Steve Jobs saying Flash is bad does not make it so

I’ve mulled over the statement by Apple CEO Steve Jobs on why he hates Flash. It’s been picked over by many, so there’s little point in analysing it line by line, spotting what’s true, what’s false, what’s twisted. It doesn’t matter. What counts is that Jobs is disallowing Flash and attacking Adobe – he’s decided it should get out of the runtime business and just do tools for HTML5:

Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future

Apple is a powerful enemy; and what I’ve found alarming watching the reaction is the extent to which Jobs saying “Flash is bad” has lowered the reputation of Flash; it’s as if all the great things which it has enabled – web video that works, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a web browser, an entire industry of casual gaming – has been forgotten because one charismatic and influential individual has called it old stuff that crashes Macs.

The army of enthusiasts which leaps to the defence of all things Apple both amuses and disturbs me. I understand some of the reasons. People warm to Apple because the company has improved their lives, in computing, in music, in mobile phones – especially in contrast to the efforts of Microsoft and its partners who have all too often made computers and mobile devices that are hostile and unpleasant to use. This last factor is not Apple’s fault; and without Apple it might not now be changing. Apple deserves our thanks for that.

That doesn’t make Jobs or his followers right about Flash, which is a magical piece of technology. Yes, it’s been widely abused to make annoying ads and animations; yes, it crashes the browser sometimes; yes, both HTML5 and Microsoft Silverlight are encroaching on Flash territory.

Still, Flash is never going to be allowed on Apple’s new wave of personal computing devices, which by the looks of things it intends to form the core of its business. Nor can we write for Flash and compile for Apple; it’s not allowed.

This is the new model of computing: the web if you want open, or humbly seek permission from the device overlords if you want a local application install, at least on Apple’s platform; and Microsoft is headed in the same direction with Windows Mobile 7. It’s not a model I like; but the trend is unmistakeable.

5 thoughts on “Steve Jobs saying Flash is bad does not make it so”

  1. Not much point in commenting when people have firmly made up their minds.

    “People warm to Apple because the company has improved their lives”

    Because it has nothing to do with the frequent Flash crashes (I have logs), the terrible Flash performance (I have an activity monitor), or the terrible Flash security (Google “flash security vulnerabilities”). It has nothing to do with the unnavigable, unbookmarkable, slow, impossible to index sites that are created as a result. It has nothing to do with the lack of native interfaces in Flash, preventing use of standard key shortcuts, copy/paste, scroll wheels, and accessibility features. The most popular web browser addon category after ad blockers is flash blockers.

    No, it’s because we’re all just irrationally fond of old Mr. Jobs.

    “a magical piece of technology”

    Bollocks. It’s technology, not fairy dust – and you look on Apple users as the irrational ones. It is a runtime that works passably on Windows, and poorly to not at all on Mac OS X, Linux, and the mobile space. There has yet to be any phone or handheld that can run Flash (it’s always “just around the corner”) – not Flash Lite, Flash. Netbooks require additional hardware just to deal with Flash video. Its only usefulness is that it’s ubiquitous. The same could be said for IE6 a few years ago.

    Adobe/Macromedia have had plenty of years and cash to improve it and failed, and now “their” market is being taken away my leaner, nimbler competitors. Why should we support them except for some misplaced sense of nostalgia?

  2. @Joshua comments are always appreciated 🙂

    I’m sure it is true that Windows users have had a better Flash than others. According to Adobe, that’s partly because of lack of cooperation from Apple; there is likely truth in that too.

    I disagree that it has not improved at all. The Text Layout Framework, for example, is excellent.


  3. It’s the strangest thing. Flash is the price we paid for not innovating on HTML for the better part of 10 years.
    “Open” standards advocates have been wanting to replace a plugin (a non-standard hack, granted, now a incredibly
    well-distributed and highly functional hack) with a native web solution (ie. non plugin solution, built into
    the browser like HTML5 is heading towards on mobile and slower on desktop) for the better part of those same
    ten years. Flash wasn’t open, wasn’t standardized, but it did work, so we all collectively got lazy.

    Adobe is no saint here. If they wanted to contribute Flash to the open browser stack they could have. You may wonder
    why for 10 years it has remained a plugin rather than submitted to a standards body. What they have
    most at risk from an HTML5 solution is that they can no longer sell their Flash Media Server on the back end
    at $1000+ a cpu as server-side products based on the open standards would supplant the need. Smaller loss
    from the Flash authoring tools. And finally, control of the specification. While the specification for Flash is published, there is no reference source to create alternate products, and there is no way to influence the specification. Adobe is hardly falling over itself to contribute the code for Flash, nor to help browser writers write better Flash interpreters.
    Ever try to web crawl a Flash site or do a “View source…” or re-skin a Flash site? It’s almost a classic example of how closed technology retarded standards-based web development for years.

    This is all mostly true Apple aside.

    For the first time in about a decade, there’s an opportunity for a browser / small part of the ecosystem to go without Flash and push (finally) some part of Flash’s functionality into the browser natively, so it can be innovated on by multiple players. Apple is about 4%-5% of the phones sold, 17% of the smart phone market and probably some (low) percentage points of overall web traffic. It’s hard. Glad they’re trying. If it makes web sites retool to web standards, that’s a real bonus.

    It also serves Apple’s needs. They don’t need additional Apps. They need high-quality unique apps. Adobe’s CEO says they’re intent on multi-platform. Write once, deploy on multiple devices. Essentially Flash being the development environment for all phones (mobile devices) to smooth out differences between manufacturers. It’d be a different overlord but an overlord still the same. Do you really want all development in the future to be reduced to an AIR environment?
    Do you like how their apps and installers work and look? Do they fit your Windows machine (or Mac if that’s what you also run) look-and-feel?

    I don’t really see the incompatibility. Web apps are free and open. Different platforms will have native app dev environments for a while until they are winnowed away. Flash will be on some of them if they can get the implementation issues sorted out. But Flash can and should compete with the native environments on the phones. In the ideal Flash world, and again, watch the interview with their CEO, they become the native dev environment on ALL phones/devices (least common denominator) and with their “control” of 2m Flash developers, that’s their weapon. They’re no different than MS or Apple in that respect. If you’ve ever paid the full freight for Creative Suite at $2500+ or CPU licenses for five Flash media servers at $5-25k, it’s obvious how this is going to work. Like or hate Apple, but pulling for Adobe is no better.

    The best response to all of this is to develop and increase the power of the native web platforms (HTML, CSS/JS, etc) which really are controlled by no one, but for now are woefully underpowered compared to Apple Cocoa or Flash.

  4. @diesel I agree with most of that, though I’d distinguish between Adobe lock in (must buy the dev tools, distribute how and where you like) and Apple lock in (need permission + pay tax to Apple for distribution).

    There was never any chance of Flash dominating client dev. – too much competition, and lack of native integration as you note. It is a useful x-platform runtime though – at least in the non-Apple world.


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