We started this week by learning that Adobe is saying goodbye to Muse - their software for designing websites without the need to code HTML & CSS. They won't be releasing any new features for the app, and they'll stop releasing bug fixes in May of 2019.
Muse was popular because it allowed designers that didn't have much programming knowledge to easily create custom websites for their clients. Some designers turned this feature into a profitable additional service they could sell their clients.
Without any future updates, the software will quickly become out-of-pace with technology on the web. For the time being, users of Muse can continue to edit their websites just as they have done for the past 8 years. Sooner or later though, they'll need to start from scratch. That's a painful problem to have to explain to your clients, and understandably, many Adobe customers are not very happy. The Muse support forums are full of disgruntled users, upset that the software powering a part of their business is not long for this world. Sadly for the avid Muse users (Musers?), the problem they're facing is not a new one.
Control the means of production
The problem those designers are facing is one economists & capitalists figured out a long time ago: they don't control the means of production. They don't have any control over the one tool they use to generate some (or all) of their income.
Every website cedes some level of control - it needs to be hosted somewhere, someone needs to update it using some sort of CMS - each choice of vendor ties you to an organization or person in some way. Changing suppliers for any one of those things can range from relatively straightforward (such as changing hosting companies) to vastly more complex (such as changing content management systems).
So what? We all rely on other peoples products, it's called capitalism man.
I hear you, all businesses delegate control of various tasks because it makes efficient economic sense. Few business owners do their own taxes, repair their own delivery vehicles or farm the food to serve in their own restaurants.
The reason these Muse-reliant web designers are hurting especially badly is because the broad functionality of the software covers a huge chunk of the website development process. It can handle mockup design, programming, publishing and content management. It won't be long before those functions stop working properly. Those designers that were reliant on Muse now have to learn how to use a plethora of new tools, and they need to break the news to their clients that their websites are going to need a do-over.
If you run a restaurant, it's generally pretty straightforward to switch food suppliers (or have more than one). If your business owns vehicles, you can probably just take them to a different mechanic if your previous guy retires. Likewise, changing accountants might involve some paperwork (not to mention fees!) but it isn't going to fundamentally interrupt the functioning of your business.
What can we learn from the downfall of Muse?
There are countless lessons we can learn from the retirement of Adobe Muse, and subsequent fall-out. Here's my top three:
Use open software whenever it makes sense
Open source isn't always right, so judge each situation independently. However, there are a lot of reasons why it makes sense for an organization's website. While the web is dynamic and always changing, websites are also a long-term proposition. Some companies have now had websites for 20+ years. When building a site, it's important to consider if the platforms you're using will be maintained in the long term. If not, will it be easy enough to transfer the information to another platform in the future?
Use specific tools for specific tasks
Every business needs vendors to supply them with all manner of products and services. However, it's important to keep this mixture of suppliers flexible. If one of them goes bust or simply discontinues the tool you use - can you switch to something else easily enough? In building a website for my clients, I use a variety of tools for different tasks: pencil & paper for brainstorming and sketching, Google Docs for planning, Photoshop for image editing, Sketch for design mockups, WordPress for content management, and the list goes on. Over time, the tools change but the process remains similar.
Brackets has been my code editor of choice for several years, but lately I've found it slower and clunkier compared to a modern editor like Atom. It's pretty easy to start using a different app for programming - I just installed Atom, set a few preferences, and learned a few new keyboard shortcuts. With relatively little hassle, I was back to work with little interruption.
What other lessons are there to learn from the demise of Muse? Think about it the next time you consider committing to proprietary software for a key part of your business process.