Adobe competitors in the PostScript/EPS/PDF axis?
June 22, 2004 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Am I overestimating Adobe by saying that their PostScript/EPS/PDF axis is one of the most unbreakable semi-monopolies in modern computing? Does it have any serious competitors in that regard?
posted by blueshammer to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
PostScript and EPS aren't necessarily proprietary. PDF stands on its own as a huge monopoly. But there's always a rumor about Microsoft making a competing product. Talk about no one to root for.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:34 AM on June 22, 2004

The answer to your second question is no. Now that InDesign is steadily taking over Quarks role, I'd go so far as to say that Adobe has a semi-monopoly on all areas of workflow in the world of publishing in general.
On Preview: Mayor Curley is right. Frankly I don't see Microsoft stealing marketshare from Adobe, though.
posted by Grod at 9:36 AM on June 22, 2004

PDF stands on its own as a huge monopoly

Er, what? Acrobat may be a "huge monopoly," but last time I checked PDF was an open format. Anybody with a copy of OpenOffice can create PDFs; there are libraries built into languages like PHP for doing the same.
posted by yerfatma at 10:02 AM on June 22, 2004

Microsoft's periodic overtures towards a portable document file format seem to be aimed at the now-non-existant secure consumer ebook space. They don't realize that PDF is so dominant because the publishing industry is already locked in to Adobe's products. They aren't going to buy another Microsoft product just to distribute their documents in a different format that would likely be converted from pdf anyway, given the programs generally used to produce the things.

I don't see there being any potential for real money to be made replacing PDF on the client side, without stealing Adobe's market on the publishing side (a much harder task) which is probably why no one has really tried up unitl now.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:06 AM on June 22, 2004

Adobe has a semi-monopoly on all areas of workflow in the world of publishing in general.

True. When was the last time you saw and ad for Photoshop? I know a few people who work at Adobe, and they don't even bother marketing some of their products, because they're so sure every pro-graphics artist is going to buy them.
posted by grumblebee at 10:29 AM on June 22, 2004

last time I checked PDF was an open format. Anybody with a copy of OpenOffice can create PDFs

Do you make PDFs with OpenOffice/StarOffice? Or even export directly in MS Office? That's a definite rarity-- in practice, the bulk of people print to distiller even if they're using a capable program.

I'm one of those people if file-size or full acrobat compatibility is an issue.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:42 AM on June 22, 2004

Or they use one of the free distiller tools such as PDF995, which is basically a packaged copy of Ghostscript, an open-source PostScript clone.

Few are aware of Apple's and Microsoft's alliance to break Adobe's PostScript monopoly, which at the time added hundreds of dollars to the price of a laser printer. Microsoft contributed a PostScript clone called TrueImage. Apple's contribution was a font format called TrueType. TrueImage didn't go anywhere because Adobe reduced the licensing costs for PostScript, pulling a Microsoft on Microsoft (although the company I worked for did have a TrueImage-based 1200 DPI laser printer, one of the first affordable ones). But TrueType managed to take hold and is now basically the standard PC font format.
posted by kindall at 11:16 AM on June 22, 2004

the bulk of people print to distiller

that must be for some defintion of "people" like "people in design" surely? we (sw development) use pdf to exchange software design docs, for example, because it's relatively platform neutral, and i doubt most people here have heard of distiller (i've heard of it, but have never used it).
posted by andrew cooke at 11:16 AM on June 22, 2004

Right, but the fact that people don't use other products doesn't mean the main product is a monopoly, does it? The definition of a monopoly is a company having exclusive control over a commercial activity. In contrast, Adobe has left the format of EPS, PS, and PDF VERY open. Anyone who wants to can make a reader or writer for them, and many people have. There are a half dozen readers for unix. libpdf is a library for creating PDFs that has hooks in every major programming language. Yes, adobe has a "lock" on it in the sense that everyone uses it -- but it's because their products are *good*, not because they stifle competition unfairly.

If you don't like adobe for generating and reading PDFs there are lots of other programs, most of them work very well.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:28 AM on June 22, 2004

Some of them work even better than Adobe's.

A lot of Adobe's lock-in came about through its gifting/underpricing of its products in graphics classes et al. Having been trained on the product, the new graduates then went out and used it in real life, locking their employers into the product. For some reason, graphic designers seem especially resistant to change. (Proof of that is Quark. What a piece of shite!)
posted by five fresh fish at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2004

Since no one else has, I'll note that PDF is the native vector image format in Mac OS X - many applications create PDF natively, even for copying and pasting, and the OS's printing system can create a PDF file instead of sending a document to a printer. No Adobe code is involved in this process, unless you're actually trying to render PostScript code itself, which uses the Adobe Normalizer to convert the PostScript to PDF.

