Web 2.0 Podcast: A Conversation with Bruce Chizen

by Daniel H. Steinberg

Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen talked with Web 2.0 Summit program chair Tim O'Reilly about the ubiquity of Flash and PDF, and the fine line that his company walks between open standards and open source. They talked about everything from eBooks and Apollo to competing with Microsoft.

You can download the audio as an mp3 or download the video as an mp4, or you can subscribe to the audio podcast or to the video podcast. Check out the entire set of Web 2.0 Summit podcasts.

Intel Software Network Intel Software Partner Program

This episode is sponsored by the Intel Software Partner Program.

Transcript created by Casting Words.

ANNCR: Wednesday morning at the Web 2.0 Summit 2006 Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen talked about the ubiquity of Flash and PDF and the fine line whose company wants between open standards and open source. Here's the Web 2.0 Summit Chair, Tim O'Reilly, in conversation with Bruce Chizen.

Tim O'Reilly: Our next speaker is also an amazing player in the web 2.0 world. I first met him last year. I was on the board of Macromedia when we made the decision to merge with Adobe. Bruce Chizen, the CEO, is the guy who led that charge had the vision for putting the two companies together. Actually I really wanted to have him here last year when the merger was coming down but we're going to get him here today to talk to us about why Adobe is positioned as well as it is in so many places in the Web 2.0 story. With that, here's Bruce Chizen of Adobe.
Bruce Chizen: I can do a lot of things but climb stairs these days.
Tim: A year ago you guys acquired Macromedia. Maybe you could just start by telling us what you're hoping to accomplish and how you're feeling about that now.
Bruce: First of all I'm feeling really good about it, now. I have a little less hair. Whatever I have is certainly grayer than it was. In fact I was watching Jeff Bezos on the screen as he was speaking. I think I now have less hair than he does, which is scary. The challenge for Adobe was we were a peripheral player on the Web. So if you think about it, just about every developer every designer used products like Photoshop and Illustrator and they posted their documents a lot of times using PDF. In fact, PDF is the most common file format on the Web other than HTML itself. Yet we weren't the heart and soul of the Web. What we hoped to do by acquiring Macromedia was to take what we have with the Adobe Reader and PDF and our authoring tools like Photoshop and Illustrator and combine that with Flash and all of the Web tools that Macromedia has. It's happened. We started showing some of the integration that we're doing, everything we want to do with video in terms of authoring we've been able to leverage the video capabilities and the Flash player. It's been going extremely well, but, I will tell you if any CEO tells you that acquisitions are easy, they're either ignorant or they're lying.
Tim: Or they're battle-scarred and they can't feel the pain anymore.
Bruce: Yeah, true.
Tim: Just talking about being a peripheral player on the Web, you made an assertion in a recent interview with John, actually in Business 2.0, that Adobe actually has the most widely deployed software in the world. Can you actually defend that assertion a little bit?
Bruce: Yeah, absolutely. If you look at the combination of the Adobe Reader and the Adobe Flash player, we are on more PC and non-PC devises than anyone else including Microsoft. So we are on over 700M devises, we're on over 115M mobile handsets with Flash. The Adobe Reader is actually on some of those handsets, which is a surprise to a lot of people. So, our ability to reach users is greater than that of Microsoft. Now, obviously, things like Web Browsers, which is somewhat more transient, might have greater reach than any point in time. But in terms of on people's devises themselves, we have greater reach.
Tim: You talked a little bit about devises. Clearly, Flash on mobile is a big play for you guys. How's that going?
Bruce: Flash on mobile is an absolute big play for us. In fact, our whole strategy is to take the combination of the Adobe Reader, the Flash Player, new Apollo runtime client.
Tim: We'll come back to that.
Bruce: And use that as a vehicle on which to express information. What we want to do is our customers are the type of customers that want their information to be even more reliable, or compelling or impactful and they want to do that on any device, and paper in fact, that accesses the Web and mobile phones are accessing the Web. Consumer electronic devises are accessing the Web and we're using the Flash-like client as a vehicle in which to do that. We are on, in some parts of the world, every single handset like in places like Japan. Every handset has Flashlight. Recently last week, Verizon announced that they will are going to be supporting the Flash Ecosystem here in the United States. Qualcomm announced that they are working with us with Brew on a Flash Light extension so anybody who's creating content for Flash can express it on the mobile phone.
Tim: So it's a very different business though in the mobile world. We actually have to go make a deal. It's not something the user just says, here's some content, do you want a player and it automatically gets downloaded.
Bruce: There's two ways it's different. One is it's what you just said and we get to charge for it because there's so much Flash content or SWF content on the Web because there's so much PDF content on the Web, we're able to charge for those clients either charge the carrier, like an MTV Delcomo or Verizon, or charge the handset manufacturer a small royalty. We're also able to sell them in ways that help take advantage of those widely distributed clients.
Tim: So I want to come back around to your relationship with the Web. A lot of people see this as a quasi-competitive relationship because on the one hand you have the document formats driven by Page Fidelity with PDF and on the Web you have this reflowable content model. You have Flash and a lot of people see Ajax as a sort of, hey, we can do Flash without or Flash-like applications without having to pay the Adobe tax. You have this deep relationship with online content sites like YouTube for example or flickr, for that matter, started out using a lot of Flash. But then they started saying Wow we can actually start to reimplement these features in other ways. Talk to me about that sort of uneasy, it's so central to you and yet it's also your greatest competitor.
Bruce: Other than non-PC, keep in mind we don't charge the user for the right to use that Flash Player or the Adobe Reader. The user, unlike somebody like Microsoft that charges for their operating system or charges for their applications, we're free to the end user and the way we make our money is through selling the authoring tools or the servers that enable those clients. We don't' view Ajax or HTML against documents, we don't' view that as competition. What we think we do is take it one step further. The reason why PDF is as successful as it is today, the reason why it's become a ISO standard, the reason why government agencies around the world are standardizing their workflows on PDF is that PDF does something that HTML is not able to do. That's why PDF is so successful.

