For the last several weeks (or has it been months now?) I’ve watched the Flash wars from a distance. Not for lack of interest but for lack of time. It’s been a busy season around here and for all the rhetoric I think I sensed that for all the headlines I really didn’t have the information I needed to make an informed decision. But I’ve had the chance to get more-or-less caught up and I think I’ve come to a place where I’m willing to come down off the fence.

I think Steve Jobs is right.

This is the first of three articles on this topic. The second article, a counterpoint is called The Lament of a Flex Developer. The whole discussion has been unexpectedly busy on the whole traffic thing.
Ryan and Chris will be writing a third post soon to discuss what we can agree on and where we diverge.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised at myself for a number of reasons. There are folks inside Soma Games who will expertly and vocally disagree*, also I just wrote a separate post that is seriously critical of Apple  (but for other reasons) and we have a genuine interest in seeing the Flash/Flex/Air runtime continue to thrive as we get more diversified from the iThing family of products. All that said, when I read Job’s ‘Thoughts on Flash‘ and watched some of his comments on a recent D8 interview I must confess that I’m convinced.

For one thing, where I’m less willing to condemn Flash to its autumn, for the last 12-18 months I’ve spoken and acted as though the turning of Adobe’s leaves is here. As I heard that metaphor roll out I found myself nodding my head at thoughts I’d never put words to – as cool as Flash is, it is getting pretty long in the tooth. What’s more, Apple has proved remarkably prescient in the past – more than once – but in all other cases their technological eccentricity was seen as only that and who really cared if the iMac lacked a floppy drive…until a bunch of other folks started doing the same thing shortly thereafter. This decision is different because the iThings are now substantially driving a whole industry. The decisions made by Apple now effect a much wider group of people, not only those AppleWacks.

I also finally made the distinction in my mind between Flash as a web-technology and Flash as an application development environment. At first I thought the whole HTML5 argument was specious at best. The ability to make transitions and animations says nothing to the robust ActionScript APIs for a thousand other things and we’ve built some pretty complex Flash apps of the years that HTML5++ could never duplicate. But…that’s where other technologies come into play. JavaScript/CSS in the browser and native apps outside. (I’ve never believed in the browser as a universal client – sorry Google). So when I started thinking about using the right tools for the job a lot of the “Save Flash!” noise started to sound like striking buggy-whip laborers, an effort to protect the platform that pays them a salary instead of a thoughtful presentation of Flash’s virtue as a forward looking technology. Might I also add that there is a world of difference between what Flash may be capable of and what the vast majority of authors are actually doing.

Job’s ‘rollover’ argument is half-baked. Gozillions of non-Flash sites have the exact same problem – they need to rewritten as well – so what? Though I do think that ‘touch’ is absolutely the future which DOES make the call to support current Flash sites moot even if it has zero relevance going forward. I don’t see that Flash was designed for mice so much as the web, Flash or otherwise, has been designed for mice (the mice that Apple had a big hand in universalizing I might add).

For me though, the clincher was these two lines from Jobs’ letter:
although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X.
and also
Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010.

If those two statements are materially accurate, and I believe they are, then I am compelled to conclude that Adobe is in fact lazy just like Jobs has suggested, or at least that they really don’t WANT to stay relevant in the very exciting, fast-moving and innovative space that’s developing around smartphones and tablets. I hate to sound melodramatic but it’s an actual fact that the iPhone changed my life. I got into web development when it was all wild west and booming biz. By late 2008 we had tumbleweeds in the office. Web development had become so commoditized that we found it difficult to compete with untrained twits writing code from their mother’s basements. But when we tried our hand at the iPhone things got fun and exciting again. No, it’s not the only thing going, but it certainly started something huge and it’s kept food on my table for the last 18 months. If Adobe just doesn’t have the corporate will to adapt to the new environment then it’s that attitude that I find the most condemning part of this story almost regardless of the technological arguments. What’s more, in this light I can’t help but be reminded of the way Adobe has treated Flash’s most widely known flaw – its search engine opacity. This has been a huge gaping hole in the technology for 10-15 years and Adobe still hasn’t really fixed what is a HUGE problem (See Penseodor and Gaia).

