or “Why Apple broke my heart and Adobe is holding the pieces”
by our very own Ryan Green
April 8, 2010 was the day the first salvo was fired, all out war declared, and the following day an Adobe employee named Lee Brimelow had his emotions get the better of him. His blog post told Apple collectively to… well… ahem. Apply screws to themselves.
See, the following Monday, was a day that I, as a Flex / Flash developer, loyal Apple fan-boy and AppStore developer had eagerly anticipated with bated breath. Monday, the 12th, was the day when the world would open up. When those, like me, whose livelihood depends largely on the Adobe Flash Platform would finally be allowed into the mobile space; unencumbered; invigorated; and empowered.
Adobe, you see, had performed an end run around that pesky walled-garden placed around Apple’s beloved iOS. Their tools would allow Flash developers into the AppStore. Apple had long made it clear that no plug-in, indeed not Flash, known for performance and stability issues on the iOS older brother OS X, would soil their Mobile Safari browser and tarnish the image of Apple’s big new moneymaker. See, for all of Adobe’s posturing in the past few years about one platform on any screen, Adobe had failed to produce a solid demonstration of the full capabilities of Flash inside a web-browser on a mobile device. Monday was going to be different. Monday, the world would see how far the Flash Platform had come.
Internet Explorer, for me, sat at the top of the heap. For all of the other web-designers’ complaints of how difficult it was to make webpages look the same across all major browsers; the hacks and continued hacks web-designers must invoke to make their pages behave correctly. The use of magic snippets of code that exploit known defects in browser rendering engines to align that picture to the pixel. Internet Explorer was unique. Internet Explorer didn’t adhere very well to standards, but Internet Explorer was installed on 90% of PCs. Internet Explorer had a lot of really cool features, features that took the rest of the industry 10 years to adopt. In short, Internet Explorer allowed me to make some really cool software.
In a few strokes of the lawyers’ pen, Apple and Steve Jobs stoked the fire smoldering in the web-browser wars. HTML5, an emerging standard that is not complete, but IS forward thinking, was to be the victor. Safari and Webkit browsers would carry the torch, but Safari wasn’t and isn’t Internet Explorer. It has a 4% desktop market share in 2010. And the other webkit browser, Chrome, 9%.
But, Jobs is a cosmic force. A marketing titan that won’t be stopped this time around, and instead of picking on the 90% of browsers that don’t toe the line on HTML5 (those pesky browsers that can’t seem to die) Jobs chooses a little technology called Flash as its whipping boy…
Politically incompetent Adobe didn’t have a chance.
In the years that the browsers were pointing fingers, a technology called Flash rapidly took hold on the expanding interwebs. The Flash runtime wasn’t encumbered by browser manufacturer foot dragging. The Flash runtime was special. It wasn’t standard, it wasn’t open, but it could do some cool stuff. Animators flocked to it. You could make games. It played video inside the web-browser! You could put splash screens on your website that nobody looked at. It worked on 90% of pcs, and in any major browser. And as quickly as it ascended, it became victim of its success. Very quickly Flash became a bad word in some circles, synonymous with “ad-ware.”
But in 2004, Macromedia (now owned by Adobe) changed direction. Flash MX 2004 Professional had an object-oriented-like scripting language. Typed variables. A User Interface Framework. Suddenly Flash wasn’t just a toy to deliver whack-a-president banner ads. Flash was a Virtual Machine; a platform which developers could use to write software once and deploy software anywhere. Flash looked far better than Java and had far more features than HTML.
Fast forward to 2010. Adobe had a really nice platform called Flash Builder (or Flex), an IDE built on Eclipse, mature, free, open-source software building blocks for building software fast, a virtual machine that could run on any major browser and operating system, and an exporter that converted Flash files to iPhone native packaged applications for deploying on Apple’s beloved AppStore. In fact, Adobe had 100 applications on Apple’s App Store presumably making Steve Jobs even more money.
Jobs is making an argument that shouldn’t be made. Flash left HTML a long time ago. It was never meant to replace HTML. It’s meant to augment the web, not declare itself “the web.” It’s a way for video producers to play video that just works and won’t be stolen. It’s a way for game developers to deliver awesome experiences to internet users. It’s a way for animators to deliver broadcast quality interactive entertainment on the web and finally, it’s a way for real software developers to write real software once and deploy it anywhere.
Is Flash dying? No, I don’t think so. It’s growing up. It’s not the same technology it was 7 years ago before Apple had a web-browser. Will we use Flash differently? You bet. Will I build software in HTML5? Sure – if the use-case fits.
And this is where I now stand; Beholden to a women I love who hates my best friend. No, not my wife folks, Apple Computer. And Adobe can’t seem to reframe the argument. This is about loving content creators. And letting them use the best tools they can find to allow them to compete with the giants of industry. That’s what makes the internet so special, and gives a little independent developer like me the chance to build something great.