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Editor's Note: Adobe Says No to Free Beer

Can Commercial Software Thrive in the Linux Community?

November 30, 2000

One of the first reviews I wrote for LinuxPlanet was a look at the initial beta release of FrameMaker. I was enthusiastic about the release, but I probably was more thrilled with the idea that a large commercial software vendor was deigning to support Linux, rather than being thrilled with the actual product. (Truth be told, I once used FrameMaker on a publishing project and absolutely loathed it.)

Despite my fear and loathing of FrameMaker, I was disappointed when Adobe sent me an e-mail the other day, announcing that the FrameMaker beta project would be ending at the conclusion of the year, and that I basically had a month to prepare for a FrameMaker-less Linux environment, as Adobe had decided not to release FrameMaker for Linux in a commercial version.

Though Adobe officials are being tight-lipped about this decision, I think it's rather obvious why it was made: that there's not a snowball's chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks that FrameMaker for Linux would generate enough revenue for Adobe to be worth the effort. A software company that's been around a lot longer that Linux, Adobe has survived and even thrived by knowing what niches to play in and which battles to avoid. Over the years, Adobe has managed to trump both Microsoft and Apple Computer in some key technology areas.

So if Adobe decides that it can't make any money selling FrameMaker for Linux, I am inclined to accept that this was a well-reasoned business decision. Some are speculating that FrameMaker for Linux was simply a bad piece of software and that Adobe took its cue from bad-mouting beta testers, but my experience with the software (and those of other reviewers) would indicate otherwise: it might have been on the slow side, but it wasn't terribly buggy, especially for a beta release.

Quite honestly, I applaud Adobe's decision. I am not sure the Linux community is really ready for software like FrameMaker. Adobe hews close to commercial sensibilities: FrameMaker is not cheap, and it uses a standard commercial-license scheme designed to prevent bootlegs. The Linux community--and, particularly, the "Free Beer" portion of the Linux community--would have decried these protections as unnecessary infringements on their right to free software. It's hard enough for the Red Hats and Mandrakesofts to generate adequate revenues to support a Linux business; it would be darn near impossible for Adobe to do so. And until the Linux community grows up a little--that is, gets away from a "Free Beer" mentality--you're not going to see other established application-software vendors rush to market with Linux versions.

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