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Why is Adobe Illustrator the Industry Standard Vector Editing Software?

When Illustrator was first released in 1987 it was developed for use on the Apple Macintosh. Over the next decade it only occasionally released versions that were supported by other platforms, and those were often several versions behind what was available for the Mac. So how did this widely criticized, often single platform software end up being the industry standard for almost any design industry?

Illustrator's main rival was the Windows based CorelDRAW. Released 2 years after Adobe Illustrator in 1989. This was the first, full colour vector illustration software. And then, a few years later it released the first all-in-one graphics suite for Windows. Throughout the 90s CorelDRAW was a serious competitor to Adobe - mainly due to Adobe's lack of Windows support, but also due to Corel managing to always beat Adobe to the finish line where technology was concerned - especially on Windows.

These days, however, CorelDRAW is rarely heard of, although it is still available to purchase. So what went wrong for Corel?

Adobe started to release Illustrator for Windows that was equal to the releases for Mac from mid 1997, however it had been making Windows releases from 1989. CorelDRAW, on the other hand, did not release a version compatible with the Mac OS until late 1996. By then, the majority of Mac users were already familiar with Illustrator, and in order to remain compatible, many Windows users also had Illustrator.

So, a lack of compatibility across platforms was the main contributor to CorelDRAW's downfall. Especially as many designers use Macs, especially during the early years of both Illustrator and CorelDRAW.

But CorelDRAW wasn't Illustrator's only competitor. Altsys Corporation released Freehand in 1988, licenced to Aldus Corporation. In 1994 Adobe bought Aldus, but Freehand was returned to Altsys due to rules to prevent companies from creating a monopoly. Freehand was then bought by Macromedia in 1994.

Finally, in 2005, Adobe bought Macromedia, acquiring Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks alongside Freehand. By the end of 2008 Adobe had discontinued Freehand, effectively removing the competition and told it's users to "move on" in an interview with PC Adviser in 2010.

And finally there is Inkscape. Inkscape is a free, opensource vector editing software. It was released in 2003, so it is a relatively new vector editing software when compared to the others.

Obviously the massive benefit to Inkscape is that it is free, but this can also be a drawback. Open Source software can often be buggy, lack user friendliness and often lose out on features that paid-for software contains.

While Inkscape has many of the features that Illustrator has, it gained a reputation for being slow and buggy in it's early years.

In addition, while Inkscape does support CMYK colours, it is not simple to do, which reduces the software's appeal to print designers. Also, while the software can import .ai files, it cannot export them. This is less of an issue as it can export .eps files, although this does mean that there is the possibility of a lot of extra editing work being required in Illustrator.

As Adobe's .ai format is proprietary Inkscape are at a huge disadvantage - in order to "catch up" to this pre-existing software they need to be able to produce files that are 100% compatible in order to persuade new users to install and use their software.

As a result, although Inkscape off a good, free alternative to Illustrator they came too late to the game to offer any serious competition to Adobe.

There are many other vector editing software packages available on the market, however none of them have achieved Adobe's heights.

Adobe's easy to use interface, cross platform releases, flexibility, compatibility with Indesign and Photoshop and huge range of features and effects has made it the industry standard giant that it is today, and it will take an amazing piece of software to knock it off it's top spot.

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