Adobe acquires Canadian makers of PhoneGap, Nitobi

LOS ANGELES – In addition to its own product releases and launches, Mountain View Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc., also announced its acquisition of Canadian developer, Vancouver-based Nitobi Software.

The interesting thing about the acquisition was the way in which Nitobi was brought into the Adobe fold. During the second keynote, Andre Charland, CEO of Nitobi, was invited to the stage where it was simultaneously announced that Nitobi was acquired by Adobe and PhoneGap was submitted to the Apache Software Foundation.

“PhoneGap is free and open source…it will stay free and open source forever,” Charland said.

PhoneGap is a tool that allows developers to code once and author native apps in multiple mobile environments. As the name suggests, devs can code in HTML and Javascript and use web technologies to bridge the gap to popular platforms like Android and iOS.

Whereas previous Adobe acquisitions have strengthened its creative suite product line, like Macromedia, more recently Adobe acquired Day Software, makers of open source CMS Communiqué, and Nitobi, who made PhoneGap.

This has bolstered Adobe’s commitment to the open source community.

Paul Gubbay, vice president of product development for design, web and interactive at Adobe calls PhoneGap a natural fit. “When I think about what Adobe’s about, I think about the most expressive, the richest content and also the furthest reach. It’s about trying to be able to build that once and be able to have that in as many places as possible. That’s been our strategy for years.”

Dave Johnson, CTO of Vancouver based-Nitobi Software, agrees, despite the fact that Nitobi went about it in a different way, making PhoneGap open source and allowing the community to contribute. “We didn’t aim high at all right, we were just like ‘we don’t want to learn Objective C’ so we put it in web view and put some HTML in there. That was basically it,” Johnson said. “Our goal was that we didn’t want to write five different code bases, I mean jeez. Debug in five different languages, it’s ridiculous.”

Once PhoneGap started gaining critical mass, Adobe took notice. Though, it wasn’t the start of the relationship between the two companies.

Gubbay said Johnson and Charland attended a dev camp at Adobe in 2007. “They started the PhoneGap project, actually, at Adobe. Adobe had an iPhone camp at the very beginning, when iPhone first came out, and those guys were downstairs at the iPhone camp when they first came up with the idea of PhoneGap.”

Johnson also remembers Adobe’s support of Nitobi’s previous release, an Ajax-Javascript enterprise platform. “We’ve had a long relationship with Adobe. Andre, my business partner was on the On-AIR bus tour promoting our previous Ajax-Javascript framework and how it could work in AIR in particular.”

The relationship and support of Nitobi, from Adobe, was only strengthened further by PhoneGap. Gubbay credits the success to Nitobi’s understanding of the open source community. “I think that when you’re working towards helping the web move forward and you’re working with web developers, that community and that open source approach is really, really valuable and one of the reasons PhoneGap has caught on,” he said.

But this also worried Johnson when talks of acquisition began to crop up. “That’s something that makes it a bit scary because (Adobe) don’t actually have a great track record of open source. Certainly one of our biggest challenges will be to change that,” he said. Johnson sees it as an opportunity to spur a sea change at the software giant. “We’re trying to change the DNA within Adobe to make it more open source.”

For Gubbay and Adobe, they’re just excited to get started and be able to tap Nitobi’s expertise. He said Adobe has been successful in gaining their trust, due in part to the fact that Adobe has come to appreciate the role open source has to play in moving the web forward as well as continuing the pervasion of its web tools. “If you think about it, AIR and PhoneGap are actually kind of similar. AIR happens to house more Flash technology, but it is a container that sits on the desktop as an application or on a device even, just like PhoneGap. There’s a lot of synergy there, from that perspective, but PhoneGap had taken the route of going open source, building a community and had really gained traction.”

What’s next for Nitobi is that some of its staff will move down to San Francisco, Johnson said, while the Vancouver office will stay open. Gubbay said Adobe wants to tap Nitobi’s creativity, but don’t want to close the company.

Johnson sees it as an opportunity to continue Vancouver’s growth as a mobile development leader. “I would personally like to see Vancouver become a center of innovation for HTML, Javascript, mobile development. Currently, the plan is to keep the Vancouver office as it is,” he said. “Half of our team are pretty much fresh hires out of university…it’s a great talent pool out there.”

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