Acrobat is always the definitive tool for PDF, just like Flash is always the definitive tool for ".swf" files, even though many other programs can read and write both formats. It's "open" in the sense that anyone can use the file format without royalties, but only Adobe can change the PDF specs, just like only Macromedia can change the Flash specs.

The real "monopoly" in all this is for PostScript - most graphics professionals absolutely refuse to consider printers with "clone" PostScript interpreters from companies other than Adobe. That's because they can fail in subtle and unexpected ways, such as with CID fonts or complex graphics operators, and Adobe makes zero attempts to make sure their applications emit PostScript that works on non-Adobe interpreters.
posted by mdeatherage at 1:51 PM on June 22, 2004

Unicode is starting to make some headway in breaking the ASCII monopoly. HTML seems here to stay.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:58 PM on June 22, 2004

Dorothea Salo disputes the claim of PDF as an "open" format. The plus side of Adobe's ownership of future versions of the PDF format is they can do useful things, like add tags for XML and accessibility. They were big enough to fall under the U.S. Section 508 requirements, while, if the file were open for others to innovate, few of those others would have been forced to. Adobe had to update the format by curious virtue of being so large.

This is not an argument that BigCos, as a certain commentator calls them, are always better, but in this limited case, I think it accelerated the slow process of PDF accessibility.
posted by joeclark at 3:24 PM on June 22, 2004

Now that InDesign is steadily taking over Quarks role, I'd go so far as to say that Adobe has a semi-monopoly on all areas of workflow in the world of publishing in general.

Not quite yet, but in a few years, yeah, unless Quark starts fighting back--many companies have millions invested in a Quark/QPS workflow, and aren't giving up that easily or happily--there's also the large investment in hardware needed to bring all users up to OS X. Right now it's experiments and trials with InDesign at many large magazine houses--with more of a commitment being made at places that never adopted QPS back in the mid-90s (InDesign is helped along by steep discounting and a big pr/demo push), and not wholesale abandonment just yet. Some of us hope that Quark won't go the way of Pagemaker or WordPerfect just yet. (This said as i have a lunch meeting tom'w with an InDesign guy and my creative director--i'll update then. It seems you need a (now-inadequate) third-party program to emulate QPS/Copydesk, requiring even more of an investment.
posted by amberglow at 5:41 PM on June 22, 2004

Acrobat is always the definitive tool for PDF

Not so. There are competing renderers, many of them much, much less buggy than Acrobat. R m mb r th r l as wh r it wouldn't show th l tt r ? God knows how that ever made it through beta testing. Sheez.

Quark has about the worst user interface imaginable, and it requires tens of thousands of dollars of plugins to make it even begin to approach the functionality that's built-in to Corel Ventura and Adobe Framemaker. And InDesign isn't near ready for big-time book production, either, lacking such basic things as a simple table of contents.

Myself, I think they're all doomed when it comes to standard long-document layout: plaintext ReST plus XSL:FO plus XEP = smashingly good PDFs with no product lock-in.

InDesign rules for short-doc and especially single-page graphics-intense layout.

Did I mention I loathe Quark? What a dreadful piece of shit.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:14 PM on June 22, 2004

I could tell a story or two about the creation of Acrobat (I worked on v 1.0, 2.0, and some on 4.0), but to keep things brief, one of the main criteria of the underlying file format and document structure was to create an open standard. Several of the core designers spent a big chunk of their time working on the reference book on the specification while they were implementing it. Is it an open standard? Heck yes. Is it an approachable standard for an individual to meet, especially since it is a moving target? depends. The core code would be a good 5-7 person years to rewrite from the ground up and hit every point in the spec dead on.
posted by plinth at 6:51 PM on June 22, 2004

(If you don't need to reimplement the imaging model, plinth, then experience says about 2 person-years for PDF 1.1-ish, although there were a couple of fine points the spec was silent on.)

There are really two things here: the PostScript imaging model, and the individual file formats PS, EPS, PDF. The imaging model is becoming extremely widespread; besides the aforementioned Adobe products, it's used in SVG, in Apple's Quartz system (this is what Apple means when they say that PDF is the native format), and at least a few rendering libraries I know of.

Adobe seems to have decided to focus on the editing software, and to encourage widespread adoption of formats that allow their software to show off its strengths. Since these are generally good, well-designed, well-documented formats, I think this is overall a Good Thing. It's true that Adobe maintains control of the future of each format, but IMHO this no more makes PDF proprietary than it makes C++ proprietary to be controlled by the ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG21 committee.
posted by hattifattener at 10:42 PM on June 22, 2004

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