After pushing RIA strongly for sometime, Adobe decided to embraced SaaS format (in their own way though) and they released Adobe Buzzword after they acquired Virtual Ubiquity, the company behind the Buzzword app. Buzzword is built on Flex framework and offered through a web browser. The release of Buzzword exposed the dilemma faced by Adobe in this era of SaaS. I strongly recommend the post written by Redmonk’s Michael Cote at that time. Later in May of this year, they announced the release of Presentation app in their labs. Today, they have announced the release of Tables, their SaaS equivalent of spreadsheets in the labs.
Like the other two apps, Buzzword and Presentations, where Adobe touted the idea of collaboration, they are pushing Tables also with the same message. In fact, their marketing message itself is “shared tables for shared data”. The two key features are the ability to add data simultaneously and a fine grained model to interact with the collaborators on the document.
Let me highlight some of the features of Tables as noted in their announcement
• All users can add data simultaneously – solving one of the biggest problems with shared worksheets. All data is always in up-to-date for everyone.
• Presence – lets you know who else is working on the table and where they are working
• Private and common views
- allows the team to work together, but see the information that is
important each person. Private views let you see information that is
important to you, without disturbing others working on the sheet.
is real time so you can play with the data and adjust your filter in
real time, without having to open a dialog box for every change.
• Sorting – quick, simple and always includes all of the data
The most interesting feature for me is the idea of Private View and Common View. This feature really solves the problem encountered by people collaborating on spreadsheets online. Apart from these features, the functionality is very basic (well, that is the reason this product is still in the labs) and they have promised to add more features in the near future. Well, I wouldn’t complain much about this because their competitors like Google and Zoho (Zoho is the sponsor of this blog but this is my personal opinion based on my experience using SaaS Office Productivity Suites) also follow the same philosophy. Release often and then iterate.
I did try out Buzzword when it was released and I checked out Presentations and Tables too. Somehow, I am not convinced with SaaS applications running on the Flash platform. I do agree that Flash is the most popular platform deployed almost on every machine whether it is Windows, Mac or Linux. However, I feel thay SaaS applications are very unwieldy and clunky. When I use these Flash based SaaS applications, I don’t get the same user experience I get with Google Docs and Zoho Writer (two of the applications I use often for my office productivity needs). I find the applications slow and, in fact, get the same bloated feeling I get while using desktop software like Microsoft Office or Open Office. In fact, my machines are very powerful and I have a fast broadband connection. Some of the problems I face are related to load times and in navigation. I have spoken to few others and they also feel the same about these flash based SaaS applications. I really want to hear about the experiences of Cloud Ave visitors with Flash based SaaS applications and if anyone wants to offer a detailed counterview with deeper technical insights, I will be happy to post your views here as a guest post.
Anyhow, I am excited by the release of Adobe Tables and I am pretty sure they will add more features in the near future and move it from Labs to the main app. I welcome Adobe’s Office Suite because I like competition in the marketplace. That is the only way we can ensure that no company assumes monopoly position. It will be interesting to see how the competition plays out once these products mature further.
Adobe also announced the release of Premium plans. The premium basic plan costs $14.99 per month and premium plus costs $39 per month. They appear to be very steep but they seem to push the monetization on the ability to create PDF and also do web conferencing. CNET’s Webware has more details on the premium plans.
These can be purchased on a monthly or yearly basis and cost $14.99 or $39 a month, or $149 or $390 a year respectively.
The “premium basic” plan allows for 10 PDF conversions per month, as
well as up to five meeting participants though Adobe’s ConnectNow tool.
The “premium plus” plan dials that up to unlimited PDF conversions, and
meetings with up to 20 users. Both premium plans also gain phone and
Web support. In comparison, free users will only be able to convert
five PDFs, and connect with two people at once in ConnectNow, which is
just one less connection than users were able to have during Acrobat’s
The frugal minded SaaS user in me thinks that this price is steep compared to Adobe’s competitors but there may be others who would like the user interface and may be willing to pay big money for it. For me, the biggest driving force towards SaaS is a chance to put the idea of paying huge bucks for the applications I use behind me. If I am going to end up paying the same amount I used to pay for desktop applications, I might as well stay happy in the desktop world. Adobe needs to understand the economics of SaaS world and be smart about their pricing. If they don’t subscribe to the new economics, they will feel its impact sooner than later.
Update: Erik Larson of the Adobe Systems makes a very good point about the pricing. It is not seat based. If you see it that way, it does make a good pricing sense.
We consider our prices to be very competitive given the quality of the products versus competitors, our focus on more intensive business use, and the fact that most people with less intensive collaboration needs will be quite happy with the free version. In other words, these are not per seat prices, they are need-based prices. I’m considering writing a blog posting about the differences between traditional seat based pricing and what we are doing with Acrobat.com. In short, if you need it and you find it valuable, then you pay for what you need. And if you don’t, you don’t, but you can still participate in collaborative work with others…for free.