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Flash Wars: The Many Enemies and Obstacles of Flash [Part 2 of 3]

post #1 of 26
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While widely deployed as a web plugin and among the few web technologies that have become a household word, Adobe's Flash has more than a few substantial enemies that would like to see it replaced, cloned, or erased.

Additionally, Flash faces a number of significant obstacles that are its own fault. These also erode Adobe's position and have helped force its hand in opening the Flash specification. Here's a look at the external competitors of Flash, and how Flash has hurt its own chances to establish itself as a web platform in the future.

The Many Enemies of Flash

Microsoft now sees Flash as a competitor to Windows, as it performs the same cross platform, application deployment role Java attempted to deliver a decade ago. If critical web content is all done in Flash, there's increasingly less need to use Windows anymore, as most platforms can run at least some version of Flash. Microsoft is hoping to sideline Flash the same way it crippled Java on the desktop: by building its own proprietary version, Silverlight, and using its monopoly power to rapidly deploy it and simply choke off Adobe's air supply.

While Microsoft seemed rather invincible in the 90s as it more or less terminated Netscape, client side Java, OpenGL graphics, Office alternatives, and other competition, its more recent efforts to crush rivals haven't been as successful. Plans to destroy and replace iTunes and the iPod, Google in search or advertising, smartphones, and video game consoles have all been expensive campaigns that haven't resulted in monopoly expansion. That certainly makes the struggle between Silverlight and Flash more interesting and harder to call.

Sun may be an enemy of Microsoft, but that doesn't make it a friend of Flash. The company has watched Flash take over the role intended for client Java, and is now competing against Flash in rich Internet applications. Sun is fighting back with JavaFX, a new family of Java tools to push back into that market on both the desktop and in mobile devices.

The open source community has little love for Flash because it is a proprietary standard. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is pushing Gnash as a free alternative player to Adobe's Flash Player (FSF lists it third among its High Priority Free Software Projects), while OpenLaszlo competes against Flash development tools for creating rich Internet applications; it can produce either Java serverlets or binary Flash content that can be played back using the standard Flash Player. Other groups are working to extend SVG and other software in place of Flash entirely.

Apple added support for Flash 4 to QuickTime 5 in 2001, which enabled developers to use Flash for interactivity within QuickTime movies. However, Apple had trouble keeping its support for Flash up to date with the latest release from Macromedia. Additionally, while Flash releases for the Mac were delivered at the same time as Windows, the quality of Macromedia's Mac releases was always a bit behind and problematic.

With Flash 8, released in 2005 just before the Adobe purchase, Macromedia decided to only build support for Flash content playback on the Mac within the web plugin or in the standalone player, and delegate Flash playback from within a PDF to QuickTime. By that time, Apple had given up trying to keep pace with the latest version of Flash, so users trying to view Flash inside a PDF could only play Flash 5 content.

In 2006, Apple turned off Flash support in QuickTime 7.1.3 by default, explaining that "The version of Flash that ships in QuickTime is older than the version available from Adobe and used in Safari, therefore, while we still ship Flash with QuickTime, it is turned off by default." Since then, Apple has removed the option to even turn Flash support back on in QuickTime.

Apple's complete lack of interest in promoting Flash grew even more obvious in 2007 with the release of the iPhone, which not only shipped without Flash support in its web browser, but also introduced an alternative H.264 player for YouTube videos that worked around what has become the most valuable use of Flash on the web: serving as a player applet and container format for web videos.

Throughout 2007, Apple stripped nearly every vestige of Flash from its corporate site and other products, and began recommending that developers use open standards instead. As noted in Gone in a Flash: More on Apples iPhone Web Plans, last summer Apple published a document titled "Optimizing Web Applications and Content for iPhone," which not only listed Flash as the single bullet point item under a listing of "unsupported technologies," but went on to explicitly encourage developers to "stick with standards," and use CSS, JavaScript, and Ajax instead.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place and Some Other Obstacle

While Adobe has continued Macromedia's marketing strategy of finding various new uses for Flash and advertising the wide penetration of the Flash Player runtime, it is now up against the three strongest forces shaping the future of computing. Microsoft has already begun leveraging its Windows and Office monopolies to distribute Silverlight as a Flash-killer on both the Windows PC desktop and on the Mac. When Microsoft releases a Mac product, it can only mean one thing: it's working hard to kill a cross platform threat to Windows.