If Apple’s offer to include a better implementation of Flash remains open then I sure hope Adobe gets off it’s butt and make some changes. Answering legitimate concerns and questions with full-page advertisements is, in a word, lazy. Resting on yesterday’s achievements is lazy (which is incredible ironic to me – it could be argued that the self-contained SWF movie was an early version of today’s apps). And whining that your product isn’t keeping up is lazy. I’m even starting to see your whole CS5 play as lazy as well – unwilling or unable to make the runtime meet reasonable performance specs you instead tried to slip through a back door.

C’mon Adobe – show us that you aren’t too fat and slow to adapt and we’ll carry you into 2020. Drag your feet, delay, and waste another two years(!) and we’ll be sweeping yellow leaves from the Flash tombstone.

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20 Comments
  1. Scott Roberts

    Thanks JD, looking forward to it. Many of us have great stories / achievements – if we can help let us know how we can contribute to the excitement to come.

  2. I’m slow again on reply, regrets….

    On Apple, there’s still definite interest at Adobe in making it making it easier to deliver to Apple devices, to the degree which it is permitted. Adobe and Apple work together today in many areas (Safari/Player, CS5, Adobe apps for iOS). There’s always hope for the future.

    On marketing, I agree that it’s quiet now… Player 10.1 for Win/Mac/Lin was released last week because of a recent security concern, but I think we’ll see a lot more high-profile talk about this very soon, as the mobile Players also enter general distribution.

    The next series of roadmaps should start to arrive a bit after that, as the next round of development hits the meaty part of its cycle.

    (Already caught Ryan, through Twitter… I agree that things have been disconcerting lately for many people, but things are about to evolve very quickly now… let’s see what happens. 🙂

    jd/adobe

  3. Whether we agree with Steve Jobs or not is moot in my mind. Apple has made its choice.

    The only real counter-point that Adobe can make is to make Flash run exceptionally well on other mobile devices such that the lack of Flash support on iOS devices becomes a real reason why someone might choose one device over the other.

    (There is another option would would be for Adobe to release Flash for jailbroken iOS devices which would again prove that it works.)

    FWIW, Apple still has products that don’t use Cocoa (e.g., iTunes). Lest you think I’m in Adobe’s camp, I run Click2Flash. 🙂

  4. Thanks Chris – link fixed

  5. Scott Roberts

    Chris,

    Your link is broken, I believe you wanted: http://www.somagames.com/somaniloquy/2010/06/11/the-lament-of-a-flex-developer/#more-166

    @JD,

    At a high level, there are two key issues:

    1) Company and Product Marketing

    Adobe’s branding and marketing is inconsistent and weak and as a result it’s contributing to Job’s current campaign against Flash.

    Adobe needs to ensure that every touch point for its stakeholders (developers and end users) is consistent.

    For example, http://www.adobe.com has good branding – but yikes – http://www.openscreenproject.org and http://www.opensourcemediaframework.com what happened here?

    Every touch point developers and consumers have with Adobe (www, press, social, social IT, tools, trade shows, news, etc.) must consistently re-enforce a clear and confident message.

    2) Roadmaps

    What is the vision for the future of the Flash Player and what is the roadmap to get there?

    Since the introduction of iThings I’m fielding more and more questions that center around one theme; technical relevance in the future.

    For example;

    – As the capabilities and performance of the current Flash Player are eclipsed by maturing web-browsers how will the Flash Player and Platform stay ahead of the curve?

    – Due to the current, and old, plug-in architecture can Flash stay ahead of what will be native performance from web-browsers?

    – Why will web-browsers still need the Flash Player?
    Flash Player 10.1 is a great.

    Please congratulate the team. But what does the future hold? How is the top level management exciting and inspiring the Flash Player team to ensure they’re invested and happy to be working there? Can you share some of that inspiration and excitement with the development community?

    Thanks,
    -SR

  6. JD – thanks for coming back. I had a chance to follow your link a little after I posted that first response and it appears that you really might be the gut who could hear what’s being said out here and pass it up the chain of command inside Adobe.
    So I apologize for the question about sarcasm – it sounded a little specious at first but I repent for my suspiciousness. 🙂 No harm no foul?