The reason why folks like Google Finance who are very AJAX knowledgeable and very well trained in AJAX, use Flash is because Flash can do something that you just can't do with AJAX. So what we try to do is take what people are already doing and provide solutions that take it up one notch.

The other thing we try to do, and this is a little bit of a challenge, is we've believed in open standards from day one. Adobe was founded on Postscript; from day one we published the specifications of Postscript, we created an ecosystem around Postscript, and we created a whole bunch of competitors around Postscript. We did the same thing with PDF. Whole bunch of competitors. But it's allowed us to be open. The challenge is trying to continue to be open, and not going to a point where we're so open that we can no longer have a viable commercial business.
Tim: Right. So unlike these web two R & D players who have revenue from other sources, you are still fundamentally a software company?
Bruce: We are a software company. We generate $2.6 billion plus from the software itself. The good news is we invest about 20% of it back into future R & D, where we think we're enabling the web experience. If I look at any site today, I can pretty much guarantee you that an Adobe product touched some of that content on that site. Photoshop probably touched just about every image. Every animation was probably done with Flash Authoring. Every graphic was probably done with either Illustrator or FreeHand. And, and, and. Now you look at more and more videos done with Flash Video and edited with Premier After Effects.
Tim: So, would you expect that as the web applications mature, they're going to start adding editing functionality for example directly into a web app? At what point does that become a problem for you?
Bruce: I think the open source community; the folks who aren't making money on selling their tools outright will continue to advance what they're doing. It's up to us to continue to advance what we're doing. I always have this discussion about open source versus open standards. Based on the announcement we made yesterday, we obviously...
Tim: Yeah, I was going to talk to you about that.
Bruce: We'll talk about it in a minute. For us, it's how do we continue to push the envelope on what we think our customers need? We continue to talk a lot about Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is an example of what the web could be. We think it could be much more than that. We see ourselves as the one who will continue to provide solutions that push the envelope on that.
Tim: All right. So does that mean you're going to start getting into software for helping build 3-D worlds?
Bruce: We actually had a product that was called Adobe Atmosphere a number of years ago. It was probably a little premature.
Tim: They say being too early is the same as being wrong.
Bruce: Correct. Correct. And now if you look at what we're doing with PDF, the ability to have true 3-D objects in there, you can imagine 3-D becoming a bigger piece of our offering.
Tim: Yeah, we just did our first 3-D PDFs in conjunction with Make and it's really sweet.
Bruce: It's cool. It's cool.
Tim: Hey, you mentioned this deal with Mozilla. Maybe people don't know about that so maybe you could just outline the basics of what you're doing there.
Bruce: The virtual machine, the interpreter that exists with Flash Player, the ability to take Action Script or Java Script and be able to interpret that...
Tim: And again, just to be clear, a lot of people don't realize that Action Script, the scripting language of Flash is actually ECMA script based, it's actually a sister to Java Script.
Bruce: That's one of the reasons why we did this. Action Script, which is what Flash programmers use, is based on ECMA script. Other than some specific calls, it's almost identical to Java script. But that's been a well-kept secret.
Tim: So Flash is a jack in some ways.
Bruce: So people write scripts, that get executed in Flash and the way it gets executed is through the Virtual Machine. What we ended up doing was working with the Mozilla foundation, and took that Virtual Machine and handed it over to them as part of an open source project. In their words, they believe that this is the most important open source project that they're working on since the beginning of the foundation. This means that anybody who's using the future version of Ekma script, which means Action script will be able to have their code executed in wither the Firefox browser or the Flash Player. We also hope that, this being open source, that this Virtual Machine will find its way into all of the other browsers.
Tim: I heard recently that Bob Young was putting five million dollars towards Gnu Flash or Gnash hoping to make you gnash your teeth I assume. What's in Gnash that's not in this..?
Bruce: Yeah, I don't know. I don't know. All I do know is how excited the people at the Mozilla Foundation are about what we're doing. They were ecstatic and then there are others that hopefully will be announcing shortly their plans to also take advantage of the work we're doing.
Tim: Right. You also recently announced Flash Player nine for Linux. How would you describe it in general? Are we going to be seeing more open source announcements from Adobe?
Bruce: You will be seeing some. In fact I think we announced today, in fact I think we're showing it here, in somewhat secrecy, something called Cooler, which they call a management schema that we're putting up. I don't know if it's open source but it's going to be very open and public so people could collaborate on Color Management for both the web and for print.

