|Blog Home | About | Entries By Date | Search|
In Defense of Adobe Flash: Steve Jobs may have a problem with the venerable platform, but I don't. Do you?
Copied from PCMag.com - http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2360270,00.asp
Flash is going through a pretty tough time right now. Apple's Steve Jobs, reportedly, hates it. Consumers seem to think it's bloated and unsafe—at least that's the commonly held wisdom. For me, though, Flash is one of the Web's more sublime technologies, one I've known and used for more than 15 years.
It was 1994 or 1995 and I was attending Internet World in San Jose, CA. Back then it was a tiny show, with embarrassingly small booths. In one row (and there very well may have been only one row), there was a little company called Future Wave. It was showing off something called Future Splash, which allowed you to create surprisingly sophisticated, for its day, Web animations based on Bezier artwork. Up until then, essentially, Web cartoons were GIF animations.
As an amateur artist, I was immediately smitten. The company was so tiny, but I knew it could be a game changer. It came out with a few updates. Then Macromedia bought them and changed the name of the product to Flash. Over the years, Flash's impressive animation capabilities became almost secondary to its programmability and its ability to deliver online video. During this time, Macromedia was swallowed up by Adobe, which worked hard to make Flash an even richer platform. Most recently, Adobe introduced Air, which allows Flash applications to run offline and outside the browser.
Over all, it's quite the success story. Yet, these days, Adobe spends as much time defending Flash as it does promoting and developing it.
Adobe's Flash is under fire from Apple and even the people who use it every day. Pillorying Flash is actually nothing new. Reports of its sluggishness, negative impact on system performance, and security issues have been around for years. The difference now is that people are offering up HTML 5 has a catch-all replacement for Flash, even though this is something of a false choice. Flash is a platform for building online and offline applications. HTML 5 is the next phase in Web site building development. This version will add, most notably, tags for audio and video, but it's not for building anything outside of a Web browser.
The introduction of a video element (along with audio) to HTML, however, is seen as significant. For the first time, HTML would support video playback on its own, without the use of plug-ins (Flash is still a plug-in that does not always ship with PCs—and must be updated regularly). So, people have fixated on the idea of HTML supplanting Flash, and they seem to be using this to fuel their growing displeasure with the once-beloved platform.
I asked Adobe's Group Manager for Flash, Adrian Ludwig, about this antipathy. Ludwig indicated that consumers forget that their favorite online services are built almost entirely on Flash. "What do they say when you say Picnik? What do they say when you say Mint.com?" said Ludwig.
As for HTML 5 overtaking Flash, "The Idea of one winning and one losing is not how the Web works."
He's right of course, which is why Apple's insistence on leaving Flash out of the iPhone, iPod touch, and, now, the iPad makes so little sense. HTML 5 will rise (as HTML 4 did before it). In fact, it's very possible that HTML 5's native video playback abilities may become more prevalent. On the other hand, HTML 5 still needs to use video compression/decompression algorithms to play video. It can use free open source (Ogg, which Flash does not support), but most people are not encoding video in that format. It also supports the far more popular H.264 (as does Flash), but it's not free and someone (read: you) may end up having to pay.
Not that any of that really matters. At this stage, it would make the most sense for Apple and everyone else to support Flash and HTML 5, since it's likely that no one will stop using the Flash format any time soon.
So what's Apple's game?
The reports of Steve Jobs appearing here, there, and everywhere; bad-mouthing Adobe Flash have become like Yeti sightings—no one knows if they're 100 percent real. Apple neither confirms nor denies, but the consistency, persistence, and frequency of these reports is enough to spawn endless discussion.
Clearly, Apple is trying to nudge Flash aside—at least in its mobile products—in favor of virtually any other Web multimedia platform. The odd thing is that Steve Jobs and Apple act as if the world has already changed—the company can deliver products without Flash support and it's no problem for anybody. Meanwhile, iPhone and iPod touch owners surf to Web sites where the lack of Flash support is frustratingly apparent.
What would Apple gain if there is no Flash? Does QuickTime rise up and take the online video lead? Unlikely. Maybe Jobs thinks Flash is simply unnecessary. Apple can deliver virtually any kind of mobile experience thanks to the hundreds of thousands of available apps, but folks want to access a Flash-driven Web site, they're out of luck. Can HTMLs 5 take Flash's place? No. And, what's worse is that it seems like Steve Jobs doesn't really understand why people are using Flash. Someone needs to tell him that ignoring Flash won't make it go away.
And why should it? I contend that Flash is a good platform. It drives countless Web sites and online and offline apps, including one of my favorites—TweetDeck (Essentially, I live inside this Twitter utility.). Others may complain of system or security issues, but I've never experienced them. Flash has come a long way since its animation-only days as Future Splash, and I really hope it doesn't go anywhere except forward.