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Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Web 2.0: Adobe CEO Dances Around Developer War

In a far-ranging interview, Shantanu Narayen acknowledges conflict with Apple but sticks mostly to talking points.

At the beginning of his conversation with Web 2.0 Summit co-chair John Battelle, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen sounded as if he might finally show some emotion about the abuse his company has taken from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Apple fans, and Flash detractors.

Asked whether the Apple-driven tempest that has buffed the company since the beginning of the year has passed, Narayen described the situation as a "war for developers."

"It is all about how you control what's happening in this new economy," he said, positioning Apple and Adobe as being on different sides of the points of control of the new economy. "Points of control," not coincidentally, is the theme of this year's Web 2.0 Summit; it's an examination of the Internet's competitive landscape and barriers.

But the cathartic moment in which we would finally see the resentment arising from Jobs's contempt for Adobe never came. Narayen reiterated past positioning statements that Adobe is open and Apple is closed: "We're all about a multiplatform, open, heterogeneous eco-system," said Narayen. "Apple would like to keep that closed and proprietary."

But largely, he stuck to comments that sounded rehearsed. For example: "Adobe has always been about helping people create content for multiple devices." Or: "We're really getting to the point where in addition to helping people create content, we're helping them monetize it."

Narayen's unwillingness to demonstrate an emotional investment what online remains an impassioned debate -- Flash vs. HTML5, Apple vs. Adobe -- was most evident toward the end of the interview, when an audience member said that he'd been an Adobe customer for years and that "Adobe doesn't seem like the same company." It feels, he said, too generic, too enterprise. "What does Adobe stand for?" the conference attendee asked.

Narayen's answer could have been read from a press release: "We believe that we're going to continue to change the world through digital experiences."

When another member of the audience rose to ask about reports that the MacBook Air without Flash installed gets much better battery life, Narayen talked around the question, prompting the questioner to press repeatedly for an answer.

Narayen finally broke from the spin cycle when he said that when Flash has access to hardware acceleration on devices -- the suggestion being that Apple had hindered that access -- Flash performs well in terms of energy usage. But the few cracks in Narayen's public equanimity failed to convey the impassioned leadership that developers seem to want, if only to provide some counter-balance to the persuasive power of Steve Jobs.

Adobe and Flash need an evangelist-in-chief rather than a diplomat at this particular moment in the war for developers.

For Further Viewing

Web 2.0 Summit Video with Shantanu Narayen, President and CEO, Adobe Systems

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