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Adobe Founders On Flash and Internet Standards 515

Posted by kdawson
from the where-wizards-go-to-bed-early dept.
An anonymous reader points out an 18-month-old interview with the founders of Adobe (and creators of PostScript) Charles Geschke and John Warnock, and highlights three interesting quotes from the book Masterminds of Programming that seem very timely now. "'It is so frustrating that this many years later we're still in an environment where someone says if you really want this to work you have to use Firefox. The whole point of the universality of the Web would be to not have those kind of distinctions, but we're still living with them. It's always fascinating to see how long it takes for certain pieces of historical antiquity to die away. The more you put them in the browsers you've codified them as eternal, and that's stupid. ... With Flash what we're trying to do is both beef it up and make it robust enough so that at least you can get one language that's platform-independent and will move from platform to platform without hitting you every time you turn around with different semantics. ... You can see why, to a certain extent, Apple and Microsoft view that as a challenge because they would like you to buy into their implementation of how the seamless integration with the Web goes. What we're saying is it really shouldn't matter. That cloud ought to be accessible by anybody's computer and through any sort of information sitting out on the Web."
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Adobe Founders On Flash and Internet Standards

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  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:56AM (#32333588)

    He didn't mean:

    "It is so frustrating [...] where someone says if you really want this to work you have to use Firefox. [as opposed to this always working]"

    What he meant was:

    "It is so frustrating [...] where someone says if you really want this to work you have to use Firefox [as opposed to Flash]"

  • by AndrewStephens (815287) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:08AM (#32333640) Homepage

    Correct. If Adobe had open sourced Flash right from the beginning and provided a free dev environment it may have been ubiquitous by now instead of being a glorified video codec. But the other reason Flash applications haven't taken off is simple - nobody whose opinion matters wants them to!

    Microsoft is terrified by anything that would let it's locked-in customer base easily migrate to another desktop OS. Apple doesn't care so much, but would much prefer applications be developed specifically for MacOSX (and guards the iPhone like Fort Knox). The linux desktop people are busy with other stuff and distrust Adobe. The application developers would maybe like to use Flash (or maybe not) but are hindered by insane licensing fees. The only people (apart from Adobe) who really want Flash are Google, who stand to make more money if applications are pushed out onto the web. Google are the only ones who push out Flash with their browser, and include good Flash support in their mobile OS.

    Adobe really tried to get people to develop whole applications in Flash, but I could never see a compelling reason to do this. HTML works well enough for most things (even more with HTML5), anything more demanding is maybe not a good candidate for implementing as a web-based application. Where is the Flash facebook or imdb? They don't exist because they wouldn't provide anything more than what we already have. Where is the cross-platform Flash email client? Nobody cares.

    I don't mean to dump on Flash too much - it serves its purpose. Even with HTML5, Flash will still be used for games, advertising, and maybe video for years to come. But it will never be the all-encompassing platform that Adobe wants it to be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:09AM (#32333648)

    This leads us to the root problem: Why is there no Flash binary for some relevant platforms (not talking about iP(hone|od|ad))? Flash is supposed to be a publicly available specification, isn't it? Well, it may be, but there is patented stuff in there and the spec is entirely under Adobe's control. Others have no say in it. Sun opened Java (after a long time of handling it much like Adobe still handles Flash), but Sun is no more, which might be a bit of a disincentive for Adobe following Sun's lead.

    That said, even as an open platform, Flash would still suck. Flash "documents" or "apps" are binary blobs. That's not how I want my web to be. The granularity of a Flash applet is much too coarse.

  • Pot ... kettle (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mangu (126918) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:27AM (#32333726)

    You mean, like these pages that say "To watch that, you need Flash 10"?

    In the Wikipedia article on Pot calling the kettle black [wikipedia.org] there's this alternative interpretation: "the pot is sooty (being placed on a fire), while the kettle is clean and shiny (being placed on coals only), and hence when the pot accuses the kettle of being black, it is the pots own sooty reflection that it sees"

    This is how I see Adobe's accusation against Firefox. I have yet to see *one* single site that requires Firefox, I have lost count of the sites that require Flash.

