Flash is great, evil Flash - or how technology changes

It's fun to look back in time. This blog post from 2007 reminds us of the messy state of the web back then, and points out how the Flash runtime seemed like the best answer to writing Rich Internet Apps (RIAs).

Flash is great

Macromedia/Adobe delivered on a compelling vision, with a fast runtime and some incredible, rich features. They essentially solved the world's video interoperability problems (remember Quicktime, Real and Windows Media Player wars). They could even play video on machines with no hardware video acceleration (which was most computers until recently). They followed Apple's lead and supported the H.264 video standard (what some reporters like to now call HTML5 video) rather then proprietary formats (e.g. VC-1 from Microsoft).

Evil Flash

Fast forward to today and the platform vendors feel threatened. Microsoft responded with a me-too solution (Silverlight). Apple responded by banning Flash. Steve Jobs played some political tricks saying how great open HTML5 is, while at the same time making sure that video and RIAs that run on his platform are under his control. He falsely derided Flash and, just as some American's think Obama is a communist because Glen Beck says so, so too are there many unquestioning, misinformed soles who blame Flash for so much (there are also a few who do get what's going on).

Elsewhere in technology

The morale here isn't so much about Flash but rather how, in this technology world, it's hard to rely on that technology. Java is somewhat threatened by Apple announcing their discontinued inhouse support, and by Oracle's aquisition of Sun. MySql may be in the same boat. Wordperfect isn't around any more. Flash is threatened, not by inattention, but by censorship.

These are all technologies that run on your computer. What about all those cloud services you use? Will they be around 5, 10 or 20 years from now? Where will your data be? I use GMail and Google Maps and love them both. But will they both continue to receive the level of excited attention from their vendors that they received when they were conceived? Google is big and there is a good chance they will be around for 10 years, and I can always pull my data out of GMail using IMAP if I have the foresight to do so. Google Maps is a service you use in the present, so if it goes away you haven't lost anything. But there are certainly smaller services (e.g. Wesabe) where this might not be the case, unless those services are bought by a bigger company and a montetization path to ongoing maintenance is established (e.g Mint). Do an inventory of all the places you log in for services, count the places where you store data, and access the lifespan of those companies.

Exit cost

I remember seeing Scott McNeilly give a speach once where he talked about the exit cost of choosing a technology. It's something not often discussed when looking at new services because both service providers and consumers focus on lower entry costs via easy login, etc..

Exit cost is one of my selection criteria for sofware (e.g. Apple Mail text file storage, vs Microsoft Outlook's database files, or Adobe Bridge transparent organization of photos vs iPhoto not-so-transparent organization). It's also one of the reasons I manage my own archive of content where possible, and look to established document formats for archiving this content. Nothing beats text and PDF for this purpose; HTML comes close, but isn't particularly suited to offline archiving (though ePub addresses this issue).