Adobe: Market? What Linux market?

Adobe pulls farther back from Linux, bets on mobile for AIR

There were a few things that came to mind when Adobe announced that they would no longer support the Linux on their latest version of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), 2.7.

First, I was all like, oh no they did-nnt! After all, who would dare abandon the Greatest Platform Ever Made?

(Er, apparently, that would be Adobe.)

Then it was all sour grapes: okay, so AIR won't be on the Linux desktop anymore. Fine, go ahead! Leave, then!

And after I calmed down a bit, I got to thinking: why would Adobe cut off what should be a robust developer channel for AIR? Which led to another thought: what if Linux isn't as developer-rich as people think?

[Also see: How to give Linux a try]

Conventional wisdom about the Linux desktop platform has been that even though the desktop userbase is very small (one to five percent of total marketshare, depending on who you ask), that userbase is much more populated percentage-wise with developers, sysadmins, and network gurus more than the other operating systems. Let me be clear, there aren't a lot of numbers to back that up, so this falls well within the conventional wisdom category.

Reading Dave McAllister's blog explaining the decision yesterday, I honestly began to question whether that conventional wisdom was right and if it was, does a high developer-to-user ratio even make a difference?

Here's what I, and a lot of other people, have believed. Developers build code on the platforms they prefer to use. So, even though AIR got minimal usage on Linux, the fact that AIR and the AIR SDK were available for Linux-using developers meant that they could code in AIR for Linux if they wanted to and have their apps available on other AIR platforms.

Trying to be honest here, AIR's withdrawal means one of two things. First, it could mean that the so-called developer effect of the Linux platform is not as high has the Linux community would like to think. Surveys have suggested that more developers tend to live in Linux-land than Windows and OS X, but maybe the surveys were wrong. Maybe development isn't as skewed to the Linux and UNIX platforms as people would like to think.

But then there's the other side of the equation: that the conventional wisdom is right, and more devs do work in Linux. Which means if Adobe wasn't seeing adoption in its client and SDKs on this side of the fence, it may have been more of a reflection on AIR than on the low user numbers of Linux.

As I said earlier this week, Adobe may have precipitated this aversion by not maintaining consistent support for their Linux-based products and by not making more than a token effort to open their technology.

It's going to be hard to tell, because McAllister definitely feels it's a pure numbers game only:

"So, with Desktop Linux, we see a basically flat growth curve hovering around 1%. And since the release of AIR, we've seen only a 0.5% download share for desktop Linux.

"For Android and iOS we see substantial growth in share, and see predictions that indicate that in the Mobile OS market, the Android share could be 46%, with iOS at 16% (IDC March 2011)..."

Based solely on these numbers, even I could hardly blame Adobe. If more users are living on Android, sure it make sense to go after them. But developers don't code on phones and tablets. They code on PC devices, in the Android SDK. Which lives on Windows, OS X, and... Linux.

As for iOS coders, up 'till now AIR iOS development has been limited compared to Android. That was AIR 2.6. AIR 2.7, this week's release that dropped the Linux desktop support, is purported to have more iOS-friendly features.

If the numbers cited by Adobe are correct, then clearly Android is the platform on which to bet. But if more Android developers live on Linux than other platforms, then wouldn't removing AIR for Linux support create an out-of-sight-out-of-mind situation for AIR?

Perhaps not. Adobe seems to be betting on the quality of their products to entice developer use, and we will see how it plays out in the face of the up-and-coming HTML5.

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