Adobe “gets” Integration

In the world of software development, I submit that the hardest thing to do is to continue developing your code after it has been integrated into someone else’s code, which they are also continuing to develop.

The challenge here is that you and this other person are now co-dependent. If you break the build, it’s broken for both of you, and vice-versa. If your next feature requires some "almost finished" feature from the other party, your deadline depends on their deadline. This isn’t so bad with literally you and one other person, but what if you’re part of a large team working on one product, and the other person is an entirely different team working on a different product altogether, with different priorities and different deadlines? That’s just asking for headaches.

Adobe has some kind of magic handle on how to do this really well. Let’s start from the beginning: for a while, they just did Photoshop, which was pretty neat. Then they added Illustrator, a great Photoshop companion. Interoperability was a bit rocky at first, but now it’s a piece of cake moving a design from one tool to the other.

Then from the opposite direction, they released Flex Builder. Web mark-up integrated with Flash. Adobe gets it right again, bridging the gap between two like technologies. But do you know what made things really interesting? Catalyst.

With the release of Catalyst, suddenly everything has to work together. Designs made with a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator have to be compatible with Catalyst, which has to play nice with Flex Builder, which relies on Flash. This is a lot of complex products interacting with a lot of complex technologies; it’s an absolute mess of dependencies. And you know what? They made it work. Seamlessly.

Take a moment and appreciate how awesome that is. Imagine what would happen if they wanted to add a new feature to Catalyst. First, there are the normal issues that may come up in Catalyst:

Then, you have to consider what this will do to any incoming Photoshop/Illustrator design files:

And of course, that same list applies to how this feature affects the content Catalyst exports for Flex Builder. And that’s just the obvious dependencies &#8212 it gets even worse:

And this is just what I’m thinking of as I type. I can’t even imagine what a mess it must be to coordinate features in all these applications. How do you even measure what effect a new feature in one product will have on any of the other products’ thousands of features?

I don’t know how Adobe does it, but they do it and they do it well. If they can keep this up, they’re going to be around for a very long time.

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