The battle between Apple and Adobe over the implementation of Flash in their mobile platforms heated up a few weeks ago when the iPhone creator changed their developer agreements to specifically prohibit the Flash-to-iPhone compiler that Adobe planned to use to get Flash based applications running on the iPhone OS. In a perceptive piece on his blog, Daring Fireball, John Gruber points out that Apple is trying to stop "meta-platforms" from being developed on top of the iPhone OS. These development platforms, which include Novell's Monotouch, an implementation of Microsoft's. Net programming environment and the game platform Unity, would allow developers to create software that runs on any platform that supports the underlying code, opening up a much broader base of customers for developers. This isn't a surprising new model of software development. It was the basis for the creation of Sun Microsystems' Java development environment, which allows all Java software to run on any computer which can run the Java Runtime environment.
For users, it's a simple as installing Java on their computer and then running any Java software. It's instant platform neutrality. This seems like a big win for developers and users, but it hasn't worked out that way for Java. Software developed using Java tools remain slower than software that targets a specific software and hardware platform, Java applications are notoriously ugly and often user hostile, and the growth of the environment has been slow and plagued by constant operating system and hardware revisions. Despite being a good idea, Java hasn't changed the world of software programming. Adobe's Flash, positioned as a development platform, is a fairly recent idea. Introduced in 1995 as a competitor to Macromedia's Shockwave, Future Splash Animator was a faster way of introducing basic animation to a Web site. After Macromedia bought and renamed it in 1996, Flash began to absorb Shockwave's features, all but replacing it as the deployment platform of choice for multimedia rich Web sites.
Flash use on the web has surged and Adobe claims (with statistics acknowledged as data extrapolations) that the Flash plug-in is installed in 98.9 per cent of today's web browsers. Still there's interest in so-called 'Flash blockers,' software that stops the plug-in from loading content unless the user specifically clicks a button.
For all its ubiquity, Adobe's Flash remains a proprietary solution and the Web hasn't been kind to protocols that aren't truly open. Apple's resistance to any deployment of Flash on the iPhone and the iPad isn't likely to hurt Adobe as much as acceptance of alternatives to the ageing plug-in technology will. That possibility is likely to prove to be more deadly to the continued domination of Flash as a technology than Apple's strategic petulance.
An extended version of this column, with additional notes and statistics, is posted here: http://lyndersaydigital.com/bd/10.html