If battling Microsoft on the desktop isn't tough enough, Adobe now has Apple pushing its prominent WiFi mobile platform in the iPhone and iPod Touch as completely Flash Player free. Further, the new Cocoa iPhone/iPod Touch SDK not only offers Adobe insufficient means to develop a Flash plugin, but also clearly forbids the development of runtimes designed to advance competing platforms on top of the native Cocoa environment, whether Flash, Silverlight, or Java.

Apple strategy to leverage the success of its iTunes, iPod, and iPhone to disrupt proprietary control of the web is in full swing. The company is also aligned with Mozilla's FireFox and the Opera browser to advance support for today's SVG and develop the future HTML 5 specification for standards-based rich Internet applications, both of which are direct threats to Flash on the desktop.

On page 2 of 2: A Shot in the Dark with Flash Lite; Weak Cross Platform Flash Software; and Strong Patent Threats.

A Shot in the Dark with Flash Lite

The fact that Adobe has only delivered fair to poor Flash support for any platform outside of Windows is also a significant problem. While the company likes to rattle off the number of devices and operating systems that "support Flash," it hides the fact that few of those actually support the latest Flash 9, with many stuck at support for Flash 5, 6, or 7.

Mobile devices typically run Flash Lite, which targets a minimal subset of Flash interactivity; the existing Flash Lite 2.0 is based upon the 2003 Flash 7 runtime. The recently announced Flash Lite 3.0 will be the first version that can play Flash video, the primary attraction of Flash on the web.

Flash Lite does not run on the iPhone. At Apple's recent shareholder meeting, Steve Jobs noted that the Lite version of Flash "is not capable of being used with the web," meaning it can't play back content developed for the desktop web browsers, while the full desktop runtime "performs too slow to be useful" on the iPhone.

While Adobe has bundled Flash Lite players for devices running Symbian, Sun's Java ME, Qualcom's BREW, and Microsoft's Windows Mobile, it also competes against those platforms for native development attention. It should come as no surprise that once those companies discover this, they will likely react the same way Microsoft did on the Windows desktop. Certainly, once Microsoft can deliver its own mobile version of Silverlight, it will attempt to displace Flash Lite. That's apparently not too far away; the company recently demonstrated a beta of Silverlight 2 running on Nokia's Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile devices.

Weak Cross Platform Flash Software

Outside of smartphones and PDAs, other non-PC devices that supposedly run Flash are often similarly outdated and buggy. The Sony PlayStation 3 (which uses the NetFront browser) and Nintendo Wii (Opera) web browsers offer "Flash support" that only works with content developed for older versions of Flash. The Xbox 360 does not ship with Flash support, and it sure looks as if Microsoft has no interest in providing it at any point in the future.

Adobe provides a Linux Flash Player 9, but it only works on 32-bit x86 machines, which rules out its use on 64-bit PCs, game consoles and desktops using PowerPC processors, or most devices running on ARM chips, although Nokia has adapted Adobe's Flash Player 9 for the Linux and ARM-based Internet Tablet 800.

Adobe's Flash support on the Mac also carries on the tradition of Macromedia's second rate support for platforms outside of Windows. While Macs have fewer problems playing modern Flash content than other platforms outside of Windows, the Flash plugin Adobe supplies for Mac users has significant problems with memory leaks and stability. Apple can't be pleased that Flash distracts from the overall experience of Safari and the Mac desktop.

Strong Patent Threats

Adobe's hit and miss support has created interest in third party implementations of the Flash player. However, Gnash and other open source projects designed to supply Flash player functionality to platforms where it is lacking or outdated have run into two major roadblocks common to most every effort to duplicate proprietary software.

First, they must reverse engineer the moving target of the existing Flash specification while Adobe independently works on new versions. Gnash currently only supports the features of Flash 7, released back in 2003, along with limited support for some elements of Flash 8 and 9.

Second, in a world where every software concept is now being patented, even successful efforts to "clean room" duplicate something like Flash can be hit with submarine patent infringement lawsuits long after the work is done. That threat often prevents commercial third parties from joining or supporting open efforts to clone existing technologies, out of fear that patent trolls will attack once the bridge is crossed. That fear not only applies to independent implementations of Flash but also the Mono and Moonlight open source projects that attempt to provide open compatibility with Microsoft's .Net and Silverlight on both the Mac and Linux.

Rather than flattering Flash with imitation, the open source community could be flattening Flash with innovation. Why copy proprietary software when open standards can provide a better, safer foundation for developing upon? On one hand, that's exactly what Google, Apple, and its W3C partners Mozilla and Opera plan to do: obviate any need for Flash. However, at the same time there are significant market pressures behind Flash that will take some time to deflate, considered in part three: Adobe Fights for AIR with the Open Screen Project.

post #2 of 26
Above article describing Microsoft's market position - "monopoly expansion"...
Is that even possible?
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post #3 of 26
Quote:
The open source community has little love for Flash because it is a proprietary standard.

