Did Adobe Save Apple by Supporting Windows?

by Chris Howard Jun 28, 2007

While everyone else is talking about a new handheld communications device or a dotty new operating system upgrade, it might be a nice change to step back and consider events of days of yore that may just have kept our favorite fruity tech company alive long enough to release that whatchamacallit this Friday.

We’ve probably all got our list of most significant events in Apple’s history. Some of those flapped some pretty powerful butterfly wings. And Apple, like many tech companies, seemed to survive more on blunder and luck, than nous and foresight. Even Steve admits nearly missing the iPod boat.

Adobe also made many blunders in the 80s and 90s. However, one thing it did that many said at the time said was a mistake, but that might have proved fortuitous for Apple, was releasing Photoshop for Windows.

At the time (early 1993), Photoshop was only a few years old, and still didn’t even support layers! But it had already established itself firmly as the preferred choice for image editing.

Of Photoshop for Windows, I clearly remember commentators saying it would be the the death of the Mac, and maybe it did impact sales. The Mac’s market share had doubled in the three years from Photoshop first appearing on the Mac, to its appearance on Windows. And around the time Photoshop appeared on Windows was, coincidentally, the Mac’s peak in market share, at around 12%.

Although it would be stretching the friendship to suggest that leap was because of Photoshop, Photoshop had helped the Mac establish a lead in graphics departments, a lead it probably still holds today.

A decade and a half or so on, can we in hindsight say that that decision saved Apple? Or cost Apple?

(You might think “Who cares about past history?” Keep up that attitude and I’ll mention that watchamacallit! wink )

The impact
In the short term Adobe’s decision cost Apple. Photoshop had already become the preferred choice among image editing professionals, but many of them worked in organizations that were beginning a standardization to a single platform. The smaller ones took the Apple path, but the larger ones, who were spewing beige PCs onto everyone else’s desk, went the Windows path. Without a Windows version of Photoshop, Apple could have held onto even more graphics departments. But only temporarily.

Apple suffered and nearly passed on to that great computer landfill in the sky as happened to so many other computer manufacturers burnt by “The Great Windows Standardization of ‘95.”

During the next 10 years, Apple clung to its lifeline in the graphics industry. Without Photoshop, even that would have slipped away.

That may sound overly dramatic, but try taking the graphics market out of Apple’s market share in that time. Apple who? A Macin-what? So in that way, Adobe saved Apple.

Now I’d expect a few keyboards just wore their master’s coffee. So let’s look at the other scenario.

What if Adobe didn’t make Photoshop for Windows?
Plenty of developers have stuck by Apple and Apple alone and are still around today to tell the story. But they’re not household names—well at least not outside Mac households.

So what if Adobe was one of them?

With the rise of Windows, there was a need for serious imaging software. And there were suitors to fill the need. Microsoft, Corel, Macromedia, and Jasc were all willing. Corel had the head start, having established a large market with its vector editing application, Corel Draw.

If Adobe hadn’t have been there it’s likely either Microsoft would have won, or Corel today would be what Adobe is.

And Adobe? If Adobe had stuck by Apple, it would have slowed the Windows revolution…a smidge that no one would have noticed. But with the Windows standardization going on, then, by the end of the 90s, Adobe would have been a bit player in graphics, and Apple would have lost hold of the graphics departments.

Theoretically of course, Corel, or whichever company became successful, may have supported the Mac platform. Corel Draw was originally available for the Mac, but vector graphics have always played second fiddle to bitmap graphics. Photoshop’s competitors would have (and did) entered the Windows market first.

Whereas an entry to the Mac market would have been too late to be worthwhile—as was the case anyway. Plus Photoshop had the Mac market cornered. The Mac would have become even more isolated.

But as the Windows market boomed, so did its supporters. Without its Windows income stream, Adobe would never have been able to fund the development of Photoshop to keep it ahead of the pack. And would it have had much of a voice? Who’d have heard it touting its great new Photoshop features over the din of Windows competitors? Who’d care about a Mac-only product?

