If anyone was in any doubt about the strong end user feelings against Quark?s plans to acquire its competitor Adobe, these doubts were quashed at a debate staged at Seybold San Francisco on Wednesday. In a show of hands, the entire audience of hundreds of publishing professionals said they opposed the acquisition. No one raised his hand in favour.
Last week, Quark went public with its intention to acquire Adobe ? but the object of the company?s attentions summarily rejected the offer. According to Adobe officials, no actual acquisition price was ever proposed.
If the takeover bid was merely a publicity stunt, it clearly wasn?t a very effective one. At a lively Seybold debate, both panellists and members of the audience expressed strong feelings against Quark, citing the company?s flawed customer service and outdated licensing policy.
No Adobe or Quark executives were present at the debate. According to the organisers, at least one of the two companies had refused to participate, citing advice from their lawyers.
?Quark and Adobe have profoundly different corporate cultures," said Eric Shropshire of Technology Management, a former Quark employee. But he added: ?Fred [Ebrahimi, president and CEO of Quark] is deadly serious and he rarely bluffs."
A lone voice in support of a merger was panel member Walter Schild of Genex Interactive, a small company that uses Adobe Photoshop and Quark Xpress. ?It makes sense to think about the possibility," he suggested. He said both companies would soon face difficulties because the publishing market is saturated and it is becoming more and more difficult to come up with significant enhancements to get the existing user base to upgrade.
Walter Schild said a combined company would have more chance of survival, and could also be able to concentrate on integrating Photoshop and Quark Xpress, two widely used products.
At least this last part of Schild?s argument was echoed by comments from the audience. But while many said they would applaud integration between QuarkXPress and Adobe?s Photoshop and Illustrator, most added that an actual merger would hurt competition and innovation.
Quark is a private company, but it is widely reported as being only one fifth the size of Adobe. Adobe?s current low stock price has been a factor in the timing of Quark?s move.
But various speakers at the debate suggested another motive - the impending launch by Adobe of a new page layout program codenamed K2 ? rumoured to be a 'Quark-killer'.
?[The K2 demonstration] to me was the most important event at the show," said Mike Cates, publishing systems consultant at Hallmark Cards, a heavy user of Quark Xpress but also of Illustrator and Photoshop.
While Adobe?s Pagemaker has, by most accounts, been quite successful competing in competing against Quark Xpress at the low end of the market, Quark has long remained unchallenged at the high end. But according to some, that may have been about to change ? prompting a pre-emptive strike from Quark.
At the end of Steve Jobs keynote on Tuesday, Adobe made a surprise demonstration of K2. The demonstration had originally been planned for another Seybold show in March 1999, six months from now in Boston, said Seybold executive Craig Cline, one of the two moderators at the debate.
Craig Cline suggested that the demo, which impressed many attendees, might have been timed to thwart a takeover bid ? or at least raise the price.
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