'proprietary standard' as opposed to open standard I guess.

Life is too short to drink bad coffee.

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post #4 of 26
Interesting article. Looking fwd to the next part.
Ed
post #5 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by tinker View Post

Above article describing Microsoft's market position - "monopoly expansion"...
Is that even possible?

It's possible in the sense that some giants can never have enough.
post #6 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

'proprietary standard' as opposed to open standard I guess.

You don't believe the semantics allow us to use 'standard' when it is the only medium used for, say, video delivery right now?
post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by tinker View Post

Above article describing Microsoft's market position - "monopoly expansion"...
Is that even possible?

Think of the word monopoly as an unfair dominance. You can increase your dominance. In fact, having a monopoly makes increasing said unfair dominance easier to achieve.
Dick Applebaum on whether the iPad is a personal computer: "BTW, I am posting this from my iPad pc while sitting on the throne... personal enough for you?"
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Dick Applebaum on whether the iPad is a personal computer: "BTW, I am posting this from my iPad pc while sitting on the throne... personal enough for you?"
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post #8 of 26
My greatest problem with Flash remains their mysterious and borderline unethical implementation of cookies, which raise significant privacy and security concerns IMHO:

http://phonedifferent.com/2008/03/fl...ugin_your.html
post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by HVMediaSolutions View Post

Interesting article. Looking fwd to the next part.
Ed

Agreed. RoughlyDrafted is always insightful stuff, even when its written by "Prince" here at AI.
post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by fuyutsuki View Post

Agreed. RoughlyDrafted is always insightful stuff, even when its written by "Prince" here at AI.

Well, I hit AI every day, and roughly drafted now and again, so glad I didn't miss this.

One comment:

Re: "Apple strategy to leverage the success of its iTunes, iPod, and iPhone to disrupt proprietary control of the web is in full swing. " I'm wondering, tho' Apple has taken pains to play fairly nice with the Open Source community of late, if "gain" or "assert" aren't other words that would be at least as accurate. And if the playing nice isn't mostly (as it is for other corps) co-optation.

Apple is clearly hoping for the dominance in mobile browsing they enjoy with the iTunes/iPod ecosystem. I read a few days ago that Apple's cash position is starting to rival MS's hoard and they have beaten back all comers in that business -- by continually raising the features and functionality bar of their iDevices. Most of us here love Leader Prime, his barony, and all the nicely integrated goodies spewing forth from Cupertino, but is it truly all to the good for us if Apple becomes the alpha dog in all the arenas they're staking out?

One question:

How does QT stack up against Flash and Silverlight, i.e., how is it the same kind of tool and how is it different? Is Apple in this game or kind of on the sidelines with QT? I also get confused about how QT did and didn't support Flash content and how Flash does and doesn't support H.264 -- and showing my naivete, how H.264 is different when implemented via any of these development/playback platforms, and whether you can play Flash or QT H.264 content on multiple players/plug-ins, etc.

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post #11 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by rener View Post

My greatest problem with Flash remains their mysterious and borderline unethical implementation of cookies, which raise significant privacy and security concerns IMHO:

You can always turn them off but some Flash applications might break.

Life is too short to drink bad coffee.

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post #12 of 26
This article tries to paint Apple as some sort of open standards warrior, and Adobe as a strong proponent of proprietary technology.

While Flash may not be completely open, Adobe has certainly contributed incredibly more technology to the open source community than has any other publicly traded software company.

It's likely that Apple learned from their experience with PostScript and PDF, and are simply trying to have more control over their own platform. It's not some sort of altruistic concern over standards, free software, or open source.

Flash and its related technology are rock solid on the Mac. Why would Mozilla adopt Adobe's Javascript layer, the same one that is in Flash, for the core of the Firefox browser if it is as buggy as this article implies?

I operate a number of Apple and Adobe authorized training centers, in the interest of full disclosure.

I am a firm supporter of Apple technology. I pretty much only buys Macs nowadays for all of our training centers.

But this article is seriously flawed and seems to me to have a hidden agenda.

Sterling Ledet
http://www.ledet.com
post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by sjledet View Post

Adobe has certainly contributed incredibly more technology to the open source community than has any other publicly traded software company.

More than Sun? I wouldn't have thought that to be honest, I may be wrong.

Or are they not publicly traded (hopeless/disinterested in finance)!
post #14 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by sjledet View Post

Adobe has certainly contributed incredibly more technology to the open source community than has any other publicly traded software company.

