Steve Jobs just doesn't get it - Flash is so much more than he gives it credit for

I must admit, I've never been a big user of Apple products. My days of working on Macs as a desk top publisher are long gone, but I've always been impressed by the companies attitude, it's commitment to producing the best products possible and doing it in ways which seemed ethical and moral at the same time. Many times I've considered bringing their products more into my life, and I guess I'm just the sort of person they'd like to win over, but it seems the chances of that are getting smaller and smaller every time Steve Jobs opens his mouth these days.

Take his latest diatribe against Flash. It's hard to argue with the technical points he raises, but what's really important isn't what he says, it's what he doesn't say. He talks a lot about what's wrong with Flash, but says nothing about what's right with it, but has still somehow managed to shift the mindset of millions of people by the sound of it. Are we so used to just being consumers that nobody out there can sit back and have their own thoughts on this issue? The way some people react to this seems like they just take it at face value, and it instantly becomes part of their own thinking, without any chance of interpretation. Jobs says, they think. That's a bit scary ...

I'm not keen on quite a few things that Steve Jobs has come out with lately, but being a big Google and HTC fan doesn't help, seeing as he's had them firmly in his sights lately. I've been using Google for all sorts of personal storage and other services for many years now, and have been a big fan of HTC ever since I moved from my Motorola Mpx200 smartphone to the HTC Typhoon back in 2004. I still reckon that was one of the best smartphones ever produced. But it's Jobs take on Flash that has finally driven me to write something about it.

A Bit of Background

I do have a bit of a personal interest in Flash - I used to be something of a Flash developer back when I was more of a mainstream web designer, but I've not done much with it for years now, bar the odd light animation or webpage widget. Sure I've had my issues with it over the years. There was the endless versioning, which left you playing catch up and creating all sorts of detecting scripts. The accessibility issues, which could quite easily leave you making something illegal. The horror of programming in ActionScript - never really liked that much. But you know why I stuck with it? Because you could create wonderous things in Flash. Of all the tools in Adobe's Creative Suite, nothing is so creative as Flash in my opinion. Flash allows you to be much more creative that you could otherwise be on the web - and I believe it will continue to do so for the future. If Jobs thinks he can simply turn Flash off like he has some sort of divine will over the world, I think he's living in cloud cuckoo land. But let me be a bit more specific as to just why I think that.

The Past: Flash offered much more than CSS/HMTL/JavaScript - and others - could ever offer

This is the reason Flash became so popular in the first place, as there were things that you could do with it that you simply couldn't do any other way. There was the animation and interaction of course, you could create brilliant little demos that would download in seconds compared to their cumbersome CSS/HMTL/JavaScript equivalents - check out this Hydrological Cycle for example - at only 7kb it's tiny. And as for Java - megabyte downloads in the days of dial-up?

Believe it or not there was a time before YouTube, Spotify and all the rest, when things like audio and video were a nightmare online. Flash came to the rescue, and gave us all the ability to share rich media with the world. It gave me the ability to create things like my Burmese Musical Orchestra - a playable set of online musical instruments where you could even record and save what you made. I did loads of this type of rich media, bringing to life museum artifacts that would otherwise remain trapped behind dusty glass, and creating other fun simple learning interactions like a whole series of these Bird Song Games. They're a bit old hat now maybe, but bear in mind how old these things are. In web terms they're practically drawing a pension!

The Present: Flash is doing much more than CSS/HMTL/JavaScript can do now

I think this is a no brainer - do I even need to give examples? However much I might love standards, support for things like HTML5 is all over the shop at the moment, and will remain that way for some time to come. Whilst I've been a big proponent of standards over my career (hopefully turning out hundreds of students over the years who feel the same) I'm not so naive as to think we're ever going to reach some sort of perfect, everyone on the planet agrees, state with them. Even now cracks are appearing in the various semantic web standards, the video standards, etc., as the W3C tries to aim for the best solution for all. I'm sure they're well aware that at some point they're just going to have to publish and be damned, and then just start working towards the next inevitable set.

The simple truth is that millions upon millions of flash interactions are live and in use across the planet, enriching peoples experiences every second of every day. The way Jobs tells it people are screaming to be free of Flash, when the reality is the average user is loving every second of it.

The Future: Flash will be able to do much more than CSS/HMTL/JavaScript can do in the future

OK, this is bit more contentious, but I think history is on my side. The standards like HTML define the overall landscape, the infrastructure within which we all work, but they can never be designed in such a way as to answer things that have not yet been thought of. This takes us straight back to the beginning, it's the very reason that Flash became popular in the first place - as it allowed you to move beyond the constraints of the current standards - and I believe it's exactly what will happen in the future as well. That said it might not be Flash of course - it might be Silverlight, hell it might even be something that Apple will dream up themselves, but I fail to see what has changed to significantly about the overall dynamics of the web that means rich media platforms in themselves will simply disappear. The current push back to agreed standards again may well swing things more towards that direction, but that is just part of the inevitable backwards and forwards that we have all seen many times over the history of the web (just thing of things like Netscape or Real Player, for example).

So Flash is fine - but what's with Apple?

So that's my take on Flash. It may not be as prominent as it has been, but I think will still play a leading role in the web - which begs the question just why is Steve Jobs - and therefore Apple - so against it?

Is it just me, or does it seem that ever since Jobs returned to Apple things have taken a markedly darker tone. Lashing out at competitors, bad mouthing all that oppose it and tightening control over those products (and for that matter users) it already sells and those it proposes to sell. I don't know, maybe they've just decided to act more competitively, and I'm mistaking this for aggression. Personally I've never bought into the Apple paradigm, from what I can tell they make the decisions about what I can access and not me, and that just doesn't suit. I prefer to build a tapestry of devices and services that suit me specifically, and do not intend to let anyone tell me what I should and should not be using.

Steve Jobs seems to think everyone else is the bad guy at the moment, but perhaps he should take at closer look at his own actions. Maybe he'll have his own "Fallen Down"' moment ...
"I'm the bad guy? How did that happen?"

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