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Steve Jobs: Adobe's Flash Is Old PC History, Open Web Is the Future

<a href=Steve Jobs" />In a rare response to the chatter about Apple's tech feud with Adobe, Apple's Steve Jobs has declared that that the Web should really embrace open standards, even while the iPhone remains closed.

Jobs just had Apple publish his musings on Apple's "hotnews" section. And it's amazing. No, seriously, it's amazing, not only for the frankness of the text, its overt challenge to Adobe's reliability, but also for Steve's stance on open versus closed tech standards. Though the letter's titled "Thoughts on Flash," its real thrust is how Web-connected technologies in the future really need to have openness at core.

Jobs begins softly, pointing out how long Apple's had a relationship with Adobe, since their "proverbial garage"-based business beginnings. "There were many good times," he notes. But then he gets to the good stuff: "Adobe has characterized our decision as being primarily business driven—they say we want to protect our App Store—but in reality it is based on technology issues. Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true."

At this point, he partakes of some serious dissing of Adobe: Its products are "100% proprietary," is the first jab, followed by gems like "Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash," (a fact made painfully clear to me this morning, when a crashed Flash plug-in killed an hour of my writing effort) and "Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. [...] Who knows how it will perform?" Steve also brushes over the famous battery life issue, and, yes, that oddly over-looked issue of touch compatibility.

Behind all this, though, is a different message: Apple is responsible for crafting open Web standards, that are good, as well as being future-friendly (mainly referencing webkit, of course.) And while Apple's platforms remain tightly closed, this is for a reason...and Steve thinks the post-PC era (seriously!) which is dominated by advanced mobile devices accessing the Net should be characterized by new "open Web standards." HTML5 and such are the future, and the Flash Web should be left in the past.

A slightly niche tech commentary? You bet. But this is Steve Jobs, folks, and when he takes time to speak out on matters like this, in an unexpectedly open style, the tech world, and thus the entire Internet will take note.

A call and email seeking response from Adobe were not immediately returned.

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  • Enrique Serrano

    That is true: Flash started as a Macromedia product, and since Adobe took control of it, it has been moving towards a more open source approach.

    Nevertheless, the so called "open" technologies for web video are not what they seem. HTML5 standard should have a video codec embedded in all browsers in a native way. But no consensus was achieved about which video codec to use.

    While the Ogg Theora codec was an open source approach, some companies blocked it proposing H.264 instead. H.264 seemed to perform better, but it is not open, but patented. And guess who is part of the group that patented it? Apple, of course. So every company using H.264 for commercial purposes has to pay for it.

    These infographics help a lot getting a clear idea of the whole landscape of Apple, Adobe (iPhone, Flash) and HTML5 video codecs:

    If you compare the open source technologies of Adobe and Apple, you will find that the open source efforts of Adobe are much higher. Apple states that Flash Player is not open source, but I cannot be so: it contains proprietary components paid by Adobe - including Apple's H.264 video codec!

    Finally, the only way to code iPhone apps using Cocoa (Apple's developer environment) is on a Mac. Yes, Cocoa is free (but proprietary). And since Apple is the only one manufacturing Macs (still a minoritary 5% of the market) it seems like another good strategy to foster hardware sales.

  • Max Nomad

    Steve's whole stance on Open Standards is a huge, steaming, piping-hot, corn-studded pile of Hypocrisy. While I agree with this, at the same time Jobs is sitting on top of Apple whose OSes have always been more closed than a Mafia hit-list... and just as brutal the minute they catch someone trying to expand it beyond their imposed limits. And while he is correct that Flash is bloated and can often be a process hog, his real beef with Flash -- and Gates shares the mindset -- is that Adobe took a play out of the both of their playbooks and has a grip on that standard like an angry Hezbollah grudge.

  • Shannon Sofield

    Anyone could certainly go point by point through Jobs' post and refute each one, just as he could offer a seemingly valid rebuttal as well. I think this discussion parallels the fact that Apple does not allow other hardware manufacturers to make "Macs". They retain tight control over the entire process and therefore can guarantee or expect a certain experience which would not be possible if licensing their hardware technology, or in this case, allowing Flash on their mobile devices. Just my $0.02. Also note, Flash was a Macromedia product (and before that Future Splash), not an Adobe product originally.