References? I have a hard time believing that Adobe offers more open source code than Red Hat for example, which was a publicly traded company the last time I checked.

Life is too short to drink bad coffee.

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post #15 of 26
Quote:
How does QT stack up against Flash and Silverlight, i.e., how is it the same kind of tool and how is it different? Is Apple in this game or kind of on the sidelines with QT? I also get confused about how QT did and didn't support Flash content and how Flash does and doesn't support H.264 -- and showing my naivete, how H.264 is different when implemented via any of these development/playback platforms, and whether you can play Flash or QT H.264 content on multiple players/plug-ins, etc.

Quicktime H264 is crisp and clear when compared to Flash VP6. The new E-VP6 by On2Flix Pro is close, but QuickTime H264 is still beautiful when compared. You can now play H264 in Flash Player 9, but you have to hand script it in to Flash with ActionScript. I expect Flash CS4 to have the ability to import H264 into Flash.

Where Flash beats Quicktime is with interactivity. Basically you can only display video through the QuickTime Player with the standard QuickTime UI. You can control Quicktime movies with Javascript and CSS, so there is some custom UI capabilities, but it's not as easy to do as in Flash.

Of course you know the capabilities of Flash.

The "ace in the hole" is the iPhone. I think it is cool that I can design a website and create a button on my "contact" page when pressed automatically dials my phone number. Talk about interactivity!

I really think the iPhone is going to explode in the next version. Keeping Flash off is a genius move on Apple's part. It will really increase the numbers for Safari and Quicktime. Now to back it up, they need to give us a development tool to design custom UIs and Sprites.

I am not really sure if killing off Flash is a good idea. I like the interactive Flash sites like Nike's. But it does bog down. There is a place for it in web design and development. People argue about banner ads. To be honest if it wasn't Flash it would be something else. Who cares.

What we do not need is Silverlight. MS has screwed the pouch on just about every product it has pushed out. Instead of trying to kill Flash, we should be trying to kill Microsoft. It really is a POS company. Balmer is an idiot.

Hopefully Adobe can "fine tune" their Flash Player to be more iPhone friendly. I think it is a great product as much as Quicktime.

Ed
post #16 of 26
I explored the factors that pit Apple's WebKit against Flash, as well as Silverligt and JavaFX in:

Runtime wars (2): Apples answer to Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX
post #17 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by sjledet View Post

This article tries to paint Apple as some sort of open standards warrior, and Adobe as a strong proponent of proprietary technology.

While Flash may not be completely open, Adobe has certainly contributed incredibly more technology to the open source community than has any other publicly traded software company.

First off, the claim that Adobe has "contributed ... more technology to the open source community than has any other publicly traded software company" is, as other posters have pointed out, unbelievable.

Secondly, one has to wonder at the concatenation of all the certainlies and incrediblies in that post. That in itself speaks volumes. The poster is trying to push a view on the reader by non-rational means, by force of rhetoric rather than by example or argument.

Besides Sun and Red Hat, already mentioned by other posters, how about IBM and Novell, both major contributors to the Linux kernel?

However, there's a deeper deception in this post. The parent of this post is obviously trying to imply that Apple doesn't take part in open-source projects. This is a deception on two counts. First, it does (c.f. Darwin, WebKit, and Calendar Server). Secondly, what is at issue here is open standards not open source. The parent post is hoping people don't notice that disjunction, although its obvious even in the poster's own words:

Quote:
This article tries to paint Apple as some sort of open standards warrior

And why the over-dramatic and dishonest language here -- "Trying to paint" and "warrior"?

What's to notice, and what "Prince" did notice, is what Apple says to developers:

Quote:
Apple published a document titled "Optimizing Web Applications and Content for iPhone," which not only listed Flash as the single bullet point item under a listing of "unsupported technologies," but went on to explicitly encourage developers to "stick with standards," and use CSS, JavaScript, and Ajax instead.

There's no "painting" going on here. Apple used the phrase "stick with standards". This is what it wants. Read the document for yourself:

http://developer.apple.com/webapps/designingcontent.php

And is it surprising that Apple should prefer standards for its new platform? One imagines all companies would either prefer to use their own proprietary formats or an open standard. The worst thing would be to be beholden to someone else's proprietary format.

And, in my view, there is no such thing as a "proprietary standard". Rob Weir says that a standard:

Quote:
is a document, a written description, not an embodiment in the form of a product

http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/05/...rds-words.html

He's clearly right. The whole standards apparatus works on the basis of written descriptions -- which, by the way, is why it is such a disaster than Microsoft has subverted ISO with a fake written description for MS OOXML that it almost certainly doesn't intend to make it products conform to, and that no one else can conform to either.

