Getting There From Here, Where by ‘There’ I Mean a Web Where Flash Is Not a De Facto Standard Technology

Mike Matas yesterday, on Twitter, responding to my piece on Apple/Adobe and Flash:

I know who IS losing in the battle between Apple and Adobe over Flash. iPad owners.

Dave Winer expresses a similar sentiment here.

But how else could it be? If Apple could just add Flash Player to the iPad, it would either (a) work well, or (b) work poorly. Flash Player for Android seems to work poorly. Flash Player is not available for any other mobile OS. So, I think it’s a poor assumption that Apple could, by sheer will, produce a version of iOS where Flash Player works well on the iPad.

I wrote at length about these issues six months ago — here, here, here — and I don’t want to rehash those points. All those arguments still stand, though. A key point: Apple doesn’t have the source code to Flash. Perhaps Adobe has offered it to Apple; that’s possible, but I think unlikely. But even if they have, why would Apple engineers be able to make it perform better than Adobe engineers have?

But let’s assume possibility (a), that Apple could “just make it work”. But then what? We’re stuck with Flash — a proprietary closed-source platform controlled by a single company — as a de facto web standard forever?

If no one releases a popular web browsing platform that lacks Flash support, then web sites that already publish Flash content are never going to move away from it. I think the web would be a far better place without Flash, or, at least, with Flash relegated to a position like that of Java applets: there if you want it, but not a major foundation.

Flash is never going to decrease in popularity so long as all web browsers support it. Flash might decrease in popularity because of iOS. If you believe that Flash’s current position as a de facto standard technology is harmful to the web, then users — not just iOS users but everyone using the web — would benefit if that happens.1

But that’s a long-term benefit. In the short term, iPad users suffer with empty white squares and missing content. There’s no other way to get there from here, though. I think it’s worthwhile, because I believe the web would be a better place without Flash.

  1. I’m not arguing that Apple is selflessly acting in the interest of the public. I’m arguing that Apple’s self interest is aligned with the interest of the public with regard to Flash. Apple isn’t promoting its own proprietary alternative to Flash; it’s promoting open HTML5 technologies. ↩︎