Adobe Systems

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle ran an interview with Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe – the PhotoShop software company. Chizen is upbeat about the acquisition of MacroMedia (Flash, Dreamweaver). He has a clear grasp of his company and industry. He comes across as the sort of cool CEO one would like to meet and talk with in person.

On doing business with China, Chizen commented that “it’s a society that hasn’t shown yet an ability to control intellectual property theft.” In other words, China has not come to grips with its runaway software piracy problem.

We’d have to agree with that. Contrarians that we are, wonders how well the USA has come to grips with problems like Grokster and Kazaa. Even in the US, it seems, everybody wants something for nothing.

Unofficial national policy of the “information superhighway” – think Al Gore – mandates that everybody, in every country no matter how small and poor, should have access to a PC. Well, Al, what are they supposed to run on them? We have not thought this out clearly. People who are otherwise good friends will tell me, “I wouldn’t download that stuff except there’s no other way to get it (I need it).”

So, China rips illegal copies of PhotoShop, MS Office and other mainstream suites and sells them on the black market for a fraction of retail. Of course this is wrong. The question is, what makes policy makers think it will stop?

My solution: give basic versions of this stuff away for free. Adobe already does it with Adobe Acrobat Reader. What about a stripped down version of PhotoShop Elements that allows limited image editing, just the basics?

If all you do, or want to learn, is how to contrast and color balance your digital images, and scale them for email, why on earth would you want a “full” version of PhotoShop at any price? I got into the upgrade path a long time ago, and use PhotoShop heavily for web and home imaging, but after ten years I still haven’t scratched the surface on the full feature set. I do not understand some of the advanced professional graphics features, and may never take the time to learn them as I don’t do this for a living and don’t understand how I would benefit from the features.

People who use and learn the “free” versions are in the “most likely” category to spend hard cash for an upgrade for more features, when they’re ready for it. As with Acrobat Reader, or Flash Player, it’s a great way to grow the user base for potential future sales.

Development costs and user support would be minimal: there would be some costs for maintenance (bug fixes) and changes for future OS compatibility.

To a lesser extent, Microsoft might profitably do this with some components of their Office suite.

Why should software developers consider an approach like this? This should take the wind out of the pirates’ sails, that’s why. I think most users would choose to get into a software path legally if that was even easier than ripping off intellectual property. And it might just end up growing the market for “official” software.

It’s an idea worth considering.

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