Adobe's fake tears have lost my respect

Adobe has now destroyed any credibility and sympathy it might have gotten in the Flash-on-iPhone dispute

It takes a lot to look bad in a fight with Apple, a company known for its hardball tactics and holier-than-thou attitude. However, Adobe has just succeeded in owning the low road with its new ad claiming it loves Apple but doesn't love "anybody taking away your freedom to choose what you create, how you create it, and what you experience on the Web." Not to mention the parallel statement posted at Adobe's Web site by Adobe cofounders John Warnock and Chuck Geshke that echoes the ad's wording and suggests Apple's actions could "undermine" the future of the Web through its closed application environment.

The Adobe campaign is a disingenuous, dishonest campaign that Adobe should be ashamed of. Say what you want about Apple's tactics, but at least the company is honest about its self-interests. By contrast, this sleazy campaign from Adobe is as false as the tobacco industry's ads or most political ads.

[ InfoWorld's Neil McAllister says good riddance to Flash. | Paul Krill explains how HTML5 could kill Flash and Silverlight. | Read InfoWorld's proposed peace plan to settle the Flash-on-iPhone dispute. ]

The fallacy of the "closed" argument
Let's get real: Every smartphone operating system is proprietary, as is its app environment, whether it's the iPhone OS, Windows Mobile and the forthcoming Windows Phone 7 OS replacement, the BlackBerry OS, Palm's WebOS, Google Android, or Nokia's Symbian. Sure, some are more open about who can create apps and what level of approval is needed, but they're all proprietary and subject to the vendor's control. What varies is the control applied, not the fact of it.

The same has long been true in the desktop world. The Windows and Mac operating systems also aren't free-for-alls, though they are more open than any of the mobile OSes.

Apple long ago decided, and made no bones about this decision, that it would control the apps on its iPhone OS -- just like the cellular carriers had always done before the iPhone's arrival, I might add. The ground rules have been clear and honest.

The truth is that Adobe is trying to promote its own proprietary application development environment as a means of pocketing licensing fees and selling app dev tools. That's no different than what Apple or any other vendor does. Also, Apple is by no means picking on Adobe; it doesn't allow Silverlight or JavaFX apps, either.

Plus, Adobe does have a history of bloated, unstable, awkwardly implemented applications -- I know from decades of personal experience fighting with its installers, license management tool, long load times, and partially implemented features in tools that I depend on to do much of my work -- so Apple's "prove it to me first" attitude is more than justified. Adobe does some great work, but it's put out some awful wares, too.

InfoWorld has advocated that Adobe fix Flash so that it won't suck up all the iPhone's resources and won't constantly crash the device. However, it appears Adobe is not interested in delivering a verrsion of Flash that would work well on the iPhone, just on using public pressure to try to force its way in.

The fallacy of the "Web future" argument
In its campaign, Adobe is ambiguous about the distinction between OS-level apps and Web apps. Apple has been clear that it sees a difference and will treat them differently. Adobe's fudging of this point has an obvious reason: While it would like to have Flash apps run natively on the iPhone (thus its Flash-to-iPhone converter in Flash Pro CS5), it needs Flash video and apps to run in the iPhone browser, because that's where Flash is most used. If content developers figure out how not to need Flash on the iPhone, it'll be easy to conclude they don't need it on other devices or even the desktop, either.

Thus, the "future of the Web is in jeopardy" claim from Adobe's cofounders. But it's a lie.

The truth is plain and simple: Adobe is trying to position Flash as a Web standard, but it's not one.

The fact that other mobile platforms are allowing Flash video and apps in their browsers is besides the point. Apple has decided -- rightfully, in my opinion -- that Flash is a big bag of hurt that users will quickly discover they can live without. Apple has repeatedly said Flash is too unstable and resource-intensive to allow on the iPhone. Flash certainly has those issues on the desktop, and Adobe has yet to deliver a full Flash player for any mobile platform, so I believe Apple's concerns here.

The futire of the Web -- desktop and mobile -- won't turn on whether Flash is allowed on specific devices or browsers. The future of the Web -- the in-progress HTML5 standard -- is being developed by a group of companies that includes Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera, Adobe, and 31 other members under a formal W3C standards process. It is not Apple's to design or dictate. The working group's members compete with each other in some areas; of course, they're jockeying over technologies and approaches that further their own interests, but every one of them is playing that game.

Where Apple is consistent is in its support for Web standards. Its stance is that its iPhone OS browser supports actual Web standards -- which is not necessarily the same as vendors' popular Web tools. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, H.264 video, and the standards-based version of PDF are in, but the proprietary ActiveX, Flash, and Silverlight are out. Java is the odd case; Apple says it excludes Java because it bars all virtual machines.

If Adobe really believed the issue was ensuring the future Web's unity, it would champion a nonproprietary alternative to H.264 video, since Mozilla's open source licensing model prevents it from using this licensed technology, even though it is in the draft HTML5 standard. H.264 will fragment the Web much more than the iPhone's nonsupport of Flash. And Adobe would put Flash into the standards bodies, as it did the core of PDF, so a future Adobe management team couldn't use it as a proprietary Trojan horse on the Web, as Microsoft once tried with ActiveX.

Moreover, it's not as if Adobe supports everyone else's popular technologies; you can't use Silverlight media assets or ActiveX controls in InDesign, for example -- just Flash SWF and, to a limited extent, QuickTime and JavaScript. The truth is that Adobe is just as selectively open as Apple is. At least Apple is providing a clear standard: Actual standards are supported on the Web via iPhone OS browsers, and Apple's proprietary technology and selected others' technology is what's used in the rest of the iPhone OS environment.

Fake tears meant to deceive users
Adobe's ad campaign tries to paint the company as some poor little innocent thrown out on the street by the misguided Steve Jobs, who the poor little innocent still loves and hopes so dearly he will see the error of his ways. Give me a break! If that's what Adobe calls love, it needs a therapist.

The fact is that Adobe is just as proprietary and self-interested as Apple, but unlike Apple, it is pretending otherwise, shedding fake tears and making dishonest insinuations. Maybe whoever did the Joe Camel and Willie Horton ads is now working for Adobe. Even when I disagree with Apple, I can respect it. I now can't say the same of Adobe.

By the way, I do wish Adobe and Apple would figure out a way to allow Flash to run (safely) on the iPhone. But not enough to support Adobe's squirrely attempt to gain sympathy through an ad campaign that takes no responsibility for its large contribution to the problem (Flash's bag of hurt), whitewashes the real issues, and depicts a false outcome.

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This article, "Adobe's fake tears have lost my respect," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile computing at InfoWorld.com.

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