    I don’t know that I have a core request though. In the end, I’m, just observing and my mind looks at the politics and the perceptions more than the technology itself. That said, I sure want to see Adobe do whatever is required to get the Flash runtime to a place where Apple allows it on the iThings, assuming, that is, that the requirements are reasonable and it is actually possible. And show the world an open conversation with Apple.

    Adobe: “Hey Apple – Adobe is committed to making this work – tell us what you require”
    Apple: “The runtime needs X, Y and Z and then we’ll allow it on the hardware”
    Adobe: “Great – you ask for blahblahblah, this week we have 80% of that…next month we have 92%…now we’ve surpassed that…”

    Showing something that would would do a ton to improve Adobe’s image and if Apple really does has some kind of personal vendetta, this would call their bluff.

    You may also want to read out other post here:
    http://www.somagames.com/somaniloquy/2010/06/11/the-lament-of-a-flex-developer/
    Which was written by a much more technical guy here at Soma. Ryan is alternately livid and depressed about this whole thing. He lives and breathes Flash but sees the future in the iThings..a future he fears Flash will be left out of.

  7. Hi, sorry for the delay, and no sarcasm on that request… I do collect synopsized weekly links of all points of view for others inside Adobe to review. Right now I can forward this link along, but I’m not sure which pieces others would identify as having your core request.

    (Scott, thanks… for new work being done in Flash each week, good links are webkitchen.be, theflashblog.com, my own Twitter stream (@jdowdell).)

    jd/adobe

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  9. Hi,

    “I also finally made the distinction in my mind between Flash as a web-technology and Flash as an application development environment.”

    Take a look at the Flash Player 10.1 test bench we have developed:
    http://www.creaza.com/movieeditor

    Creaza MovieEditor is a full-featured timeline-based video editor, similar to traditional desktop-based video editing tools. There’s just one big difference: MovieEditor is web-based and uses Flash Player 10.1.

    It is available for all end users.

  10. Chris skaggs

    @John -touché

  11. Admittedly, Apple has far less to gain from backing off in this situation. The iPhone is selling quite well, despite Flash being unavailable. But in my experience, when asked why someone chose Android over iPhone, the lack of Flash is in the top 5 reasons nearly every time. Maybe that’s because how easy it is to throw that out there, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s a legitimate gripe.

    So while Apple wouldn’t gain as much as Adobe, they’d pretty effectively remove that barrier to entry on the iOS (oh how I hate that name change!) platform, and also (and this could be the most important bonus) get some goodwill from the press and users who are hounding them for it – making it at least appear that they are open to consumer input and responsive to it.

  12. Scott Roberts

    @Cryptopur, thanks for the post. I’ve subscribed to you blog.

  13. @John – like Scott said – well put. But I think I’d disagree on one point.

    I don’t know that Apple has any particular motivation to bend or accommodate in this case except in an effort to be polite. Apple has, to my eyes, little to gain. Adobe on the other hand has everything to gain. Apple may have changed the rules, they may even be acting unfairly, but I think this war is Adobe’s to lose.

  14. Scott Roberts

    @John – well put.

  15. I think the real reason most folks have a hard time turning away from Flash is that it’s seen as one of the founding technologies of the “true” internet. Allow me to explain: the early internet was text and static-image based, leaving very little difference between the Web and print media. Many folks just didn’t see the value in it, didn’t see that special something that made the tying up of a phone line worth it, when they could get much of the same information out of the newspaper.

    Then Flash, Shockwave, and other new technologies came along and what I consider to be the true internet was born. Suddenly animations were far more prevalent than before, simple interactive games spread like wildfire, video was on the horizon, and the potential of the internet seemed suddenly far more vast and interesting.

    It’s hard for people to let go of that nostalgia, to let go of the idea that part of what got us here may not be what will take us to the next level.

    I’ve read Jobs’s letter, and I’ve read Adobe’s response. I can understand where both are coming from – Jobs needing a forward-looking technology, Adobe wanting people to use the web as-is. I use Flash a lot and am generally pretty happy with it. I use my iPhone a lot and can get by pretty well without Flash.

