Apple Vs. Flash: the InfoWorld Peace Plan

Wars like the conflict between Apple and Adobe over Flash seldom yield a productive outcome. InfoWorld proposes a way forward.

The fight between Apple and Adobe over Flash on the iPhone OS has all the trappings of a major industry rift. No one doubts at this point that Apple is on a mission to kill Flash. After many long years, the on-again, off-again conflict between two companies that have relied on one another since the early days of the Mac has finally gone nuclear.

Apple-Adobe Feud: Is Flash as Bad as Jobs Says?

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This conflagration is a bad way to step into the mobile Internet future. Flash, for all its flaws, is ubiquitous to the Web and essential to rich interaction on a huge number of sites. Were it not barred from the iPad and iPhone, it would be one of the shortest paths to creating rich Internet applications that run across multiple mobile platforms (including Android), not to mention every major desktop browser.

[ InfoWorld's Eric Knorr urges users to stop bashing Flash. | Neil McAllister argues that it's time to say "good riddance" to Flash. | Keep up on the top tech news and analyses with the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]

At InfoWorld.com, we believe such lockouts of technology, however well rationalized, could eventually lead to an Internet future of multiple, incompatible platforms that demand multiple proprietary technologies.

Give peace between Apple and Adobe a chance In a spirit of fairness, with full knowledge that we will be shot at by both sides, InfoWorld would like to propose a peace plan. Both sides need to compromise; this is not simply a matter of Steve Jobs opening his platform to Flash. Adobe must take a step toward openness as well and help ensure that developers create Flash apps that are secure, stable, and suited to mobile use.

Before we get to the details of the peace plan, however, a review of the conflict at hand is in order.

The roots of conflict: From PostScript to Safari crashes You could argue that the antipathy between Apple and Adobe goes all the way back to 1989. In 1985, during Steve Jobs' first stint as CEO, Apple licensed PostScript to create the first PostScript laser printer and invested in Adobe because of the promise he saw in the technology. The result was the desktop publishing revolution.

But the relationship soured four years later, after Jobs was forced out of Apple, when Adobe and Apple fought over scalable font technology, which Adobe jealously guarded. Apple teamed up with Microsoft to create a competitor, known now as TrueType, and Adobe was forced to back down.

While today's clash is ostensibly about Flash, in Steve Jobs' now-infamous post on the Apple site, Adobe the company is in the line of fire as well.

Application stability. Jobs claims that Flash is responsible for more Mac OS X system crashes than any other software, and he doesn't want the iPhone OS to suffer the same instability. This claim is completely credible. Many, many Flash apps are created by so-called programmers who have no clue about memory utilization, cleanup, and the like. It's easy to create Flash apps that consume all of a browser's memory, interfere with other Flash or JavaScript apps, don't close properly, and generally obstruct the user and the browser. Adobe has hardly helped these amateur developers avoid these problems in its Flash Pro software; there's a reason that several Flash-blocking browser plug-ins are available to prevent Flash-induced browser crashes.

Moreover, the new version of InDesign lets you export Flash SWF presentations directly from your layout, complete with button actions and animations. How good is that code?

More reason to worry that maybe Adobe can't deliver a quality Flash Player for mobile: Adobe began shipping Flash Lite players in 2006 for several mobile operating systems, but they don't run much standard Flash content. Even today, Flash Lite is buggy and unreliable on devices such as the new Android-based HTC Droid Incredible.

In Adobe's defense, the company has created an enterprise platform for Flash under the LiveCycle brand that includes an Eclipse framework, data integration, and an application server. The suite is currently in use by enterprise developers and professional services organizations.

Resource-hogging. A related issue to the quality of the code is the quality of the player; both conspire to eat up resources such as CPU cycles, memory, and battery power. Jobs has pointed out that Adobe has been promising mobile versions of the full Flash Player for years but has yet to deliver one.

Without Flash players actually on the market, it's hard to know if Jobs' concerns are valid. But the delays are worrisome. We may get a clue if Adobe meets its promised June ship date -- which has slipped a few times already -- for Flash Player 10 for Android.

Compromised security. As Microsoft has tightened the security features in its Windows operating system, its apps, and its development tools and as Apple has begun to do the same on its end, Adobe stands out as the emerging threat magnet, due to a regular flow of security holes in its Flash, AIR, and PDF technologies.

Of course, Apple has had its share of security issues on the Mac OS, so it's no paragon of security virtue. But the iPhone OS -- because of Apple's tight controls -- has so far been spared breaches outside of jailbroken devices, and it's understandable Apple wants to keep it that way.

Lack of gesture support. Jobs claims the Flash's keyboard-and-mouse interface expectations -- derived from its PC roots -- simply don't make sense in a gesture-based mobile device. He's sort of right. On the other hand, most Web pages also are designed for keyboard and mouse input, yet Apple lets users access those sites on its iPhone OS devices. What's the difference?

True, Apple has substituted its own UI approaches for some native HTML UI conventions -- such as the scroller for picking menu items in <select> tags -- but it doesn't do so for JavaScript UI elements, even though most of those are not touch-friendly. So why apply a different standard to Flash UI elements?

With that history in mind, read the InfoWorld peace plan for Flash on iPhone OS and cast your vote as to whether it should be adopted by Apple and Adobe.

This article, "Apple vs. Flash: The InfoWorld peace plan," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.

This story, "Apple Vs. Flash: the InfoWorld Peace Plan" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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