Adobe and Photoshop would have become a bit player in the bitmap graphics market.

Being on Windows gave Photoshop—and Adobe—the necessary leverage to stay number one.

And Apple got carried along on its coat tails.

Nowadays, with computers, iPods, and that other thing, Apple doesn’t depend on any other company for its survival. Even the Mac market looks to have become independent of third parties for survival, or very nearly.

Of course Photoshop on Windows is is just one factor in Apple’s survival but, all things considered, a very significant one.

This is just opinion and theory (e.g. you might swap Corel for Macromedia), so I’d be keen to hear your own theories on this—or any other event outside of Apple’s four walls you think was significant in keeping Apple alive. Or we can just talk about the whatchamacallit. smile


  • I think Adobe saw the Windows platform as a way to grow the company. Even today REAL Graphic Artists use Mac’s. I remember trying to persuade a friend in College to get a Win95 machine when they came out, she had a Mac all in one at the time and was pursing a degree in Graphic Arts. She tried my system and couldn’t beleive the issues with it. Growing up in a DOS world and only using the Mac from time to time I never noticed it. But she showed me a project on mine, then showed me the same project on the Mac.

    2 Weeks later I bought my first NEW mac.

    Adobe did it for market share and profits. They are/were a publicly traded company and as any have to report back to the owners (shareholders). So to expand the business they created a Windows platform. It was still better on a Mac but now you didn’t have to fork out big-time cash for a mac when a junkbox would work, although it was NO WHERE NEAR the same, just seemed like it.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Jun 28, 2007 Posts: 172
  • I have to say this is a pretty strange analysis - there’s no real way to disprove your hypothesis but I believe Adobe wished the Mac would’ve just hone away so they could concentrate their resources just on the WIN market. In the beginning, of course, there was no real long term plan, no one knew exactly what going to happen with the personal computing market especially with graphics. It was a very niche market, a true color computer with mostly true color monitor cost anywhere from $6 to $10k (today’s inflation dollars - $10k-$18k) - sure, you could run PS on a b&w mac (or PC) and that was nice and all that and very, very cool (PS 1.0 was like the Mac - the world was suddenly different) but unless you had access to a $6k laser printer, it’s like creating art on an etch a sketch ... Until the early 1990’s, it was a given that “creative” depts had macs and everyone else eventullay got PC’s and you could actually argue that when PS got released on WIndows, it negated the reason for many companies to keep Macs. PS was really one of the few undisputed irreplacable apps. Now, keep in mind, most of the PC versions oF PS were crap until maybe release 4.0 many years alter but the purchasing dept or IT doesn’t care about usability. Hey, if PS is avaialble on a PC and they absolutely need PS, great - on the next buying cycle, let’s get rid of the Mac and this continued until the late 1990’s. Adobe even did their part either through cheapness, laziness or actively trying to kill the Mac - hard to say for 100% certainty because you could argue all three. Macs did a major transition from OS6 to OS 7, ADobe was a year late in moving and when Macs went from OS9 to OSX, again, it took Adobe 18 months to finally release an OSX version and it wasn’t true OSX and now from PPC to Intel, again, Adobe is the LAST major app to complete the transition. Maybe it’s just because they are cheap & lazy, but you see the pattern? THey got into a dispute with Apple in the 1990’s because Adobe wanted Apple to adopt their Postscript as the screen display also but Apple decided not to - since then, Adobe has been frankly, kind of pissy. They basically upgraded Premiere & AF on the PC side but 5 years later, nothing on the Mac side - in fact, iMovie was based on Premiere 3.0 that the developer wanted Adobe to re-do from the ground up but Adobe didn’t think it was worth it so they sold it Apple.

    Same with every app they’ve sold, upgrade the WIN version, upgrade the Mac version only very reluctantly and slowly (and missing PC features) - maybe it’s because they are a cheap company so they hate the fact the Mac side is vocal and the driver of the market where the real pros are so they can’t stop developing but they clearly would rather just write Win apps to save them time & money.

