Microsoft plus Adobe: Do the math

Rumors of a possible merger force us to consider how Microsoft and Adobe's combined awesomeness would add up

I was taken aback by the New York Times report about Steve Ballmer and Shantanu Narayen's hour-long meeting. The stock market certainly noticed as well, with Adobe shares rocketing upward on Thursday afternoon.

If Microsoft and Adobe were to join forces, the combined juggernaut could dominate many facets of computerdom as we know it. Consider the characteristics they have in common.

[ For a look at where tech support is going, read Christina Tynan-Wood's "The (better) future of tech support." | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. | And read Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog to find out what the key business trends mean for you. ]

Prodigious patches

Earlier this week, Adobe issued a monster fix for Reader, plugging 23 independently identified security holes in one go-round.

Next week, Microsoft promises to release 16 brand-new Security Bulletins covering 49 separate security shortcomings.

Toss in an Adobe Flash patch rollout and it's not difficult for underworked sys admins to envision a future Microdobe Patch Tuesday with a hundred holes patched in one day. Imagine the economies of scale!

With Microsoft and Adobe's combined patching expertise, a unified patching strategy could get us patches that work right the first time. No more patches of patches of patches. No machines that refuse to reboot after a bad patch. No patches that introduce more security holes than they plug. Oh. Wait a second. We're talking Microsoft and Adobe, aren't we? Never mind.

Well-honed attack vectors

At one point -- at least by my dead reckoning -- Internet Explorer 6 was responsible for more infected PCs than any other piece of software in computing history. Between IE6 and ActiveX attack vectors, malware writers experienced years of relatively unhindered access to the innards of PCs. Vast droves of them.

Recently, though, Adobe has taken up the zero-day mantle, with veritable slews of exploits in both PDF and Flash. I tried to count the number of zero-day patches in PDF just this year, but lost track when I had to take off my shoes.

The inroads offered by a combined Microdobe could keep antimalware companies in business for centuries.

Unified document standards

Adobe's PDF, now approaching its 20th birthday, reigns as the most widely used interplatform document format.

Microsoft created XPS, now OpenXPS, specifically to counter Adobe's inroads in the document format industry. If Microsoft were to take over PDF, all 10 of XPS's fans would have to convert their documents. I propose a melding of the minds and a new PDFOpenXPS 2.0 format, which should take at least a decade to gather approval from the relevant standards organizations.

At least we'd be able to open PDFOpenXPSx 2.0 documents in Office 2012. Most of the time.

Complementary Web animation standards

No matter how you slice it, Adobe's Flash runs on more computers than even Windows -- an astonishing statistic.

Microsoft created Silverlight specifically to wrest control of the online animation arena away from Adobe. You can see for yourself how successful Microsoft's plans have been, when you look at one of the two dozen non-Microsoft Silverlight pages on the Web.

With HTML5 now threatening to make both Flash and Silverlight obsolete, and browser manufacturers running like crazy to nail down and embrace the HTML5 standard -- any standard -- and take market and mind share away from Flash, Microsoft may have a hidden agenda. I hear there's an entire floor of Microsoft's Building 19 that's working on a crash Flash/Silverlight hybrid project and striving to get it out in time for Internet Explorer 9.

The new Silverflash, of course, won't run on XP.

This article, "Microsoft plus Adobe: Do the math," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.