  • by brillow (917507) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:43AM (#32333796)
    Good point, also, appeals to "performance" are short-sighted in computer land. Anything which runs too slow on a computer this year will be butter by next year. Apple is not against flash because its bad, but because once the performance problems go away with the next generation of hardware, Adobe has a platform which can do an end-run around Apple's app-store ecosystem. Its the same kind of logic behind why they don't allow java. If Flash and Java ran in the browser on an iPhone, then you could actually develop high-powered webapps, and run a web-based app store. Not to mention all the cross-platform development. This is especially true since Android is rapidly gaining marketshare, Apple is trying to lock up developers as fast as possible so they won't jump to Android quite as quickly when it inevitably overtakes them, and it is inevitable. There's no way Apple can compete with all the hardware-variety of Android phones. Plus, in a few years there will be Android phones doing something Apple can never do, which is being given away for free with contract. Not to mention Android apps are going to run on tablets and your TV (without any lame pixel doubling).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:41AM (#32334106)

    Just a quick natter: JavaScript doesn't "just work" 100%.

    ECMAScript is the name of the standard; Netscape (and later Mozilla) were entitled to use the Java trademark to call it JavaScript; Microsoft instead call it JScript. JScript somewhat resembles JavaScript, which is an implementation of ECMAScript; however, it is not much more compatible than anything else in the IE core.

    Speaking of Java; it's funny, but as far as web-apps go, only a few years ago I'd have said that Java was officially dead and that Flash had gone and eaten its lunch. But now, it looks that, for web-apps, Flash is living on borrowed time and Java is on the brink of rebirth. Maybe once the non-IE browsers can finally, collectively dethrone IE and banish it to the far corners of the web, Java can finally do what neither Flash nor even itself managed to do: a true run-anywhere engine for compiled code inside every user agent.

  • by noidentity (188756) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:42AM (#32334118)
    The headline has a nice double-meaning. It could be read as an interview with the founders of Adobe on Flash and Internet standards, or that Adobe is foundering [google.com] on Flash and Internet standards. The latter is what I first read it as.
  • by awjr (1248008) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:45AM (#32334142)

    Personally, as a development platform, with Android 2.2 around the corner, and Adobe releasing the iPhone packager for other mobile OS, I'm willing to give them breathing space to get on with what they are trying to achieve.

    The problem I find with /. is so many people seem to be doing the "well v6 was crap, v10.1 must be awful" routine. It's tedious. Please go and read this http://blogs.adobe.com/flashplayer/2010/05/engineering_flash_player.html [adobe.com] .

    Currently there is no other company out there trying to deliver such a comprehensive write once, run anywhere solution. If they pull this off, my life as a developer becomes a lot simpler.

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:48AM (#32334172)

    its impossible for less-organized, unpaid people to outperform highly-paid professionals at the same game

    They're usually not playing the same game. They're usually doing things that companies like Adobe wouldn't touch with a barge pole because they're unprofitable. There are kinds of scientific research that you can't even do without OSS - the tools simply don't exist commercially, because there's no significant money to be made. That's the sort of work that Adobe is pretending to be a part of, and that pretense is unqualified bullshit. That is what the GP was posting about.

  • by ahankinson (1249646) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:01AM (#32334270)

    The video codec in most Flash-encoded videos is h.264 [adobe.com]. All the new <video> standardization does is ensure your browser plays the video without a plugin. So I'm not sure why you see a difference. It could be that the flash video is encoded at a lower bitrate than any "plain" h.264 videos you are trying to view.

    The one advantage that Flash has is that Adobe pays the licensing fee for its users - just as Apple does for Safari, Microsoft for IE, etc. Firefox is the one browser without a major corporate sponsor to pony up the licensing fee.

    Any video codec will be covered by a gazillion patents. Theora isn't patent unencumbered, it's just patent unenforced, and in that way it's a bigger legal minefield than h.264. It's highly likely that if it gains traction, it will be sued out of existence. I think the WebM codec is the only chance of a non-MPEG-LA codec surviving - not because it won't be infringing on any patents, but because Google actually has teeth to defend it.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:08AM (#32334326) Journal
    Have you taken a look recently at what is going over the wire when you play a "flash" video?

    In the substantial majority of cases, it'll be a tiny little .swf object, providing the controls, followed by a .flv or .mp4 video(with the latter becoming more common as time goes on), more often over http, sometimes over rtmp.

    Depending on the exact whim of the publisher, "flash video" is almost always a proprietary variant of h.263, VP6, or h.264.

    With the exception of the old-style vector-animated .swf stuff, there is no such thing as "flash video", just video codecs that Flash Player has decode support for. Pretty much all of which are proprietary, patent-encumbered, or both.
  • by elronxenu (117773) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @08:19AM (#32334412) Homepage

    I thought the same thing. Clearly software incompatibility is a nuisance only when it's somebody else's software. If it's my flash crap, being asked to upgrade or install is a feature.

