Adobe Flash: All over but the shouting

Microsoft and Apple don't often agree. That's why Microsoft's support of H.264 in HTML5 means it is all over for Adobe's Flash. Adobe should cut its losses starting now.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Microsoft and Apple don't often agree. That's why Microsoft's support for H.264 in HTML5 means it is all over for Adobe's Flash.

Apple’s antipathy for Adobe’s buggy Flash technology is well known. In case anyone hadn’t got the memo, Steve Jobs posted a concise review of why Apple is happy to see Flash die.

But when Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft’s GM of Internet Explorer weighs in with Microsoft’s commitment to HTML5, make no mistake: Flash’s days as a movie player are numbered.

Apple's ban on cross-compilers is another issue. There, Adobe has more options. But the "Flash runs on 98% of all computers" days are rapidly drawing to a close.

Is Apple making a good business decision banning cross-compilers on the iPhone OS? As a user the answer is yes. I want high-performance, tightly-integrated and well-supported apps on the iPhone OS. Flash, the consumer face of Adobe's products, hasn't demonstrated they can deliver that.

And they're paying a price for that.

Evaporating your market lead It is always educational when a market leading product craters: mainframes in the 1980s; Novell in the 1990s; IE and DLT in 2000s; and now Flash. A formerly unassailable “must-have” product loses its mojo and users jump ship.

Each has some key similarities:

  • Complacent management. When you’re on top, it is hard to believe that a distant cloud may herald a crippling hurricane. “Look how popular we are!” say the execs. But market share doesn’t equal popularity. Only when customers have an option will you find out how popular you truly are.
  • Technical stagnation. Microsoft waited 5 years to replace IE 6, whose many security holes angered users. As a result, FireFox gained a foothold that drove Microsoft’s browser share from 90%+ to the 60s. Now IE is supporting standards, not setting them. Which is good for the web and for Microsoft.
  • Customer anger. When customers feel locked-in, anger over little problems accumulates. And when there are big problems - such as IBM’s 80s mainframe prices or Flash’s poor Mac performance - customers start encouraging your competition even if they lack important functionality.

Adobe fits the pattern.

Microsoft is over Flash Dean’s post says:

The future of the web is HTML5. Microsoft is deeply engaged in the HTML5 process with the W3C. . . . The HTML5 specification describes video support without specifying a particular video format. We think H.264 is an excellent format. In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264 video only.

[bolding added]

Note what this doesn’t say: MS isn’t abandoning Flash, they are embracing H.264, and they won’t be supporting Adobe’s possible Flash-in-HTML5 strategy.

Translation: Flash has no future in HTML5. Google’s VP8 may be a different story.

The Storage Bits take The cost of storage and bandwidth make compression essential. Flash got there early and garnered impressive market share, but they’ve squandered their lead.

Ignoring the Mac probably seemed safe enough 4 years ago. But the Mac’s buggy Flash player has been a pain for Mac users for years.

If you are a Mac user, try ClickToFlash and see for yourself how much better off your Mac is without Flash. There’s Flashblock for Firefox users, too.

If Adobe hopes the US Justice Department’s inquiry into possible Apple anti-trust violations will help them, they can forget it. Competition in the smart phone segment is robust. If Apple chooses to not support something that other vendors are supporting that’s tough competition, not unlawful restraint of trade.

Adobe’s bigger problem is the Microsoft statement. Microsoft’s unequaled developer ecosystem knows how to take direction from Redmond - and the direction is clear.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen should cut his losses on Flash by seeing how he can partner with Google for VP8, the modern codec Google may open source. Yes, it is a step down from Flash’s former dominance, but half a loaf is better than none.

Comments welcome, of course. I updated the post to emphasize that I was talking about Flash-the-player rather than the the cross-platform development tool.

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