Long live HTML, CSS, JavaScript, H.264, and SVG. The triumph of open standards like those would be good for Apple, but also good for end-users.
post #18 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by rener View Post

My greatest problem with Flash remains their mysterious and borderline unethical implementation of cookies, which raise significant privacy and security concerns IMHO:

http://phonedifferent.com/2008/03/fl...ugin_your.html

Yep you're correct. Thanks for the link - this would be a fairly major concern for me if I was promoting Adobe AIR as a development environment particularly given the generally low quality of Adobe software e.g. Acrobat Reader.
post #19 of 26
End the "Flash Wars" now:

SafariBlock for Safari
http://code.google.com/p/safariblock/

FlashBlock for Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape
http://flashblock.mozdev.org/

OMG! This is a 3 part series?!? Get real! Talk about ending the "Flash Wars". Please don't waste more space on this site talking about Flash.
post #20 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

References? I have a hard time believing that Adobe offers more open source code than Red Hat for example, which was a publicly traded company the last time I checked.

Alright, I'm wrong about the who contributed the "most". I'd agree Red Hat has done more, and possible Sun too.

The major point is that Adobe has done a lot more for open standards and open source than Apple.

Apple is simply fighting for control of media distribution. Any talk of "standards" is simply smoke and reality distortion.

What do you think the chances of and part of QuickTime going open source is?

I think it's curious this article hits the same exact month that Adobe releases Adobe Media Player.

- Sterling Ledet
http://www.ledet.com
post #21 of 26
So, I apologize for being ignorant about this....

I have always hated flash-laden sites.... so does the world hate flash now too?
post #22 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by sjledet View Post

What do you think the chances of and part of QuickTime going open source is?

Apple's Darwin Streaming Server has been available for years. It is designed to serve Quicktime content and it is free and open source.

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post #23 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by sjledet View Post


The major point is that Adobe has done a lot more for open standards and open source than Apple.

And still you are wrong. If the only thing that APple had done was crush Microsoft's hopes and dreams for the primacy of the DRM laden WMA file that would still be more than Adobe had done.
Quote:
Apple is simply fighting for control of media distribution. Any talk of "standards" is simply smoke and reality distortion.

And again you are wrong. Apple is fighting for control of media distribution with open standards! What is it you do not get about Mpeg4, AAC, MP3 and H.264?
post #24 of 26
What are the chances of .psd and .ai being published as open standards?
post #25 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigpics View Post

How does QT stack up against Flash and Silverlight, i.e., how is it the same kind of tool and how is it different? Is Apple in this game or kind of on the sidelines with QT? I also get confused about how QT did and didn't support Flash content and how Flash does and doesn't support H.264 -- and showing my naivete, how H.264 is different when implemented via any of these development/playback platforms, and whether you can play Flash or QT H.264 content on multiple players/plug-ins, etc.

About Silverlight, the answer is quick : Silverlight will just not play H264 content : as usual, microsoft has adopted a look alike, incompatible video format : VC1.
About why Quicktime is better that Flash when it comes to serious H264 usage, you may want to have a look at the following note/demonstration of a quicktime+javascript player :

http://blog.vrarchitect.net/post/200...ter-than-Flash

In short : Quicktime can reach any frame of a video. Flash just reach the I-Frames. So if you have a GOP/keyframing of 250 for instance, you can see only one frame every 10s of video (to be honest, most classical gop implies a frame every one or two seconds)
post #26 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by sjledet View Post

Alright, I'm wrong about the who contributed the "most". I'd agree Red Hat has done more, and possible Sun too.

The major point is that Adobe has done a lot more for open standards and open source than Apple.

Apple is simply fighting for control of media distribution. Any talk of "standards" is simply smoke and reality distortion.
[...]
- Sterling Ledet
http://www.ledet.com

I'm not sure that Red Hat has contributed much in terms of research (novel technology) to the world, but I could be missing something.

Flash code has been opensourced in the past (resulting in Gnash and another OSS project)
Adobe has made PDF an open technology, ISO spec 32000-1.
SVG came from Adobe.
Tamarin (one of the fastest Javascript interpreters) is now part of Mozilla open source.
Adobe Source Libraries (ASL) is quite useful: http://sourceforge.net/projects/adobe-source/
...

There are a bunch more I'm missing, but even that list is significant.

The logic that "EVERYTHING should be opensourced (or else company X is evil)" strikes me as simply positioning every company as evil, because it's unrealistic to expect everyone to OSS their work.

Dave
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