Altsys was founded by Kevin Crowder and James R. Von Ehr II in Texas in December 1984. The name is a reference to the Alternative Systems Programming Group, a group of computer science students who had hacked the computer system at Michigan State University; Von Ehr was one of the members who had gotten caught. In the fall of 1987, Aldus Corporation licensed Altsys' graphical program and released it as Aldus FreeHand, with Altsys retaining development rights. After Aldus had merged into Adobe Systems in August 1994, Altsys sued to regain marketing rights to FreeHand, citing a non-compete clause because of Adobe's development of Adobe Illustrator.
On October 26, 1994, Macromedia announced that they had reached an agreement to buy out all shares of Altsys Corporation in exchange for 4.3 million shares of Macromedia common stock, valued at US$71 million at the time. The acquisition was completed on January 23, 1995. Altsys became the Digital Arts Group of Macromedia and remained in Richardson, Texas. The acquisition quadrupled Macromedia's registered user base to over 250,000 customers. Von Ehr became group vice president and general manager. He remained with Macromedia as a major shareholder and board member until 1997. In 1998, Macromedia released the first version of Macromedia Fireworks, which had been created by engineers from the FreeHand development team.
In 2003, the Texas staff were laid off or relocated to Macromedia's main office in San Francisco. Prior to that, the team rushed to add many new features to Macromedia FreeHand MX with the expectation that it might be the last version that they would ever work on.
- James Von Ehr by David C. Brock, Science History Institute. 2011-01-24.
- Aldus Licenses Altsys' Mac Graphics Program, InfoWorld p.65. 1987-09-21.
- Aldus to Add Products, Enhance Pagemaker, InfoWorld p.125. 1987-10-26. Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "infoworld-1987-10-aldus" defined multiple times with different content
- Aldus and Adobe Systems Finalize Merger, Computer History Museum. 1994-08-31.
- Macromedia Announces Agreement to Acquire FreeHand Developer Altsys, Macromedia. 1994-10-26. Archived 1999-09-09.
- Macromedia to buy Altsys Corp. by Jim Rosenberg, Editor and Publisher. 1994-11-05.
- Macromedia Completes Altsys Acquisition, Macromedia. 1995-01-23. Archived 1999-09-09.
- Macromedia completes acquisition of Altsys by Bloomberg News, The New York Times. 1995-01-25.
- Macromedia, Inc. History, Funding Universe. Accessed 2019-11-21.
- Jim Von Ehr, Zyvex Labs. Accessed 2019-11-21.
- R.I.P. FreeHand by Andy Finnell, Safe from the Losing Fight. 2007-05-17.
- Adobe Completes Acquisition of Macromedia, Adobe Systems. 2005-12-05. Archived 2005-12-07.