You'll see us do some other things. We're going to use Web kit as part of our html rendering engine for our new client and we'll contribute back to the community that's working on Web kit, which is the code for browsers like Safari, Apple Safari. So you'll see us participate more. Again we need to walk this fine line of open standards versus open source. When we ant to make money, it's hard to be completely open source because we do need to continue to generate revenue. As much as we care about out developers and about our customers and our employees and wanting to make the world great, unfortunately, we're a public company and we have shareholders that we have to answer to.
Tim: Yeah, so, moving on from there. Microsoft. Microsoft clearly has got you guys a bit more in their sights than in the past. They're announcing a number of things to compete with you. How do you feel about being in the crosshairs?
Bruce: I'm flattered. I'm thrilled that Google's there, because I still think they are the heat shield. So, I think that if they weren't there, Microsoft would be boom - Adobe, but Google keeps distracting them and I don't think that's going to change. It's scary.
Tim: Do you have any tag team things then planned with Google on the side?
Bruce: Well we do distribute their toolbar and they are using Flash in a lot of their properties and they are using Flash video a lot in their properties, so it's fun partnering with your common enemy and we are good at that and we'll continue to do that. The good news is that Microsoft has lots of enemies, so we'll continue to work with lots of people.

Bruce: The thing is, Microsoft has been competing with Adobe for almost as long as we've been in business. They tried to knock off Postscript and they shipped one printer with their RIP in it or their raster-image processor and that was a complete failure.

I don't know if you remember this, they gave away a product called PhotoDraw with Microsoft Office in the mid-90's and their intent was to niche Illustrator and Photoshop. That product is dead and gone. They tried a number of times to attach the Portable Document Format, or PDF. They had something in Office called MVI. No one ever hears about that. They had XDocs and InfoPath Performs. While that is still around today we don't hear much about it. They are going to keep trying. What we have to do and what we'll continue to do is to stay focused on what we're really good at - which is making stuff look visual, interactive, compelling, impactful, relatively secure. Just good enough is not acceptable, and we have to keep innovating as quickly as possible.
Tim: We should let the audience in on this. Anybody have any questions? You might want to come up to the mike. If not I'm going to keep going.


My throat is going.

