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

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InfoWorld's peace plan for Flash on iPhone OS
In his assault on Adobe, Jobs repeatedly questions the company's ability to execute -- and not only regarding the security and stability of Flash apps. He calls the company "painfully slow" to adopt enhancements to Apple's platforms, and he suggests that Adobe should focus on creating HTML5 tools for the future, rather than criticizing Apple for leaving Flash behind.

We can all agree, however, that the HTML5 future is years away. By barring Flash from the most popular and exciting mobile devices in existence, Apple denies developers and users an opportunity to create and consume applications that can provide a consistent user experience across platforms.

Both Adobe and Apple need to step up to the plate for that possibility to be realized. Here is our four-point plan for peace that could allow Flash on Apple's mobile devices:

1. Create a Flash video player plug-in. The security, stability, resource, and UI issues Jobs cites in his opposition to Flash simply don't exist for Flash video. Apple should let Adobe create a Flash video player plug-in for the Phone OS to be used in mobile Safari and by developers of iPhone OS apps for their own apps. Perhaps this will have to wait until the multitasking-enabled iPhone OS 4.0, but as that's due this summer, it's not a long wait.

Apple can set the memory usage limits for the video player, and as part of its normal app review can make sure that security, stability, and other concerns are met. Apple can also set the processing threshold required for supporting Adobe's F4V video format and its more resource-intensive VP6 codec. But the Sorenson Spark codec is equivalent to the requirements for the H.264 codec used in HTML5 and on the iPhone, so it should be allowed.

2. Put the core Flash technologies into the standards bodies. Both Adobe and Apple claim the other company relies on proprietary technologies, while saying they themselves are each open. Both companies are playing fast and loose on this issue.

Although Apple insists that its operating system and SDK be proprietary and subject to its control, so too does every software company, from Microsoft to Adobe. On the other hand, Adobe wants its proprietary technologies to be de facto standards across as many operating systems and platforms as possible -- while remaining proprietary to Adobe and its development tools.

For Adobe to realize its ubiquity goal, it needs to do with the Flash technologies -- the ActionScript language and the Flash file formats -- what it did with PDF files: Release the core subset to the standards community.

ActionScript was actually derived from JavaScript (formally known as ECMAScript), a standards-based language that Apple supports in the iPhone OS. It's time for ActionScript to become a standard, too. That should remove one of Apple's reasons to not support it on Web pages at least.

Likewise, the Flash video formats should be released to the standards bodies, since Adobe wants it to be a de facto alternative to the MPEG-4 video standard. It's true that Apple has its proprietary video format, QuickTime, just as Microsoft has its AVI, but Apple has not favored QuickTime over the MPEG-4 standard. If Adobe releases the Flash video format to the standards bodies, Apple would -- and should -- be able to support it natively as it does MPEG-4.

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