OpinIan: Airlines, HP and Adobe Backward Compatibility

To give you some background, Time Weilert left a vacancy when he ended his Two Cents column last week. So I, being a rather opinionated person with a couple of areas of expertise, have decided to step up and see whether anyone agrees with my analysis of various current events. my takes will be of a different style than Tim’s succinct nuggets, but we’ll see how this goes. Bear with me.

First, Continental Airlines and United Airlines are apparently merging. I’m a bit surprised that the two companies are coming together, but I guess that in this economic climate, and with the downward price pressure placed by the Frontier-Midwest coalition (soon to be simply Frontier) and Southwest Airlines, it’s merge or die. After all, the cool kids (Delta-NWA, Frontier-Midwest) are merging, so why not climb to the top of the airline heap by a merger of your own?

Also, the two airlines will mean less competition on some routes, kicking up flight pricing and maybe turning red ink into black for some routes. Hopefully Southwest and Frontier hold United-Continental’s (or whoever they rebrand themselves to be) feet to the fire in Denver so air fares don’t increase too dramatically for the average Joe.

Second, HP is buying Palm, maker of the Palm Pilot, the Treo, the Pre and the Pixi. With this announcement, Palm is going back under the wing of a parent company; they were founded as a wing of U.S. Robotics, then transferred to 3Com, then spun off as their own company, then split into hardware and software companies (PalmOne and PalmSource), then renamed back to Palm…and now brought into the HP fold. Apparently the $1.2 billion transaction’s big push was to grab Palm’s webOS; HP no longer plans to run Windows on an upcoming tablet. My guess, and everyone else’s, is that the company will release the HP Slate with webOS instead, or maybe a netbook with the operating system. I’m guessing that it will have better batter life than a Windows tablet…heck, it might even match the iPad’s ten-hour stamina.

What’s ironic here is that HTC just celebrated the tenth birthday of the iPAQ, made by HTC for HP once the company merged with Compaq in 2001. HTC was thought to be a suitor for Palm, who was quietly shopping itself around until the HP deal broke, but the company apparently decided that making an operating system of their own, or just using Android or Windows Mobile, was a better idea. It’s interesting to see how far what used to be an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) has come in the smartphone/PDA race, with phones like the Nexus One, the Droid Incredible and the Evo 4G.

Last but not least is a diatribe directly aimed at Adobe. Specifically, Photoshop and Flash file formats are either freely readable or backward (and forward) compatible as far as the eye can see…but InDesign isn’t! Naturally, InDesign CS5 can load the CS4 file format…everyone would be up in arms if forward compatibility was broken for their precious digital page layout files…but forget about opening an InDesign file in CS4 if you’ve saved it from CS5. There’s simply no option to save from InDesign in a format that can be manipulated by an earlier version of the application.

I ran into this issue while laying out the print version of The Oredigger this week. I wanted to test out InDesign CS5, supposedly the cutting-edge page layout tool du jour, so I loaded up one of this issue’s twelve pages and made some painstaking edits. Come to find out, the Oredigger iMacs, outfitted with Creative Suite 4 (CS5 won’t run on Mac OS X 10.4, which those systems use for the moment), can’t read the InDesign file that I saved out after my edits were complete. Good thing I only wasted half an hour on those edits…and an even better thing that I saved to a different file rather than overwriting the InDesign CS4 file that everyone could read.

What’s infuriating is that Adobe has the technical ability to get CS4 output working right from CS5. They would rather force you to upgrade every single machine you own to the new CS version if one member of the design team wants a single feature of the new product, handing over a large chunk of change in the process. Not freaking acceptable, guys. Your name isn’t Apple, and even if it was, this is more heinous behavior; the nearly three year old iMacs that the paper uses for layout are compatible with Apple’s latest operating system, and any file I save on my Snow Leopard equipped MacBook can be read with the Tiger-equipped iMacs. Except, well, InDesign CS5 documents. It’s incredibly unfortunate that educational editions of InDesign are so inexpensive, and the learning curves for other software packages so high…unless of course you’re Adobe. Gotta love vendor lock-in.

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