think the question is for which community is some need underserved enough that a killer solution with the right UI matters.  iPhone won through killer UI, but I think it also won because the web browsers were underserved.  Certainly its email was inferior in many minds as was its voice calling.  My vote is to go after the underserved web community and not the desktop publishers.

The Joy of Flex devotes a lot of ink to discussing the need to get an Adobe login or associate your BuzzWord login with an Adobe login.  It mentions this may be confusing.  Here Adobe really missed a trick.  I much prefer Zoho, who made it seamless to just use your Google or Yahoo account to get into their service.  Eliminating friction wins on the web.

5 Responses to “Adobe Enters the Office Wars”

  1. jkring said

    Great article, Bob. It’s certainly exciting to see how many options that are evolving for breaking the ball and chain that is the desktop office suite, and it’s exciting to see how Adobe is establishing its position in that arena.

    One minor feedback point about BuzzWord and your article: I find that the Minion Pro font (that was used in this article) to be very difficult to read on my computer — Windows XP Pro, 1900×1200 res, 20-20 vision ;).

  2. smoothspan said

    Jim, I agree on the readability. It was intentional on my part in the sense that I wanted to write an article in BuzzWord and copy it unmodified into WordPress to see how it came out. Not especially happy! I think I’ll leave it as such strictly to make the point. That point being that as I said, Adobe has a chance to lead by being the best Office Suite for a world that has moved on from desktop publishing and killing trees to the web. They’re definitely not there yet!



  3. Zoli Erdos said

    Bob, somewhat off topic, just addressing your blogging needs… and you hear this from a guy on a mission to cut down MS software use:

    There is one really good Microsoft product: Windows Live Writer. Manages your posts, drafts, multi-posts to several blogs, tags… you-name-it. The perfect blog editor, and the last MS application I use.

  4. dharmeshs said

    Wow, I didn’t know you were behind Quattro Pro. Impressive product (I was a customer/user).

    Ah, the good old days…

  5. smoothspan said

    Zoli, good suggestion, I’ll check it out. I’m actually not all that anti-Microsoft as far as the apps. As I mention, I use them. I do have a big disconnect with MSFT’s strategy/business practices, but I think they hurt themselves with them more than they hurt me.

    Dharmesh, yep, they were the good old days. But, we have new good days too. I look at the Office Wars somewhat phlegmatically. Periodically, innovation grinds to a halt because it is not that important. All the products have the functionality that 80% of users need. We get into a period of consolidation and commoditization. The purpose of this is twofold. First, customers get that functionality much cheaper. Microsoft, in the pursuit of competition, gave us all the apps for the suite price of what a single app used to cost. Second, we redeploy the intellectual assets to find new green pastures. Instead of writing the 12th spreadsheet (there were a lot of them if you think back!) or 15th word processor, the big Goliath slams that door shut and you have to look elsewhere.

    Is it any wonder that not that long after the Office Wars ended an exciting new thing called the Internet burst onto the scene? I call this oscillation between innovation and commoditization “punctuated equilibrium”. If you search, I’ve written on it before. I borrowed the term from evolution theory.



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