Home > Uncategorized > Thoughts on Thoughts on Flash

Thoughts on Thoughts on Flash

April 29, 2010

imageSteve Jobs’ recent blog post; Thoughts On Flash has been raising kudos and hackles all over the web.  Many people have commented that Apple is the king of closed systems and they have a point, inside the Apple box itself.

But Jobs really is thinking outside that box here: he is making points about Flash as a data standard, and about its reliability, compactness, and hardware compatibility that everyone involved with producing for the web should know about.  It is a closed data standard: you can’t make your own Flash encoders without paying a license fee to Adobe.  Flash seems to be a big fat security hole.  And anyone in computer support can tell you that the Flash crash isn’t confined to digital fruit.

If you think keeping up with Flash’s constant updates is a chore with one computer, try it on 500 computers where the users can’t run the upgrade on their system rights.

The point about battery life is enough all by itself.  Flash must be decoded in software, where h.264 can be done in hardware.  This is crucially important in mobile devices.

I’m sure Adobe will end up suing Apple over this.  But I can’t think of a single Adobe product that I really like.  Photoshop is a high-end image manipulation standard, but I often find it frustrating to use. If you’re thinking; “Acrobat is good!” try one of the competing .pdf rendering utilities, like Foxit.

In the Flash vs. Apple war, I’m siding with Apple.  If you create web content, consider alternatives to Flash.

NOTES:

  • Yes, Steve Jobs is arrogant.  When you’ve revolutionized how the world uses computers and created a company with a market cap somewhat north of Microsoft’s (really!) it may be entirely warranted.

  • I have actually seen computers brought to a standstill in the middle of a meeting because Adobe Acrobat decided that was a good time to update itself.  Often this even requires a reboot – for a document reader! – and on more than one occasion I’ve seen that update skotch the machine, with a rebuild required.
  • That image is a screenshot fragment from Linux, edited in Gimp.
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. gruntled atheist
    April 29, 2010 at 21:47 | #1

    If you use Flash on the web, please find an alternative. 

    Do you have a recommendation?

  2. April 29, 2010 at 22:51 | #2

    HTML5 is an alternative and Google has already announced no more Flash for YouTube. They are using an Open Source standard. Flash is slowly coming to the death it deserves. I think George was referring to people that code websites. He would like them to consider using something else and alternatives do exist. Not to mention it may improve their site to steer clear of flash.

    Job’s has a point but he comes off as somewhat of an ass talking about the need for open standards when he has done all he can to implement closed standards within Apple’s products. His music system couldn’t be further away from being open and the iPad is bound to set closed standards for Internet capable devices. So when he speaks about the need for openness I agree, but he needs to put his actions where his mouth is.

  3. April 30, 2010 at 01:52 | #3

    To me, the worst sites are the ones that use Flash as the means of navigating through what you need. Someone sold some software developers on this idea a long time ago, and to say it’s dumb is to understate that by several orders of magnitude. You’re making your site dependent on a technology that’s not completely understood by anyone but the folks who sell it, and who may someday screw something up that makes your site inaccessible or insecure without you’re being aware or able to do anything about it.

    I’ll stick with PHP or Javascript if I need a dynamic web site. If I don’t, HTML works great.

  4. April 30, 2010 at 06:15 | #4

    @Cujo359 – that’s a really good explanation, I may steal it to use in meetings with pointy-haired bosses when they wonder why we don’t have cool Flash navigation.  Will probably substitute the word; “risky” for “dumb” though.  Something about wearing a suit makes people think they’re brilliant.

    @Gruntled Atheist:

    If you use Flash on the web, please find an alternative.

    Do you have a recommendation?

    Sorry, that was unclear, so I updated the wording.  Webs is right; I’m suggesting that web content creators avoid Flash if possible.  Using standards that don’t belong to a single company is the way to go: HTML5, Javascript (watch for accessibility though!) and h.264 video, PhP and MySQL are all open standards.

    @Webs: It is true that iTunes is a closed system but that is consistent with Jobs’ near-Nixonian mania for control where anything that interacts with hardware is concerned.  It’s a program specifically designed to interact with the iPod/iPhone, which is their flagship product right now. I’ll take open-standards where I can get them, I guess.

    One problem in the move toward open standards is that content companies are scared to death of it, and they’re rich and powerful.  It’ll happen, but not without a lot of legal wrangling and unworkable stuff along the way.

  5. April 30, 2010 at 07:52 | #5

    I think the best thing we can do to spread the use of open standards and software is to spread their message as much as possible. For some reason open source software still has a negative connotation, even with some technology people, that it is just built by a bunch of kids and it cannot seriously compete. I’m left with the counter of, “Just try it.” The ones that do are usually amazed.

    I’m not sure how to get across to people that open source software is typically better in terms of efficiency, ease of use, and security. For some reason people think quality and support come from dinosaurs of tech.

