Behind The Apple-adobe Flash Battles

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Apple's decision to leave Flash support conspicuously absent from its newly-named iOS, the operating system for its insanely popular iPhone and iPad, has created a strange situation. Adobe, owner of Flash, sells a lot of Macintosh software and in any normal universe would be considered a great ally of the Cupertino computer-and-gadget maker. What has happened instead is a few years' worth of acrimony and misunderstanding. This article may not give any answers, but you should at least be asking the right questions, and it is not always, "What's best for Steve Jobs?"

The battle turned a corner in early 2010 when Adobe began spending piles of real, not virtual, money on a new ad campaign that promotes choice, tells the "truth about Flash" and counters some of the Apple criticisms. One print ad is a huge love letter to Apple (it starts with a huge We "Heart Icon" Apple) while other Web pages, PR releases and interviews with Adobe management have been more contentious. The campaign is speaking directly to Apple as well as consumers, although it is careful not to mention Jobs or his firm's name.

The Adobe view

"The genius of the Internet is its almost infinite openness to innovation. New hardware. New software. New applications. New ideas. They all get their chance," Adobe co-founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock say in an open letter to Jobs. "In the end, we believe the question is really this: Who controls the World Wide Web? And we believe the answer is: nobody ... and everybody, but certainly not a single company." Adobe is pushing a not-well-defined open web standard, but it intends to clarify its overall position during the second phase of the PR campaign.

This letter was sent in response to one that Jobs released that was not quite as low-key or agreeable. Jobs pretty much bashed Flash as a power hog, proprietary, way behind the touchscreen interface progress, unstable and a security risk. Jobs made the very popular and much-used Flash sound like a dinosaur. Adobe has hit back with this new multifaceted PR campaign, but it is way too early to know what to make of consumers' reactions. Internet users by the millions love Flash, and iPhone and iPad users seem to favor Flash support by a hard-to-quantify majority.

Flash and HTML5

For its part, Apple says it believes in open Web standards, just like Adobe, but points to HTML5 as the answer. Flash, Apple spokespeople point out, is not an open web standard like HTML, but a proprietary Adobe product, something the W3 consortium that controls web standards made clear when they picked HTML5 as the standard with which to move forward into the future. Adobe has responded with its own tech arguments, pointing out that Flash does, in fact, support multi-touch technology, and has power requirements that are in keeping with other audio, video and motion graphics solutions on the Web.

Flash, says its supporters (who go way beyond Adobe, of course), empowers programmers to make every possible kind of content, from movie-streaming sites and Web-hosted games to interactive stock charts and family photo albums. Much of Flash's appeal is that a programmer can develop a single program to work on a variety of computers irrespective of differing operating systems and browsers. Still, Apple continues to deny Flash entry to he iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch devices, all of which run on the new iOS. Adobe even attempted an end-run around the iOS lock-out with its new CS5 version of the Flash Pro tool, but as the product came to market Apple nixed Flash and similar tools by changing the language in its iPhone OS 4.0 SDK (Software Developer Kit).

What now?

Adobe has now scrapped further development of its Flash-to-iPhone utility, but is still keenly dismayed to see Flash's huge cross-platform potential restricted by its absence from the ubiquitous iPhone. Nor are independent developers particularly thrilled with the turn of events, and some are even canceling attendance at Mac programming conferences out of opposition to what some see as Apple's high-handed ways.

For its part, Adobe is making quite sure that not all its eggs are in the Flash basket. Even as the firm continues to promote Flash, as indicated by the recent release of Flash Player 10.1, it is also making nice with HTML5 and other approaches in its web development program, Dreamweaver. No matter what, Adobe and Apple are both positioned as big (make that mega big) players in the Web saga, and with all the brainpower at both of these firms, it would seem that some sort of happy medium could be reached. Before this happens, of course, some attitudes will have to change, and the battle will have to evolve into a more polite conversation. That is how consumers will win, so it is the message they (we!) should be sending to both firms.

Apple, Adobe, please! Work it out.

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