There is a debate underway over the proprietary nature of Adobe’s Flash vs. the open standard, HTML5 (see, “HTML5: Could it kill Flash and Silverlight”). On the one side, Adobe has positioned their platform as being quite open and yet proprietary enough to “provide everything you need to create and deliver the most compelling applications, content, and video to the widest possible audience“. HTML5 is an open standard that will, in part, deliver audio, video and interactivity and is a specification which promises to deliver the core functionality of Flash.
Adobe’s John Dowdell (JD) had an interesting post about this debate and reinforced Adobe’s positioning that their approach with Flash is rich, robust and focused on the delivery outcomes customers want and that HTML5 is immature and, as Adobe’s CEO pointed out on their analyst call, “…it might be a decade before HTML 5 sees standardization across the number of browsers…“. Wow…talk about an insertion of major FUD in to the analyst call.
What strikes me about this entire discourse is the words of Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, who I heard giving a talk at an open source conference several years ago. Describing the phases any new or disruptive technology goes through (and specifically open source) is first it’s “crappy” — and no incumbent pays attention to it — then it’s “less crappy” — and early adopters take to it — and when it’s “good enough” the tipping point occurs and it’s widely adopted.
One could argue that HTML5 is in the crappy-about-to-be-less-crappy phase and Adobe isn’t paying much attention since publicly they don’t perceive it as much of a threat (except Google and Apple are behind it 100%), but I think it matters less “when” HTML5 appears (and what the adoption curve looks like), or even a “proprietary vs. open source” argument. I think what matters is which vendor of tools is going to embrace the standard and empower the ecosystem.
Developers I know will often evangelize their chosen platform, framework, or approach. Vendors like Adobe and Microsoft have theirs (e.g., runtimes and tools to deliver AIR and Silverlight respectively) and they expend a lot of effort examining the entire value chain — from developer, designer tools to finished runtime container — and figure out ways to make theirs the dominant runtime and thus control the upstream value chain and potentially make bazillions.
Making strategic choices as a creator or even as an end-user on next generation internet-centric applications — be they “Web 2.0” or hybrid desktop/web — is a challenge. None of us want a repeat of the video days when one had to choose Windows Media, Real or Quicktime (or all three) to deliver video, and even the right choice wasn’t a good experience for the viewer since WMV or Real didn’t run well on a Macintosh or at all on Linux.
The flip side with that video example is that content creators today are delivering video and applications to the most widely available runtime container, Flash, which means that Adobe is in a much better position to control the upstream value chain than anyone else and sell design, development and end-user tools and licenses to everyone along that value chain. That’s one reason why Silverlight is of such extremely high importance to Microsoft as they certainly don’t want to abdicate the hybrid application space, and everyone along that chain, to anyone else.
Apple is eerily silent in this video battle, as well as one emerging to connect all the different devices we use (desktop, laptop, mobile phone) to application functionality delivered via the ‘cloud’. For example, there’s been a lot of talk about the lack of Flash on the iPhone — and conjecture on how Apple disallowing it is placing Flash at a competitive disadvantage as a runtime container — but it’s all speculation about how Apple is doing so to keep a proprietary platform from gaining hold of the iPhone delivery model.
With respect to video runtime, the lack of Apple discussing publicly the installed base of Quicktime, which is undoubtedly close to Adobe’s touted 97%-of-all-computers claim for Flash due to every iTunes instance installing Quicktime on that computer, is a puzzler since they could be a player in the runtime battle for video delivery.
Why hasn’t Apple made Quicktime a target runtime container to compete with Adobe and Microsoft and ensure they dominate the value chain?