Microsoft and Adobe: The blind leading the blind to victory

Why is everyone so down on this merger? These two have so much in common it's hard to believe they aren't the same company already!

The tech press was abuzz yesterday when the New York Times reported a high-level confab was under way between Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen -- and that a potential merger was on the table. The short-sighted see nothing but downside in such a tie-up, ignoring the management genius that such a move would represent. After all, if your company has a glaring weakness, the best way to plug that hole is to find a business partner with a very similar problem, right?

Just as one half plus one half equals one, weakness plus weakness equals strength! Let's take a look at the various opportunities for synergy in a Microsoft-Adobe tie-up; you'll find that the two have so much in common it's hard to believe they aren't the same company already.

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1. A shared dependence on bloated, long-in-the-tooth flagship products. We're sure the teams behind Office and Creative Suite will have a lot to talk about, since they both produce software suites that everybody needs and everybody seems to have a gripe about. Working together, they'll make sure neither suite ever gets a desperately needed ground-up rewrite, and that decades-old code keeps running (and crashing) on computers everywhere.

Not that the groups won't have something to learn from each other! For instance, the Creative Suite team could help the Office folks up their productivity and come out with a pricey new edition every year or two, instead of their current longer lead time; and Microsoft could teach Adobe how to make each Creative Suite version produce slightly incompatible versions of files that are supposed to be in the same format.

2. A failure to impress in the mobile space. Microsoft has tried and failed to gain control of the mobile space so often that it's become something of a running joke. Adobe, meanwhile, has been loudly whining about Apple's refusal to allow Flash on iOS, which has distracted from the fact that Flash hasn't really appeared on that many other phones yet, and when it has it hasn't exactly set the world on fire.

Mobile Flash, if it ever does get up to snuff, will have one thing going for it, and that's its ability to operate on multiple mobile operating systems. That's why it would be so great for it to be owned by the manufacturer of a mobile OS, which surely won't make anybody else nervous or suspicious -- after all, when has Microsoft ever misbehaved in the operating system market?

3. Flash, Silverlight -- all pretty much the same, right? Sure, these two development environments/rich application platforms/browser plugins have entirely different architectures, but at a high level they pretty much do the same thing, so there's no reason why the product teams couldn't just be thrown together and told to come up with something halfway in between.

Or they could just let the two teams work in parallel, eating up resources, like the Windows Phone 7 and Kin teams, and then kill one of the products after a major release. It's not like it'll make much difference anyway, once everyone moves to HTML5!

4. A common enemy. Remember, in the business world it's not about creating innovative products and profiting from them; that's obvious to Microsoft and Adobe, whose innovative years are long behind them and whose leadership teams are made up of sales guys extracting cash from market victories won years ago. No, it's all about who you hate. Microsoft and Adobe are watching the Web and the mobile and tablet form factors slip away from them and into the hands of Apple and Google, and that makes them mad, so clearly an alliance is in order.

Never mind that each company is having difficulty breaking into marketplaces the other covets; once their respective anger against all things emerging from Cupertino and Googleplex merges into a white-hot rage, their path to victory will be unstoppable! It will have been billions of dollars and years of integration well spent. (And maybe Adobe can help Microsoft regain its leadership in security holes along the way.)

This article, "Microsoft and Adobe: The blind leading the blind to victory," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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