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Flush Flash

Entry 1191, on 2010-05-14 at 22:46:47 (Rating 2, Computers)

The battle between Apple and Adobe over Flash continues. Apple won't allow Flash onto its devices such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad (although it does work on the Mac) and Adobe claim it's a widely used technology which Apple gadget users should have access to. So who is right? Actually both are right and both are wrong.

I am a web developer myself (amongst many other things) but I have never felt the need to use Flash in my web sites and web-based databases. One of the reasons for that is that Flash is usually used in situations where it shouldn't be: as a container for video or for annoying animations for example. Another reason is that it's just so inefficient, buggy and unreliable.

I know Flash developers who have commented about the numerous workarounds necessary to make their Flash apps work. I also know that I can tell when my laptop is running Flash without even looking because it starts getting hotter! And if my web browser crashes for any reason you can almost guarantee Flash is involved somewhere! I know the Mac version is worse than the PC version but the situation is only slightly better there.

So it would be nice if I could avoid Flash, On the other hand it is a very widely used technology and, although it's generally accepted that it isn't a good technology, it is one which is important - at least until HTML5 becomes a viable alternative.

So should Apple stop its users from using Flash by banning it on their devices? As I implied above, the answer can be yes or no. Apple make no secret that their devices are a closed, tightly controlled environment and they reserve the right to ban inferior applications and technologies (like Flash certainly is). But you could also say that they should be more pragmatic and allow Flash to exist until it's no longer necessary.

But will it ever become unnecessary if there is no pressure from companies like Apple to reduce its use? Maybe not. There are plenty of other poor but functional technologies out there enjoying great popularity - Microsoft Office would be number one! Maybe Apple are indulging in some of their famous "social engineering" and using their influence to try to make the Internet a better place for everyone.

That's a very arrogant attitude but they've done it before and it has resulted in a positive outcome for its users in the end (admittedly after some initial anguish). Apple eliminated floppy disks, serial ports, and modems from their computers years before the PC world did. And the eradication of those technologies has been good for everyone. We now have flash drives, USB and Firewire, and broadband instead.

I'm not saying those changes wouldn't have happened anyway - after all, Apple only have a small share of the desktop market - but it surely influenced the speed of the change.

I do find one claim Apple have made to be somewhat odd though. Steve jobs has derided Flash on the basis it is proprietary technology. Considering Apple are the "kings" of the closed system that is somewhat hypocritical. Or maybe it isn't. Having a closed device which utilises standards and doesn't affect other technologies is one thing but Adobe have created something with Flash that affects everyone who uses the Web. It's a far more basic part of the Internet infrastructure than a device like the iPhone.

So Flash is the sort of technology which should be open. In fact it has probably got to the point where even opening it as open source wouldn't help because I suspect it would need to be rewritten completely to make it reliable and fast enough for use on modern devices. And if you're going to start again wouldn't it be better to start with HTML5 instead?

So while I agree Apple's "bully tactics" are a bit extreme I think they're doing the right thing for the long term good of the Internet. Whether they're doing that for self-centered or altruistic reasons doesn't really matter. It's time to flush Flash!

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