Microsoft and Adobe: A Threat to Apple’s Creativity?

ballmer-narayen

The New York Times’ Bits blog is reporting that two companies with very good reason to fear Apple’s growing influence in the tech industry recently got together to discuss the current state of affairs. The hour-long meeting saw Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer meet Adobe chief Shantanu Narayen at Adobe HQ in San Jose, Calif.

On the agenda were discussions of Apple’s control of the mobile market, and what the two companies might be able to do together to make sure Cupertino didn’t go unchallenged in that space. According to the NYT’s sources, which it cites as employees and consultants to both companies involved with the discussions, one of the topics of conversation was a possible acquisition of Adobe by Microsoft.

In the past, Microsoft had considered an Adobe acquisition, but didn’t think the move would hold up, owing to antitrust fears by industry regulators. Now that Microsoft isn’t the biggest kid on the blog any longer, and considering the rate at which Google and Apple have been buying up companies, an Adobe purchase is probably worth a second look for Redmond.

A spurned Adobe is the perfect target for Microsoft’s overtures. First, Apple’s complete shutout of Flash from its wildly popular iOS mobile platform must mean that Adobe is missing out on an incredible amount of potential revenue. And even though Apple recently relaxed its App Store rules to allow apps created with third-party tools like Adobe’s Packager, Narayen admits that the resulting effect on his company’s bottom line has been negligible.

Whether Microsoft actually does end up acquiring Adobe, or just forms a much closer partnership with the interactive media firm, both would be an effective means of striking at Apple. The Mac-maker’s roots are in creative tech, after all, and Adobe is a huge part of that legacy, whether or not Apple is willing to admit it. Try to find a photography or design professional who doesn’t use Adobe’s Creative Suite in some capacity.

In a worst-case scenario for Apple, Microsoft would buy Adobe, and though it probably wouldn’t be able to make CS Windows platform-specific, it could hobble the software on OS X the same way it seems to have done with MS Office in the past. A slow erosion of Apple’s creative user base could also undermine the reasons it became a success to begin with: “Think Different” is a slogan born of the Mac’s appeal to the artistically minded.

On the other hand, Apple’s focus is moving more and more toward the consumer market and away from creative professionals, thanks to the growing success of iOS devices. It might be content to let the chips fall where they may with Microsoft and Adobe, since neither seems like a significant player in the mobile market at this juncture, even with Windows Phone 7 poised to drop just next week.

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