  6. April 30, 2010 at 13:23 | #6

    What just struck me is how truly awful Jobs is in how he runs his business. He’s speaking about the evils of a silo’ed experience on the web while he’s building the biggest, most fortified silo known to man.

    Jobs hijacks Open Source material for his own gain and then tweaks the heck out of the configuration. Try installing apache from scratch on an osx box and you’ll see what I mean. I would have taken *anyone* else (heck..even Obama) complaining about flash then Steve Jobs.

  7. April 30, 2010 at 13:31 | #7

    Yep.  Most of the commentary I’ve seen on the post has been; “Well Jobs is a hypocrite to say this stuff, even if I do agree with him about it.”  I have not seen very many people arguing that Flash is great and should be kept alive….

  8. J. J. Ramsey
    April 30, 2010 at 14:17 | #8

    webs05: “HTML5 is an alternative and Google has already announced no more Flash for YouTube. They are using an Open Source standard.”

    Not so sure about that. It looks like YouTube is going to use H.264 in its non-Flash player, and that’s a patent-encumbered codec.

  9. April 30, 2010 at 15:05 | #9

    h.264 is encumbered, unfortunately, but its use is free to end-users.  I would like to see wider use of the OGG codec container but it is the nature of this business that acceptance will take time.  That’s the chicken-and-egg question: when do you start using a codec to produce new content?  Before it is widely supported?  I don’t think IE supports it, though Firefox does. 

    In the long run, fully open will usually win (I hope).  Like I said, it’ll be messy for a while. If you were running YouTube, any performance hit in a less-efficient codec would cost you millions of dollars.  If h.264 is currently the most efficient it’s what they almost have to use.

    As an aside, I wish open-source institutes would stop calling their stuff stupid things like OGG and Gimp and whatever, and giving them really amateurish cartoon fish icons.

  10. J. J. Ramsey
    April 30, 2010 at 15:30 | #10

    George: “h.264 is encumbered, unfortunately, but its use is free to end-users.”

    But that’s not helpful for the Firefox developers, who can’t legally put h.264 in their software. Also, how is it free to end-users? Sure, AFAIK, it’s packaged with Windows and OS X, but for Linux users, it looks like the choice is either to use Fluendo codecs or to use free software of sketchy legality.

  11. April 30, 2010 at 16:28 | #11

    @J.J.
    That is an old article from January. Here is a more recent one stating Google wants to use an open source standard and it will likely be VP8. I think I would trust the more recent one since it mentions that Google bought a company to get VP8. So it would make little sense to use anything else.

  12. April 30, 2010 at 16:53 | #12

    That is an old article from January.

    Well that says something about the industry we’re in, doesn’t it?

  13. Karen
    April 30, 2010 at 19:44 | #13

    Speaking of alternatives to Adobe software, does anyone have a good alternative to Illustrator?

  14. April 30, 2010 at 21:02 | #14

    I know someone’s working on one; Inkscape is up to version 0.47 I think.  It’s a vector drawing development project.  If you have a Linux machine, give it a try and let us know!

    Remember that Illustrator is a mature product, and Inkscape is in beta.  But it’s getting really good reviews.

  15. April 30, 2010 at 22:16 | #15

    My favorite PDF app is Sumatra PDF. Simple, no apps, and does what you want, read PDFs.

  16. April 30, 2010 at 22:17 | #16

    Oops, meant no ads.

  17. May 1, 2010 at 07:04 | #17

    Thankyou for the Foxit tip; I just installed it and deleted Acrobat :-)

  18. J. J. Ramsey
    May 1, 2010 at 09:34 | #18

    webs05: “That is an old article from January. Here is a more recent one stating Google wants to use an open source standard and it will likely be VP8.”

    Thanks. Yeah, that does look more promising, and I hope that comes to pass.

  19. May 1, 2010 at 20:49 | #19

    PeteJ:  Methinks thou just wants as much money as Jobs.

  20. May 1, 2010 at 21:39 | #20

    Pete may not be inclined to defend himself, WeeDram, but I’ve never known him to be motivated by sour grapes or money.  For the last two years he’s been involved in integrating Apple servers and clients in an enterprise environment, and experienced first-hand Apple’s pathetic, dismissive support in that context.  Also he has worked with iTunes in a content management and distribution role.

    There are a lot of great things about Apple computers, but it is possible to be both right and hypocritical and Jobs is. I just prefer to focus on one aspect more than the other.

  21. May 2, 2010 at 13:55 | #21

    My apologies—a moment of cynicism.

    I do sometimes tire, however, of negativity that seems to both stand alone and appear absolute in its judgment.

    viz ” how truly awful Jobs is in how he runs his business”.  By definition, being awful in running a business would be either going bankrupt, destroying the lives of your employees, or being egregiously destructive of the environment. 

    I doubt there is much evidence of the first two. I can’t really comment on the third, though I do have some concern about that.

  22. May 19, 2010 at 14:48 | #22

    Here’s the latest on Google’s acquisition of WebM format.

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