As I scribble this, I happen to be sitting in a building containing dozens of image processing computers, every one of which runs a half dozen Adobe Systems (NASDAQ:ADBE), programs, so forgive me if I respond to that firm's big revenue and earnings scores with a "tell me something I don't know." Anyone running a machine from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), HP (NYSE:HPQ), IBM (NYSE:IBM), Gateway (NYSE:GTW), or Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) is likely to be running at least one Adobe program, and that adds up to a lot of money.

Life is good for the makers of Photoshop, Acrobat, etc., as evidenced by yesterday's press release. The third quarter brought in $407 million to the top line, a 27% increase from the prior year. Investors will want to keep in mind that $10 million of the increase was "photoshopped" in via an accounting change that reclassified revenue to a daily basis from the previous monthly recording scheme. Still, the bottom line grew a healthy 55% for shareholders, reaching $0.42 per share.

How did Adobe do it? How about 94.2% gross margins, for starters? That's not only huge, it's 1.1% better than the year before. Operating income was up to 34.8% from 28.9%.

The conference call (transcript provided by CCBN Street Events) was a doozy. CEO Bruce Chizen waxed so enthusiastic about future prospects that management felt it necessary to release a retraction. It's easy to understand Chizen's excitement. With a return on equity better than 30%, this company gets great mileage out of its earnings.

The only question for prospective shareholders is, "How much should I pay?" That's tougher to answer. The firm has put up $435 million in free cash flow so far this year, meaning the run rate for the full year could approach $560 million. Shedding the firm's $1 billion in cash and short-term equivalents yields an enterprise value-to-free cash flow ratio near 24.

That seems pricey for a mature company, even one growing at Adobe's rate. It might help explain why shares are only now beginning to climb above the high $40s reached nearly a year ago. But the so-called tech slowdown hasn't blurred the firm's focus, so interested investors with a long time frame may want to consider a position even at these levels.

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Seth Jayson still wonders why Indesign chokes on his old Quark Xpress files, but at the time of publication, he had no position in any firm mentioned.