By Jon Fortt
September 17, 2007

Even if you’re not a heavy user of its Photoshop software, or even an investor in its stock, it might be a good idea to watch this afternoon’s earnings announcement from Adobe Systems (ADBE).

That’s because Adobe, the Silicon Valley-based software maker that also sells Flash, Photoshop, Acrobat, and other popular programs, will give investors the earliest possible peek at how healthy the technology industry was this summer. The next-earliest major tech company to report earnings is Oracle (ORCL), which releases its results on Thursday – but aside from that, no big players will weigh in until Intel (INTC) and Yahoo (YHOO) share their numbers on October 16.

Though Adobe pulled in what might seem like a modest $2.68 billion in sales last fiscal year, Adobe’s global penetration with applications for creative professionals and enterprises make it a decent barometer of how much businesses are willing to spend on tech gear these days.

Here are a few of the subjects I’ll be listening for details about during Adobe’s earnings call this afternoon:

1. APPLE. Adobe’s expensive Creative Suite often provides hints about how well Apple’s (AAPL) most expensive systems are doing in the marketplace. That’s because the print and online designers who are the major buyers of CS3 are also the core audience for Apple’s Mac Pro and MacBook Pro. If CS3 is doing better than expected, that probably means Apple’s Mac hardware margins are doing well, too.

2. MARKETING. When businesses see economic trouble coming, one of the first things they cut is the marketing budget. I’ll be watching Adobe’s sales numbers for CS3 to note the extent to which customers are favoring the more expensive bundles (the Master Collection and Premium bundles) or if they’re skimping and getting the Standard versions.

3. ENTERPRISE. Adobe Acrobat digital document software is popular with pharmaceutical firms, financial services companies, government agencies and more, because the software makes it easier to move paperwork through the regulatory process. The biggest Acrobat customers are huge organizations that view the software as an important way to cut costs and speed operations, and the latest version of the software has been widely accepted as a solid product. If Acrobat sales were to slow, it might mean that businesses are really looking for places to pinch pennies.

I’ll be live-blogging Adobe’s earnings call this afternoon at 2 p.m. Pacific, 5 p.m. Eastern.

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