But, let me ask specifically - Microsoft has recently shown they did something with the New York Times for online reading. You've got pretty similar products.
Bruce: Yeah - it's another example of Microsoft trying to - Microsoft would like to have everything to be Windows, despite they talk about WPF everywhere, right now there's WPF nowhere. So by them having...
Tim: You're starting to sound like Scott McNealy.
Bruce: But it's true, I mean it's factual. This is not even shipping, let alone a client for cross-platform.

What they are trying to do with the e-book reader or the New York Times reader is create something that's in some way similar to what we've done with PDF historically, they're coming out with a 1.0 project.

We've been working with our publishing customers for close to 25 years now. Most of the publishers in the world use our tools, products like InDesign and Photoshop and Illustrator to create their books. They use PDF to print their books and we are going to make it really easy for them to convert those books easily into a very attractive digital book.

And, we just announced in Adobe Labs something called Digital Editions which is the first incarnation of that e-book reader. You can expect that experiment to be much more of an experiment and to have a lot more capability, levering something about Flash assets, as well as dynamic reflow, over the next coming months.
Tim: So you really think that we are going to be seeing some really nice new e-book products?
Bruce: You know, Adobe about seven years ago talked a lot about e-books, and the world was talking a lot about e-books and one thing I said was: "Until devices are inexpensive enough, durable enough, have good energy consumption, good LCD displays, e-books aren't going to take off."

We're almost there, and if you take a look at the new Sony reader it's not perfect.

[Tim coughing continuously in the background.]: I'm sorry.
Bruce: Make sure it's not... I know you're excited about the e-books.

Bruce: If you take a look at that Sony reader it will give you a glimpse for what e-books will become in the not-too-distant future and you'll see some devices over the next year or two that will be both affordable and durable.

The big problem with books today is not that there's a problem. The physical book, as you know as a book publisher, is a great value proposition. It's relatively inexpensive. You can take it with you wherever you go. If you go to the beach. You can drop it on the floor, you can get it dirty. It doesn't require any power. It doesn't require... and sometimes it can cost less than $20.

But you will see devices that will begin to imitate a reading experience. Certainly our clients will make that reading experience a better experience and we're going to make book publishers like yourselves and others have an easier time with their workflow.
Tim: I'm assuming that's going to be a connected e-book reader in the Web 2.0 theme.
Bruce: Absolutely - we'll be able to collaborate with others; we'll be able to rate your books. Hopefully we'll be able to work with folks like Jeff on that.
Tim: So before we run out of time, you needed to say something about Apollo and what you're doing there. Because that's really this world of new connected apps.
Bruce: Yeah. So one of the things we wanted to do was figure out how do we take some of the best things about the Adobe reader and the Flash player and merge it into a client that could work in this era of both connected and occasionally connected. The Adobe Reader is feature-rich - some would say it's a little fat, it's about 32 Mg. Flash Player is very skinny but it can only work within a browser.

Apollo is a client, a run-time client, that renders PDF, will render HTML, and will render SWF (which is the Flash content) all in one client. It will work within a browser, but, more importantly, it will work external to the browser and will work as a desktop application, but a desktop application that is connected to the web.
Tim: So, in other words, the whole web programming model which has been in-browser you are now saying - "we're now going to be taking that to the desktop. Now you're going to be able to write desktop applications that are effectively web applications.
Bruce: And you will be able to take advantage of your desktop local storage, your CPU processing power, your hard drives. So, you'll have the best of both worlds. The good news is, if you're early, already developing Flex and Flash applications you will be able to easily take those applications and convert them into Apollo applications.

So, think iTunes, but think iTunes on steroids and think lots of applications, thousands and thousands of rich Internet applications that you could never do before.
Tim: All right, well I guess that now that Jeff has disclaimed the dark horse title then that makes maybe you guys the dark horse for the Internet platform player.
Bruce: The dark horse... ah...
Tim: We'll just leave it there.
Bruce: I'll just leave it there.
Tim: All right. Thanks a lot Bruce.

[music and applause]
ANNCR: A conversation with Bruce Chizen at the Web 2.0 Summit 2006.

Daniel H. Steinberg is the editor for the new series of Mac Developer titles for the Pragmatic Programmers. He writes feature articles for Apple's ADC web site and is a regular contributor to Mac Devcenter. He has presented at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, MacWorld, MacHack and other Mac developer conferences.