Look Who's Whining Now?

Steve Jobs posted on Apple’s web site today an unprecedented diatribe on Adobe’s Flash technology. I know a lot of folks like to revel in Flash bashing, and worship the flip flops Steve walks in, but it is way over the top when you are in a strong market position and yet feel the need to rip into another company and denigrate their technology. This is particularly true when the remarks are mostly wrong and easily refuted. What this is really is politics: one party labeling and name calling to make the other party look bad and deflect attention.

Here are some of the points Apple makes. Steve Jobs states that Adobe has been late to port their apps to Cocoa. It so happens that’s also true of many of Apple’s own software products. Finder only finally shipped on Cocoa in late 2009, and iTunes hasn’t made the switch yet?!? That’s just how development cycles go. Why try to spin this as if Adobe is somehow not being a good citizen towards Apple? Not to mention that Apple’s Final Cut Pro video editing tool still isn’t 64-bit, while Adobe Premiere is both 64-bit and GPU accelerated.

Steve claims that development environments that abstract the OS don’t take full advantage of the OS. I’ll grant him this one. It can be argued, however, that many apps don’t need to (there are some pretty horrific apps on the app store), and that this should be consumer choice. Take iTunes, as an example, which runs on both Mac and Windows off the same code base. Maybe it’s iTunes performance on Windows prompts Steve to make this generalized assumption?

Jobs says that Flash isn’t for multi-touch (or touch). Why not? Why didn’t Apple work with Adobe on this? In fact Adobe is working on touch, and you’ve already seen demos of this, and you’ll see it in releases later this year. Regardless, there aren’t really any existing web sites that have touch capability, and that is where Flash is used, and yet the iPad is for browsing the web, so why single Flash out here? [Read more about Flash and touch]

Jobs says a lot of content is going to h.264 so you don’t need Flash, then says that a lot of Flash content isn’t h.264 and burns compute cycles. This is somewhat contradicting. Why not work this from a different angle? Could Apple not work with Adobe to make sure the same hardware decoding that Apple uses for h.264 is also available to Flash’s h.264 streams, and potentially work to improve the performance of On2 and Sorenson? What seems evident is that Apple had no intentions of ever working with Adobe on performance. 

Jobs says that Flash is not open. iPhone OS is open? Do you license them to anyone? Oh, it’s only “the web” that is meant to be open. And your web only includes h.264 video. I see. This is obviously more about forcing people to develop Apple-specific apps because they can’t build rich enough apps in HTML5. And about regaining control over video delivery, something that Apple lost when Flash first introduced video and put the Quicktime, Real Player, Windows Media Player wars behind us.

Jobs whines about Flash crashing. When do most of these crashes occur? For me the few crashes that do occur tend to happen more frequently after a Mac OS update. Could it be that Apple is changing code under the hood that ripples up to Flash? Flash tries to use the OS as much as possible and is performing far more complex operations then you would find in a typical plug-in or app. That’s why it is able to be as light weight as it is for being a plug-in, but it also makes it susceptible to OS dependencies that can cause it to crash.

I do grant Steve the concern of relying on software from other companies when you are trying to create a solid, stable platform and you don’t have direct control over that other software. As a matter of fact Adobe showed this same concern when running Macromedia Flash content within Acrobat and PDF. The difference is that Adobe allowed the Flash content to run, but only after prompting users.

Steve says that Flash is not secure. Flash has actually been on the forefront of both innovative, security-minded features and vulnerability response for years, and is pretty good about getting updates out there. They are popular and so they are a big target. They are not perfect, but then no one is, as apparently QuickTime vulnerabilities account for most of the attacks that are being launched against Apple software. The point is that I am not sure Flash is intrinsically less secure then any other software out there, including Apple software.

This is not to say that there aren’t things to complain about when it comes to Adobe, and Flash. Or that Jobs doesn’t have a business position on excluding Flash. But my post is a response and refute of Jobs’ letter and his tactics, and not anything else. It’s one thing to exclude Flash on business grounds, it’s another to fabricate a story that is harmful in order to justify your position.

Jobs appears to be a good politician and adept at deflecting blame. He’ll probably succeed for the same reasons that politicians do, and that is that false truths are easily absorbed and they cater to people who like to take sides. Some folks will see through this latest mud toss, but I doubt it will make a difference because of Apple’s well-earned power in this industry.

Update: Wired has this comment: