Adobe – Crossing The Divide

Regular readers of the MyMac website or listeners to the podcast will be familiar with the disappointment expressed by Tim Robertson and myself about the divergence in compatibility between Microsoft Office versions on the Windows and Macintosh platforms.

Unlike Microsoft, one of the other giants of the software industry that also straddles the Apple and PC divide recognizes the business benefits that truly embracing a cross-platform approach can offer – that company is Adobe.

Maybe it is because Adobe started in the font business (where the look of text needs to be consistent on different computers), and originally developed for the Macintosh alone, but their approach has always recognized that making it easier to share data benefits everyone. Take the development of their Portable Document Format (PDF) technology – using PDF means that any document can be distributed to any user, and that document will always appear and print exactly as the creator intended – whatever the computing platform being used, and whatever the print platform might be (be it a cheap inkjet or a high end professional print setting machine).

Look at Adobe’s bread and butter nowadays – the mighty Creative Suite, incorporating the heavyweights Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign – these applications not only use their own functionally identical file formats on the Windows and Mac platforms, but also a common feature set and interface for each. This allows a user to learn the applications on their platform of choice – and once learnt, that knowledge will apply whichever the underlying computing platform might be, thus strengthening the value of the Adobe creative proposition. It will be interesting to see with their newest CS3 suite how they have approached migrating the acquired applications from Macromedia to this approach.

They have taken it further with Photoshop Lightroom, their new photography workflow application. Aimed at professional and high-end amateur photographers, Lightroom offers similar functionality to Apple’s Aperture – a single environment where large numbers of photos can be managed, categorized and adjusted, with all changes being non-destructive. However, Aperture is only available for the Mac (and powerful ones at that), whereas Lightroom will run on on lower-end hardware in either OS X or Windows. As with the CS apps, the user environment is the same on either – in fact, when you buy it both versions ship in the same box and your license key will activate either version.

One of the key advantages that Lightroom or Aperture offer photographers is that they can work effectively on RAW image files. RAW files are minimally processed by the camera, and as such offer the most flexibility in terms of adjustments – but they have to be processed and rendered in order to be viewed. Each camera manufacturer does this a different way – so for software to support all of the RAW formats, the software house must work with each camera manufacturer to provide RAW support. Adobe recognizes that this is less than optimal, and replicating its approach to print with PDF has created the DNG format for RAW image files. While no cameras support DNG directly as yet, all of Adobe’s image apps can convert a RAW file to DNG, and once converted the DNG image retains all of the advantages of RAW while yet again becoming a cross-platform and cross-application document.

As Macintosh users, we should appreciate how Adobe have continued to create and promote interoperability between disparate hardware and software solutions. Perhaps one of these days Microsoft will look to replicate Adobe’s example…

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