An Open Letter to John Warnock

- by Paul Murphy -

Dear Mr. Co-Chairman:

I want to ask you for a big donation to the open source world, but let me start by telling you that I don't like your company, Adobe Systems very much. Your people ripped me off on FrameMaker 6.0 for Solaris, and when I complained responding by hiding in the bureaucracy and cutting me off the mailing list. Very small minded of them, and I like to think it's cost you a few bucks because I make very sure that anybody I talk to about any of your products hears the story.

Now you may think that comment ungracious, but there's a moral here: customers who feel unfairly treated never forget and usually never forgive. On the flip side, however, customers come in communities, and communities who owe you never forget either.

You have an opportunity, right now, to create something of great value to a large community of current and potential customers. Do with Postscript, at least levels one and two, what Sun is doing with Solaris: open source the product, create a support center, adopt the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), and give people a chance to extend your technology in creative new ways.

I don't have access to your numbers, but my guess is that it would net out positive for you. Last year your PostScript and "Other" group pulled in around $81 million, not a pittance; but shrinking and only five percent of your revenues prior to getting control of MacroMedia. Do the open source thing right and a lot of that revenue, particularly the value added stuff coming from high end printing, would continue unaffected while the new interest this would create worldwide in your other PostScript dependent products might easily give you a healthy sales kicker -and much of that goes straight to the bottom line.

There are lots of legal issues affecting things like fonts, patents and your contract with Apple, but Sun faced basically the same issues and perservered. You can too, just remind the lawyers who they work for and get it done.

A big part of the benefit of making an open source commitment is that it opens new markets for you.

Right now Postscript's role as one of the major foundation technologies for the digital era isn't really known outside your core markets. At best your typical CIO or IT manager might have some vague idea that it's important in the pre-press world but whole fields, like workflow and high volume commercial printing, are foreign, and therefore invisible, to most of them. Build an open source community around PostScript and that visibility will come, bringing new ideas and new applications with it. Would PSML make sense to anyone?

Similarly you probably remember like Sun's Network Environment Windowing System [NEWS] (for SunOS 4.0 in 1987) but have you really thought about what killed it and how that's limited the development of display technologies since?

In comparison to the use of Display PostScript, MIT's X display system is utterly moronic -but it became dominant because it was open source and free of both royalties and copyright issues. NCD and Sun gave the X-Server some PostScript display capabilities, but NCD got Microshafted and Sun is dropping PostScript display in part because their move to open source conflicts with your continuing licensing requirements -something you could waive, you know.

You've heard the adage about helping, leading, or getting out of the way? Well you can do all three at once by creating that open source community around PostScript. Do it and we'll probably see somebody like Kyocera or the original QMS group putting their expertise into a PostScript graphics board for people wanting to run Linux or some other Unix on Intel PCs without the limitations of Windows optimized graphics boards and all the horrible compromises those involve. Get a few things like that going and you'll see whole new markets emerging for Adobe products like, well, FrameMaker.

Basically it comes down to this: look around you: you're last big holdout except Microsoft against the open source revolution and hold the keys, with PostScript, to unleashing a wide range of new software, new hardware, and new ideas - so get with the program already, and find a way to do it. Ok?

Paul Murphy, a 25 year veteran of the IT consulting wars, is the author of The Unix Guide to Defenestration and maintains a discussion forum for his columns on his website.