Adobe India's Edge

Date:   Saturday , September 30, 2006

Naresh Chand Gupta, the managing director of Adobe India is ecstatic about PageMaker Version 7.0. It’s because he led the team that produced a product that still gets enough publicity, five years after it was launched. It was this product that spruced up the image of Adobe-India, the largest development center outside its San Jose, California headquarters. For Gupta and a few others, the reviews are equivalent to a victory that calls for celebration.

It was the first ever Adobe software developed in India that wowed the world in spite of the lack of prior experience in developing complete software products.

For Gupta, the moment of reckoning came in June 2000 when Shantanu Narayen, President and Chief Operating Officer of Adobe called on him to develop the next version of PageMaker. The team at Adobe’s San Jose and Seattle Development Centers that had developed the earlier version of PageMaker had been dismantled. Rebuilding that team was against the long-term vision of Adobe as they were assigned to work on a new pagination software product based on new architecture. So Gupta was asked to take over the project and prepare a plan on how the project will proceed.

Fortunately Adobe India had Arvind Jha in its ranks with experience in the publishing software industry. In July 2000, Gupta and Jha went to San Jose to present the plan that was approved.

However the India team had to overcome issues like gauging the top level of architecture, identifying the codes, which needed to be changed and those to be retained and ascertaining additional required functionalities. “Since the team here lacked experience, nobody gave us much chance of success with this project,” Gupta says.

Though the team tried to enlist the support from their U.S. counterparts that had originally written codes for the earlier versions of PageMaker, the U.S. team was unable to help as the original architecture had gone through several changes and nobody had complete knowledge of the code base, says Lekhraj Sharma, the then engineering manager of the project.

As the India team was already working on components for various Adobe products, they had knowledge of customers and customer requirements, and that came in handy when the team embarked on developing Version 7.0. The project’s appeal proved to be a talent magnet within the company, and both Gupta and Jha quickly assembled a team of 25 engineers. As there was no team that was doing product management on PageMaker at that time anywhere, the India team took over the product management responsibility and proposed all the features that could be incorporated in the product.

Though this product was new to Indian engineers, earlier experience on launching variants gave them enough muscle to go ahead. The mood inside Adobe India was upbeat at the prospect of developing an all-new version of the product from scratch. “Engineers at Adobe India were buoyed by the fact that they were getting ownership of a ‘world-class flagship’ Adobe product and that was enough in terms of hauling the team to work on this project,” says Gupta.
Gupta’s instruction to his team was to create a product that would bring accolades to Adobe India- and that too within a year. Deriving a new product from an old one has its own problems, as the new one is always under the shadow of the original. Designing the innards of new software takes a team of specialists and due to the lack of experience, the team had to be careful about touching the codes to carefully craft the features. The documentation of the earlier version of PageMaker was a challenge in itself. Either some processes were not documented or source was not available for some at the right place or tools had become obsolete.

Reverse engineering helped the team to discover the source, which incidentally only turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. Due to regular plugins of components, PageMaker had become complex.

The team mimicked the old interface with a new one to figure out where they could replace the old code with the new.

There were several new interesting new features in PageMaker 7. Data Merge was of them. They also devised a file format support system and the new product supported native files of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Publisher and Adobe’s own products like Photoshop and Illustrator. “Since we had worked on both these Adobe products, we were able to build the PageMaker,” Sharma says. As the publishing industry was still evolving in the country, there weren’t many experts who could help the team solve postscript area. “It requires veterans with over a decade of experience to even touch the code, let alone new engineers,” Sharma says. He adds that the team became stronger without the support of the U.S. team as it made them believe that they can develop world-class products from India.

The product was released in July 2001 and cost Adobe around half a million dollars. “The product we produced surpassed everyone’s expectations in Adobe. And it was the inexperience coupled with high energy that helped us deliver such a wonderful product. Our mantra was-do what it takes to make it happen and failure is not an option,” says Gupta. The success of the product was such that company CEO Bruce Chizen said the India team was among the most efficient and productive in Adobe.

Feeling of ecstasy
“We were ecstatic after the product was launched. We received positive reports from the beta users of PageMaker,” Sharma says. The beta users, most of them lone breadwinners of the family, were tense as Adobe’s competitors were churning out new pagemaking software. They feared they would become redundant once other software was deployed. But Sharma says most beta users were delighted after they tested the software. “They gave a thumbs up to our new software,” Sharma says.

The whole team was overjoyed. But they were even more joyous when people in India using the software could see the names of the techies in the software and relate to them. In short, the team that created PageMaker 7 that broke the mold, and in the process created an edge for themselves.