The merger between Adobe and Macromedia marks a huge change in the landscape of creative tools, not least web development.

It's barely five years since Adobe and Macromedia were suing each other over alleged patent infringements - a battle that ended in a virtual draw. As such - and following the line "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" - the merger about to take place between the two companies makes sense. It draws together Adobe's print and Macromedia's multimedia expertise.

The down side is that prices may increase as competition decreases in the creative marketplace. Yet some sort of buy-out was inevitable - and not necessarily between these two. With the impending release of a potential Acrobat killer as part of Windows Vista (previously Longhorn) and having long desired the technology behind Flash, Microsoft could have been a suitor for Macromedia. As could IBM.

And, whatever else happens, Adobe is the company that's done the most to develop a strong set of creative tools, particularly with its CS (Creative Suite) and CS 2.0 products.

While neither company has commented on the future of any of their products, now is a good time to assess what options could affect Web design in the future.

Will GoLive go west?

An excellent game that has emerged in recent months is spotting the weakest link in the creative software of both companies. As Tom Gorham so presciently remarked recently, the game certainly looks up for Freehand. After all, it didn't even merit its own upgrade in the MX 2004 suite. Likewise, Adobe must be rubbing its hands at the prospect of getting its hands on Flash, particularly since it stopped supporting LiveMotion 2.0 in 2003.

The future of the firm's other applications is less clear, however. Fireworks is no match for the mighty Photoshop as an all-round image-editing package. But as a tool for optimizing and generating Web graphics it easily stands up to ImageReady. On a different scale, it's not obvious what the relationship between Dreamweaver and GoLive will be.

That situation is slightly odd for a couple of reasons. First of all, Dreamweaver is as close as possible to a de facto standard for a Web-design tool - a kind of Quark for HTML. And yet, as the inexorable rise of InDesign shows, Adobe's ambition should not be underestimated in any creative field.

Unlike Macromedia with Freehand, Adobe has made considerable investment in GoLive as part of its CS 2.0, particularly in terms of support for mobile authoring. This suggests the program has a future.

GoLive's best feature is its tight integration with the other applications bundled with CS. The links with Photoshop have been appreciated for a while, but the real killer is probably its ability to repurpose material from print using InDesign. In this way assets can be exported as XHTML.

Combined with the asset management in Adobe Bridge, what GoLive indicates as part of the full suite is that Adobe is taking multi-platform publishing - from print to screen - very seriously indeed.

The future of MX

What, then, of Dreamweaver? In contrast to GoLive, it's nearly two years since there was any particular development of this application. And even longer since a serious update with the first MX release.

It is true that GoLive had to go much further in terms of ease of use, although it was always the first in some areas, such as building dynamic sites.

But on one level Dreamweaver could have soon found itself in a position similar to that of Quark, fighting off a surprisingly strong Adobe contender.

Nor has Macromedia been entirely quiet over the past year or so in terms of innovation using Web technologies, but most of this has happened outside of Dreamweaver.

Contribute 3.0 has at last become a usable alternative for all those content managers who previously would have struggled with Microsoft's FrontPage.

FlashPaper 2.0 also offers similar features for Flash documents and PDFs, while Macromedia's Web Publishing System and Breeze have indicated the progress being undertaken at a higher level.

Likewise, the announcement that the new Flash Platform and a next-generation Flash player would soon be available indicate that Macromedia is still pushing one of the Web's most successful technologies.

By contrast, the company could be accused of resting on its laurels as far as Dreamweaver is concerned.

Creative Suite 3.0?

Adobe has so far refused to confirm which crossover applications will go and which will stay. Of course market leaders and strong competitors such as Photoshop, InDesign and Flash will contribute to a particularly strong CS in the near future, but Web design is at something of a crossroads.

Ironically, GoLive - which looked much weaker when compared with Dreamweaver as little as a year ago - is now demonstrating some real advantages for cross-platform designers.

However, this program does owe most to integration with InDesign and Photoshop.

If Adobe achieves something similar with Dreamweaver, it will pick what is still the best Web editor on the market and turn it, with Flash, into the best set of creative tools yet seen.

Platform shows

Officially launched at the beginning of June, Flash Platform (www.macromedia.com/platform) could be seen as a cynical re-branding of the Flash Player. In fact it represents an important stage in the evolution of Flash. Originally a tool for small drawings and animations, Flash has turned into a programming and communications environment that is probably the most significant source of rich media on the Web.

At present, Macromedia is targeting Flash Platform as a means of delivering enterprise content to large-scale institutions such as telecoms, education and government organizations. It certainly simplifies and rationalizes the Flash product line, meaning that developers will be able to move more easily from creating multimedia content for a stand-alone player to complete communications systems, via Flex or the Flash Communication Server. What this means is that one application, the almost ubiquitous Flash Player, can be plugged into different technologies - to create Web conferences (via Breeze) or video streaming services, for example.

At the very least, this rationalization has left Flash in an even stronger position as a key technology for Adobe to pitch alongside PDF for print.

The amount of actual innovation behind Flash Platform may be relatively low, but it rationalizes what Flash can do for you.