The quiet giant that is underpinning the web.
The early 1980s was a time of change for the burgeoning computing industry. People often talk about Sir Clive Sinclair’s launch of the Sinclair ZX80 home computer in 1980 as a highlight. Apple is also lauded for its Macintosh tower and the simple introduction of a graphic based operating system.
Compared to these high-profile launches, Adobe’s incorporation in 1982 is often relegated to just a footnote in history. Yet the Adobe brand has had a dramatic impact on the way we create, view and access content on our computers and web browsers. Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without PDFs or Flash transitions, and Adobe has also expanded its portfolio of products by acquiring rival brands like Macromedia and Aldus.
Adobe’s first product was a vector graphics language used by 1980s laser printers, while its next venture involved digital fonts. It was 1988 before the company’s first software package – Illustrator – made its debut; Illustrator initially focussed on fonts and typesetting for Apple Mac users, however this alliance wasn’t to last, as anyone trying to view Flash-based content on an iPad will ruefully acknowledge. Despite the well-publicised fall-out between Apple and Adobe, developers have created third-party browser apps that will display Flash content on your iOS device.
The launch of Photoshop in 1990 heralded the start of what would become a ubiquitous presence in design studios and publishing houses around the world. Along with a few iconic brands like Hoover and Google, Photoshop’s name has become a proprietary eponym for its most famous action – in this case, digitally manipulating images. Spin-off packages like Lightroom focus on specific areas (in this case the mass editing of multiple files), although none can match Photoshop’s immense range of functionalities and abilities.
Perhaps Adobe’s biggest contribution to the modern age is the Portable Document File, or PDF. Unlike its controversial Flash sibling, a PDF can be viewed on any device or browser. The fact that a 1993 PDF can still be opened in any contemporary version of Adobe Reader, shows it to be one of very few file formats that remains fully backward compatible. PDFs can be used for displaying almost any static content, typically displaying text, hyperlinks and images together. Adobe Acrobat is used for creating and modifying PDFs, although Microsoft Word will export a file as a PDF.
While some Adobe packages have fallen by the wayside over time, the company continues to reinvent its product lines. The newly-launched Acrobat Pro DC incorporates electronic signatures for the first time, while specialist products like InCopy (for editing text documents) and Fireworks (for web graphics) stand alongside market-leading packages like Photoshop and After Effects. These are increasingly available through the cloud, reflecting a wider trend for logging into remotely hosted software programs rather than downloading and installing them.
From the perspective of someone designing a new website, it’s commonplace to use at least one Adobe product. Even if you decide not to use Dreamweaver or Muse for your site design (or InDesign for any downloadable content), the chances are high that images will be trimmed and edited using Photoshop. The universally accessible nature of PDFs is also handy for hosting content like price lists or directional maps which can be downloaded and stored on a user’s device. Although Flash is effectively being rendered obsolete by the dynamic content processing and embedded video functionality offered by HTML5, Adobe’s range of products remains relevant to anyone with even a passing interest in design or website construction.
So while it may not be the first name on everyone’s lips when the history of the internet is written, it’s a giant that can’t be ignored.