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Thoughts on Flash

Thoughts on Flash I just had a small moment of curiosity. Apple has been moving in the direction of consumer/mobile products for quite some time now (in a way, Apple is the new Sony) so I decided to check their front page and see what was advertised. No surprise at all that it is iPad-dominated rather than Mac-dominated. Apple did rename themselves from 'Apple Computers' to 'Apple Inc' so it's pretty clear where their focus is.

On a side-note, Apple, masters of design, commit web design sin #1: they have a splash page before you get to the main site. It works for Apple and it just reaffirms something I really feel strongly about: there are no absolutes when it comes to "best practices", there are nuances to every rule and things are never black & white.

What did surprise me though was a 'Thoughts on Flash' button was a first class citizen.

Like most people, I think Apple are pretty darned hypocritical when it comes to this. On one hand they want open standards, on the other hand they have become the firm hand of control of '1984' that they used to say was the enemy (and at the time, it was IBM). There is little 'open' when it comes to the iPhone – you have to pay before you can develop an app, developed on proprietary Apple technology, then it has to be approved and provided entirely within the framework of their choosing.

I take the point that they want to remove complexity. Apple are awesome at this, and Steve Jobs a hero. At ocProducts we have for some time privately compared our approach to Apple's – i.e. we do do cathedral-style development, to give people a better user experience than what people get if they have to rely on third-party addons and a wild-west market of inconsistency and incompatibility. It's all relative of course, if only we had Apple's financial resources ;).

But it's possible to provide control without closing things off. If there's dodgy software that gets released then Apple could block it. Apple could allow people to choose to alter their trust level. Crowd-sourcing could be used to rate applications on scales including things like performance, to work with those levels of trust people set.

I think it comes down to wanting to control a market and/or wanting to stop the ecosystem they work in being cross-commoditised. Many people have, after all, accused Apple of the 'Reality distortion field' effect.

If I was Adobe I'd be kicking myself for buying Macromedia. Macromedia is a company that mostly competed with Adobe, and were losing on most grounds. They had 3 killer products:
  • Flash
  • Dreamweaver
  • Fireworks
Fireworks was already being fought away by various products Adobe had (not in the short-term,. but in the mid-term). Adobe could have competed against Dreamweaver too if they had the will. This just leaves Flash, which over the next years I think going to become worthless (read on), and has made them a pariah.

HTML 5 is not going to just kill Flash. At our Sheffield office we often note how the hype surrounding HTML 5 is completely off-base technologically (it is not what people think it is) and in terms of business reality not a 'Flash killer' yet.
What HTML 5 does represent is a return to development for open web standards, which has been all-but-stalled until recently. It's an evolution that will slowly push Flash out. The web is very different now than it was back when Flash became dominant – Open standards are much better understood, and we are in a cross-platform and cross-browser world – people's stomach for it is declining. And of course, Apple are on the offensive.

Lastly, Adobe could have contributed to the war on Flash and done well in the process. They could have been the ones who made the tools that make RIA HTML/JS/CSS development as "easy" (easier…) as Flash makes Flash development. Instead they will have to make the same tools and had the financial burden of buying Macromedia.

So in summary, this is a story with no heros and I think personally no villains either: only business and marketing realities. People shouldn't view it any differently, even fan boys on any side.

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