Risks in Google killing Adobe Flash

Google has to be very careful, now, in doing what the open source community might call "amazing." Because even open source can violate antitrust laws, when its power is abused by a dominant player.

We have a problem at our house.

My son loves The Daily Show, but for some reason he can't load Adobe Flash 10 on his Windows PC.  It claims to load, but then Windows tells him it's not there. (I tried "switch to Linux." It just re-opened the Generation Gap.)

(BLaugh did this delightful cartoon on the theme of Adobe Flash in 2007. I made it smaller here so as to not steal BLaugh's bandwidth. You can support them with a visit, clicking around to their other good stuff.)

Google could solve his problem in a flash, the Free Software Foundation says. Just switch from supporting Flash to the VP8 codec recently acquired with ON Technologies on YouTube.

"This would be amazing," the FSF says. Everyone would join the switch and my son's problem would be over.

Yes, I think it would be amazing. It could also make Google as we know it disappear.

One thing Google has tried to be extra careful about in its rise to prominence is not calling attention to its power. Antitrust authorities generally look for two things before they pounce -- power and abuse of power.

Adobe would certainly call a codec switch abuse of power. We could disagree on this point, and have a very nice argument about it. But a nice argument is one thing, legal depositions another.

And once the Department of Justice starts taking depositions, the Age of Google is over.

This is really what happened to Microsoft. It wasn't that the Justice Department launched an antitrust suit, or that Microsoft signed a consent decree. Microsoft's reign was over the day the Justice Department started investigating it.

Because on that day, Microsoft started hiring lawyers. Lots of lawyers. Good lawyers. It also hired a lot more PR people. Good ones.

When a company is busy hiring good lawyers and good PR people, it has less money to pay good engineers.  Worse, those good lawyers and PR people get in the way of engineering, questioning everything being done from their perspective, warning of dire consequences if their sage advice is ignored.

Pretty soon you're not making a move without the lawyers, or talking to anyone without a PR minder by your side. Life becomes a lot less fun, and the best of those engineers start drifting away.

We have lawyers in my family, and as a journalist I have many friends who have made money in PR. But they're like the spice in the corporate stew. When things get too hot stew stops tasting good.

Enough of the analogies. Point is that Google has to be very careful, now, in doing what the open source community might call "amazing."

Because even open source can violate antitrust laws, when its power is abused by a dominant player.

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