    The ultimate victor in this whole situation is going to be the one who is more flexible and willing to bend a bit to meet the other’s needs. Apple could relent and allow Flash on their iDevices. Adobe could relent and code a version of Flash that meet’s Apple’s requirements. Whoever swallows their ego a bit is going to come out of this smelling like roses. The more rigid one will be looked down upon. Rigidity in business is the kiss of death.

    “The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind”
    – Mandarin Chinese proverb

  16. Scott Roberts

    @Cryptopur – I did not take JD as sarcastic.

    I do agree with you though.. Jobs is charismatic, and selling half truths very, very well.

    As a flash developer, I feel I have no ground cover from Adobe.

    Adobe’s CEO should NOT try to go toe to toe with Job’s, he’ll lose. His interviews with the media we’re simply not sufficient.

    So, where are the Adobe evangelists? What’s in the roadmap, what’s the future and why should developers and consumers “buy in?”

    JD – we need to be wowed and inspired again, watching you up on the ropes is making me nervous.

    Start showing some of the great things going on in the flash community and stop highlighting apps that are simply not innovative. Detail your roadmap and wow us with innovations coming and soon to come.

    TIA
    SR

  17. JD – one more thing that seems important to answer. In your comment you ask, more or less, if I think “…fast Flash on mobile can’t exist.”

    That’s not the case at all. I presume it can exist – but it doesn’t. At least that’s what I hear from a lot of people who do that kind of low-level benchmarking stuff for a living including a fair amount of talk at last weeks Computex. And again I’d point out that even if all of them are demonstrably wrong it doesn’t matter. That’s the growing thought in the minds of a growing number of people and that’s where this battle will be won or lost.

  18. Adobe eh? You folks must have a Google alert set to watch for these kinds of posts…but I reckon that’s understandable given the circumstances.

    And this might be a little awkward but there’s an old saying about not saying anything about somebody that you wouldn’t say to their face so…here goes.

    First, I wasn’t making any argument. I said that I found Steve Jobs’ argument convincing and I assume you’re familiar with his points. I’m not the person to defend his position.

    Second, your comment is both very quick and completely off-topic which suggests you didn’t read the post – why would I assume you would read my answer to your comment. Still – hope springs eternal…

    Third, if I was making any point at all it was that Adobe has failed to show thoughtfulness, initiative and desire in this whole question around Flash’s future. Instead, you’ve been belligerent, reactionary and defensive. Unfortunately, your comment here has only helped to prove my point. What you hoped to be a clever barb only makes you look mildly nasty because you obviously didn’t read the post.

    All that said, I really want to take your (sarcastic?) remark about spreading it inside Adobe as if it were in earnest – and if I have I have your ear, I’d make a few suggestions:
    1. I love Flash as a technology and it plays a crucial role in Soma’s business strategery. I honestly hope my criticism can be sen as constructive because I don;t want Flash to die. You have a huge loyal fan base who want you to succeed here.
    2. Adobe is loosing this battle not on technical merits but on public perception. If you guys don’t start looking like you’re actually engaged you’ll have more people like me who are forced against our wills to think Steve is correct about you.
    3. You do not have a God-given right to see Flash on the iThings. As such, whether Apple is being fair or unfair, you will need to show at least some genuine effort to meet Apple’s requirements if you want to be on that platform. Just pouting and saying it isn’t fair won’t help you…in fact it hurts you a lot.
    4. The people who eventually decide for or against Flash are not propeller heads like you and me, they are non-technical people who make emotional decisions. So while the technical stuff needs to be dealt with honestly you can’t fight the battle there. It needs to be in a place where regular non-technical people stop asking their very technical developers if Flash is dying. It’s the QUESTION that you need to stop, not really providing for the answer that they don;t understand or value anyway.

    Honestly JD – I’m not trying to be provocative in any of this and frankly I’m honored that somebody in Adobe even noticed this post. I just hope you read it and recognize that I’m gunning for you guys…but losing faith.

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  20. “I think Steve Jobs is right.”

    About what? Could you summarize, so that I could accurately spread your thought inside Adobe?

    So far it seems the clincher is “Because Coca, and because I think fast Flash on mobile can’t exist”. Is that the core of your argument?

    tx, jd/adobe

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