Adobe takes on Microsoft in desktop publishing

Some people thought FrameMaker, a little-known layout program within a big software company, was headed for the dustbin.

Customers accused Adobe Systems of neglecting the product. Rumor spread of its impending doom. But now, as part of its new network publishing strategy, Adobe is touting the latest version of FrameMaker, to be announced today, as a secret weapon.

It's a weapon Adobe thinks is powerful enough to take some business away from mighty Microsoft Word.

On the face of it, this is madness. The practical wisdom in Silicon Valley is that you don't try to eat Microsoft's lunch, you find out where the software giant is going and graze in the general vicinity. The annals of tech history are littered with the names of once-dominant products that are case studies for this rule: the Mac operating system, Quattro Pro, WordPerfect, Netscape Navigator.

This time things could be different, says Karl Matthews, who led the FrameMaker team.

San Jose-based Adobe says it doesn't want to unseat Word for creating everyday documents; instead it wants FrameMaker to become the choice tool for creating industrial-strength documents -- product manuals, technical specifications, corporate reports -- the sort of documents that run more than 100 pages.

In recent years, as the Web has taken off, companies are finding that they have to produce more of these documents, in many different formats -- on paper and on the Web.

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