    At least with MS, you can understand when they play games (like the new DOCX) format won’t be true mac compatible until next year but Adobe?

    If anything, they are morons. THey have pissed off Apple AND MS (sued MS for including PDF creation). Not exactly really smart. Maybe that’s why they want to develop Flash as the web language (and of course, Apple digs in deeper by ignoring Flash for the iphone) - after all these years, they still struggle from quarter to quarter and when others are lowering the price of software, they try and sell everything for $800, once, 10% of the price of a PC but now 100-50% of a personal computer. THey don’t seem to get it’s 2007, hell, they still think it’s 1995.

    jbelkin had this to say on Jun 28, 2007 Posts: 41
  • It’s pretty fascinating to think about Chris.  Adobe moving to Windows could indeed have saved Apple or it could have hurt Apple.  The variables here are “who would have risen to the challenge on Windows?  Corel ..maybe or it could have been some company that decided the market was worth going after.  The thing about time space continuum is that the events are all connected.  Who knows Microsoft could have become the domnant graphics software developer if the need necessitated it.

    hmurchison had this to say on Jun 28, 2007 Posts: 145
  • Windows XP has lousy font support and doesn’t support grouping font’s by family at the OS level. Nor do most Windows apps with the exception of Adobe.

    Hopefully this was fixed in Vista, but I’m not holding my breath because I simply think Microsoft just “doesn’t get it” and doesn’t see it as a problem.

    Scott had this to say on Jun 28, 2007 Posts: 144
  • Scott - anyone - do you know if there’s any way to make Adobe apps use OS X’s font collections?

    Is it a feature in CS3 maybe?

    I’m still on CS2. Impatiently waiting for my free CS3 upgrade (they said 4 to 6 weeks, 5 weeks ago…)

    jb, well said.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 28, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • All this might make sense except for one thing:  Quark and PostScript fonts.  It’s nice to believe that the only reason Apple survived was because everything ever done with a Mac or by a graphic artist was done in PhotoShop, but that is just wrong.

    Quark never really made inroads in the Windows world, and PostScript fonts not being compatible between Mac and Windows was even worse.  Quark defined an industry and I don’t recall their Windows sales ever being on par with PhotoShop.

    Quark even had Apple stop their all OS X lineup and sell new computers booting in OS 9 due to their lack of OS X Quark, which eventually marginalized Quark in the early part of the 2000s.

    PhotoShop saving Apple or whatever it is you were trying to say may sound like some unique analysis, but it is divorced from any facts about the graphics industry.

    barclay had this to say on Jun 28, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Thanks barclay for the bigger picture. It was just a question and theory. Yours is a very weighty case for the “nay”.

    Murch, thanks! I’ll have nightmares now about MS dominating graphics software. smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 29, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • I’ll have nightmares now about MS dominating graphics software.

    Now we’re in my field of experience and, as it happens, a subject I’ve been living intensely for the past three months or so.

    I’ve been going back and forth between a new Vista system and my iMac.  I have almost identical software running cross-platform, everything from Flash to Photoshop to Maya.  From 2D rasterized images, to vectors, to compositing, to full blown 3D.  The full “gamut” as they say.

    And I’m here to applaud, praise, and appreciate the era of parity.  Because contrary to specious fanboy claims, these apps all run nearly identically whatever system they run on.  Flash is Flash.  Photoshop is Photoshop.  And Maya is Maya.

    While there are little niddling differences here and there, none of it amounts to much in favor of either system.  In fact, in my work on the Mac, the biggest hindrance has been Finder (a misnomer if ever there was one), which apparently doesn’t like hundreds of nearly identically named files in the same folder - so it simply won’t show them to me or it just up and crashes.  Makes pointing out font families seem kind of trivial when your file management system doesn’t, what’s the word, work.  (On this score, I owe the developers of Path Finder a few very expensive and potent drinks).

    So it seem to me the conclusion is that it really doesn’t matter which one wins out in any particular industry (with the notable exception of gaming), because whichever gains an edge, the other quickly comes along and matches it.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 29, 2007 Posts: 2220
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