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @09:00AM (#32334780) Homepage

    Before Adobe bought Macromedia and decided to turn Flash into a video-streaming plugin, it actually did serve as a good solution to the balkanization of nonstandard HTML/javascript/CSS implementations for developers who wanted or needed a consistent user interface across platforms. Granted, it required that the user install the Flash plugin, but once they did, you could be reasonably certain that all of your buttons were placed, looked, and functioned correctly, that all of your UI feedback animations played correctly, that the correct fonts were displayed and scaled correctly, etc. Flash has always provided a richer design toolkit than even current HTML/CSS implementations support. (e.g. Want rounded corners (like on this site)? Firefox and Webkit browsers use different syntax, and IE8 won't do it at all without some really ugly hacks.) Maybe full implementation of HTML5 and CSS3 will catch up with (or nearly so) what you could do with, say Flash 5, but quite frankly they haven't yet. Any designer without a seething hate-on against Adobe will confirm this.

  • by notrandomly (1242142) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @09:10AM (#32334894)
    Maybe my brain is a bit tired today, but what are you saying? Surely not that the Adobe guy's statement wasn't amazingly hypocritical?
  • by riegel (980896) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @09:24AM (#32335060) Homepage

    You are in IT, you do what management tells you.

    You miss the point. The shortest route to a cross browser solution is the way I propose.

    If you are saying that management dictates an IE ONLY solution then I will have to ask for a citation as that does not seem plausible to me.

  • by arielCo (995647) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @10:26AM (#32335926)

    This is interesting:

    Using Adobe Flash in developing Gnash in the EU

    The question of exactly how legal it is to use Adobe Flash in the course of developing Gnash is a frequent topic on the Gnash mailing lists. Here I'll discuss the situation in the EU.

    In this subject I'll avoid the term reverse engineering since it means different things to different people.

    The relevant legislation in the EU is the Council Directive 91/250/EEC of 14 May 1991 on the legal protection of computer programs. Council directives are generally implemented also in national law, although the European Court of Justice has held that directives are binding on member states (i.e., EU countries) even if they have not (yet) added them into national law.

    The relevant part of the directive is Article 5, paragraph 3:

    The person having a right to use a copy of a computer program shall be entitled, without the authorization of the rightholder, to observe, study or test the functioning of the program in order to determine the ideas and principles which underlie any element of the program if he does so while performing any of the acts of loading, displaying, running, transmitting or storing the program which he is entitled to do.

    In short, so long as you are allowed to use Adobe Flash, you can use it to observe and study to understand its behavior.

    So first we must insure that we have the right to use Adobe Flash. This is easy, because usage of Adobe Flash is free under the Flash EULA.

    Now the observant reader might point out that the EULA specifically prohibits using Adobe Flash in order to create a competing product (such as Gnash). However, the above-quoted article from the directive says that the study and observation may take place without the authorization of the rightholder. This means that Adobe cannot bindingly prohibit such activites in its licensing agreements.

    bjacques's blog at gnashdev.org [gnashdev.org] I don't know if you can explicitly forfeit a right by accepting a private agreement (the EULA) and then claim that it was never valid. AFAIK, most rights can be waived. Any European lawyers in the house?

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @10:49AM (#32336228) Homepage

    The flash plugin is not where Adobe makes it's money.

    They make their money from developers. Therefore, it benefits Adobe if Flash is used and implemented as widely as possible. This includes deploying it to upstart platforms that might at some point in the future overshadow current platforms. Adobe doesn't gain anything from keeping their plugin closed. Their plugin just costs them money to support and catches them flack when they don't do well enough. They are way behind the curve. They would benefit from using 3rd party contributions on pretty much every platform they support.

    Community development would allow them to support new platforms without incurring the support costs.

    They could get out from under this impression that they are a bunch of sand baggers and the bane of everyone's existence.

    How long has video acceleration been available for Windows and Linux and how long did it take them to finally support either?

  • Re:Got it in one (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Skuld-Chan (302449) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @11:38AM (#32336888)

    That's actually not true - their first really big customer was Digital Equipment Corp. I learned that from a "fireside chat" like thing I attended where John and Chuck talked about the early days of the company.

    Apple used Postscript for the Laserwriter driver simply because it was the only game in town and there business was pretty much writing printer drivers and selling them to OEM's like Apple. Keep in mind like several silicon valley startups Adobe was based off research done at Xerox Parc - some of the first printers/machines to have postscript support were likely Xerox desktops and mainframes.

    Interestingly enough John and Chuck's original idea for Adobe Systems was building a print service provider...

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