BitDepth 728 - April 27

Why does Apple hate Flash so?
Why all the Flash hate?

In announcing the newest version of its Creative Suite, Adobe noted that CS5 would offer a refreshed Device Central authoring environment for mobile devices running Flash and Adobe AIR.

The battle between Apple and Adobe over the implementation of Flash in their mobile platforms heated up a few weeks ago when the iPhone creator changed their developer agreements to specifically prohibit the Flash-to-iPhone compiler that Adobe planned to use to get Flash based applications running on the iPhone OS.
In a perceptive piece on his blog,
Daring Fireball, John Gruber points out that Apple is trying to stop “meta-platforms” from being developed on top of the iPhone OS.

These development platforms, which include Novell’s Monotouch, an implementation of Microsoft’s .Net programming environment and the game platform Unity, would allow developers to create software that runs on any platform that supports the underlying code, opening up a much broader base of customers for developers.
This isn’t a surprising new model of software development. It was the basis for the creation of Sun Microsystems’ Java development environment, which allows all Java software to run on any computer which can run the Java Runtime environment.

For users, it’s a simple as installing Java on their computer and then running any Java software. It’s instant platform neutrality.
This seems like a big win for developers and users, but it hasn’t worked out that way for Java. Software developed using Java tools remain slower than software that targets a specific software and hardware platform, Java applications are notoriously ugly and often user hostile, and the growth of the environment has been slow and plagued by constant operating system and hardware revisions.

Despite being a good idea, Java hasn’t changed the world of software programming.
Adobe’s Flash, positioned as a development platform, is a fairly recent idea. Introduced in 1995 as a competitor to Macromedia’s Shockwave, Future Splash Animator was a faster way of introducing basic animation to a website.
After Macromedia bought and renamed it in 1996, Flash began to absorb Shockwave’s features, all but replacing it as the deployment platform of choice for multimedia rich websites.

Flash, it should be noted, evolved as a way of meeting the needs of designers and developers who wanted to build interactive websites while the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) dithered through the details of formal standards for the Internet.
Some of what Flash was originally created to do has since become possible using open standards like XML, CSS and Javascript.

Even the W3C is catching up with the multimedia cravings of the web with standards in HTML5 that outline standards for displaying media online.
Apple’s own resistance to the Flash plug-in probably stems from the epic awfulness of the software on the Mac platform. 
In developing my own website, I limit the presence of Flash to a bare minimum. My approach to using the technology is driven by my own experience with browsing the web. I don’t like waiting for content to load so that I can get a sense of what the website is about. 

I’m particularly irritated by pages that are empty until you load the Flash content. Flash on the website is principally used to display useful widgets that aren’t available in any other format, but I place those quite firmly ‘below the fold,’ under the first screenful of information you see on any page or off in the margins of the content.
Steve Jobs’ displeasure with the plug-in has been vocal and public, but Apple and Adobe, as
blogger Keith_in_TnT reminded me, have been squabbling since the introduction of Type 1 Postscript fonts.

Flash use on the web has surged and Adobe claims (with statistics acknowledged as data extrapolations) that the Flash plug-in is installed in 98.9 percent of today’s web browsers.
Still there’s interest in so-called ‘Flash blockers,’ software that stops the plug-in from loading content unless the user specifically clicks a button.

Automated methods of updating software have encouraged faster adoption of fresh versions of the Flash plug-in. The Mozilla Foundation tracks click-throughs on its browser’s “What’s new” page, which shows up whenever the web browser is updated. The update to 3.5.3 triggered more than one million click-throughs to update the Flash plug-in on a page that appears when Firefox reports the status of the browser’s plug-ins.

Despite these very modern features, StatOwl’s most recent statistics suggest that the most common version of Flash in browsers is two revisions old showing up in 27 percent of browsers, the newest version is installed on just 5.5 percent of browsers.
Most Flash based pages will target a lowest common denominator of Flash Player 7 for their content, but there’s good reason for users with the Flash plug-in to update the software. As Flash becomes more popular, the software requires more frequent updates to deal with potential security issues.

For all its ubiquity, Adobe’s Flash remains a proprietary solution and the web hasn’t been kind to protocols that aren’t truly open.
Apple’s resistance to any deployment of Flash on the iPhone and the iPad isn’t likely to hurt Adobe as much as acceptance of alternatives to the aging plug-in technology will. That possibility is likely to prove to be more deadly to the continued domination of Flash as a technology than Apple’s strategic petulance.
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