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The pressure of competing with Microsoft appears to be getting to Adobe's boss. Its CEO, Bruce Chizen, today lashed out at his former employer, describing Microsoft as a bloated, heartless empire.

Chizen, speaking at a Churchill Club event here at the Computer History Museum, at first tried to avoid any direct attacks against Microsoft, even though he was tossed a softball question about the apparent reasons behind Microsoft's recent executive reorganization. Many pundits painted the executive shuffle as Microsoft's admission that its corporate structure had become inefficient and inadequate. Adobe's CEO, however, wouldn't be drawn.

"I don't think it's fair for me to judge how they run their company," Chizen said.

But suddenly, he reconsidered his stance on fairness.

"I think the biggest challenge that they face is their bigness," he said.

Microsoft has the same basic model in place now as it did between 1983 and 1987 when Chizen worked at the company, he said. The software giant will hire bright kids, give them some level of freedom to innovate but ultimately rely on Bill Gates and Steve to "call all the shots."

"That model is not very scalable," Chizen said. "Bill and Steve both could have let go sooner . . . The recent announcements are an attempt to do that."

Adobe has enjoyed a long run as a major software success story. Earlier this month, it reported 21 per cent third quarter growth on $487m in revenue. A succession of similar quarters have warmed investors' hearts, making Adobe one of the best performing stocks in recent years. In addition, the company has stashed away enough cash to make major acquisitions such as its buy of erstwhile rival Macromedia.

But behind every success lurk the same rumors that Microsoft will eventually erode Adobe's PDF business and even worse produce a serious threat to Photoshop and Illustrator. Adobe skeptics see Microsoft eventually bundling its publishing and editing software with Windows or at least selling the applications at a prices far below the rather ambitious targets set by Adobe.

Chizen dismisses the notion that Microsoft can simply saunter into a new market and perform well enough to unseat the current leader.

"What we do, they don't do very well," he said. "The stuff has to look good. It has to be reliable. That has always been Adobe's strength. As long as we stay loyal to that, we can grow our customer base, and we think we can defend ourselves against Microsoft."

If, however, Adobe employees need a more visceral motivation to battle Microsoft to the death, then Chizen has a not so subtle picture of what life might be like in Redmond.

"I think Microsoft, having been a Microsoft employee, not being very caring for employees is something I rejected," he said. "It's one of the reasons I decided not to stay there.

"I never got the sense that management really cared about people."

Lucky for Bill Gates & Co., Chizen isn't even ready to pass judgement on the firm. Imagine what the rhetoric will sound like when he is ready. ®

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