~ October, 2007 ~


Even Apple sometimes screws up UI

Based on yesterday’s episode, I decided to try Buzzword. In order to do that, I needed to install the latest Flash Player.

The installation failed with the cryptic message “The file flashplayer.xpt could not be written.” This message could have been more helpful, but that’s really Adobe’s fault, not Apple’s.

I tracked down the problem to the fact that Firefox was installed using the “skuwamoto” account. Meanwhile, I was trying to install Flash Player using the “household” account.

So I decided to change the owner of Firefox to “household”. Easy, right? Guess again. Changing the owner of an application turns out to be kind of difficult.


I started by changing the owner of the file using the info dialog like so:

Info dialog for Firefox

The install still failed. Take 30 seconds and try to guess why.

Ok. Being a software developer, I knew that applications were really “packages” which are a special kind of Unix folder. If you do a “show package contents”, you find that the Firefox package only contains one folder:

Firefox package contents

And after doing a “get info” on the folder, I found that the package contents still had “skuwamoto” as the owner. ARRGGGHHH!!!

Permissions for package contents

Why on earth would you want to set the owner of an application without setting the owner of the enclosed folders?? Also note that the original info dialog had no option to “Apply to enclosed items”, so even if you knew that this was something to watch out for, there is no way to fix this without manually opening the package and inspecting the contents.

I mean… I had trouble figuring out what was going on, and I write software for a living.


The dark side of software as a service

During the 80s, Sun developed a networked filesystem and it became kind of a fad to use dumb-ish Unix workstations with all of your information stored on the network. At the time, I remember someone describing this trend by saying “it’s like using a normal computer, except that every once in a while, a server you’ve never heard of goes down, and you can’t access your files anymore”.

Fast forward to 2007. I happen to have multiple computers at home, so I’ve been using Google Docs to store some of my critical information so that I don’t have to worry about which computer I’m using. And.. guess what? Google Docs is completely hosed right now (at least for me).

It’s a weird feeling to not be able to access my own data until someone else fixes their problem. Maybe I should have thought about that before putting my data in the cloud…


Quick analysis of Adobe and Buzzword

You may have already heard about Adobe’s acquisition of Virtual Ubiquity, the company that makes Buzzword. Being an Adobe fan and shareholder, I am excited. Rick Treitman and his gang are a smart, experienced group, and the software is simply amazing.

That having been said, I have a number of concerns. Maybe concerns is too strong. Let’s put it this way. I have some hopes about how Adobe goes about this.

I hope they find a way to make Buzzword available freely to everyone instead of just trying to sell to corporations. There was a bank robber by the name of Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks, replied: “That’s where the money is.” In a sense, this is why companies try to sell software to large corporations.

The most likely scenario that I can imagine is that they try to put Buzzword together with Acrobat and their newly announced Share product into a sort of office suite that they sell at relatively low cost (~5k?) to corporations. Why do I worry about this?

  1. Online applications are a potentially disruptive technology, but only when combined with easy availability. Look at the inroads that Google docs has already made. That application looks like a toy compared with Buzzword (no offense to Sam and Steve and the rest of the Google docs gang). But if Buzzword becomes a behind-the-firewall application that only large enterprises purchase, it won’t get the momentum it needs to move forward.
  2. In the enterprise, a better product is not necessarily the most important thing, and Adobe is not yet a company that has a proven track record of selling to enterprises. That’s not to say that Adobe couldn’t get there someday, but it’s hard.
  3. I’m just speculating about pricing, but a mid-priced (5k?) product is a very difficult product to sell. It’s not expensive enough to warrant a salesforce, but it’s too expensive for people to try out and adopt virally.

In general, I am usually skeptical of freemium models, but in this case, I think it’s the right one. (free product + premium offerings + expensive software sales for enterprises).

I hope Adobe doesn’t stretch itself too thin by trying to do too many things. Let’s count the fundamental shifts that Adobe is trying to undergo, all at the same time:

  1. Become a platform company.
  2. Become a technology provider to the mobile industry.
  3. Become an enterprise software company.
  4. Become a company that delivers software as a service.

Any one of these is potentially transformative, and very difficult to achieve. Trying to do it all is very scary. Maybe Adobe will pull it off, but I would feel more comfortable if the company was trying to do fewer things.

I hope Adobe finds a way for the Virtual Ubiquity guys to continue working as if they were at a startup. Even when everyone is doing everything right, organizational dynamics tend to change when a smaller company is absorbed inside of a larger one. And this space right now is going to get so competitive that I would rather bet on a small startup than a large company. Or better yet, I hope they can harness the power of both.


So those are my hopes. Overall, I am very bullish. Buzzword is an amazing piece of software, and the Virtual Ubiquity team is outstanding. Adobe leadership is smart and determined. The space is undeniably exciting. I am 100% sure that in 10 years, the way that people use productivity software will have completely changed. So Adobe is getting into a very exciting game with a great product. There is a lot of competition out there, and Adobe has a number of challenges ahead. I hope they come out on top.