Saturday, May 01, 2010

Remarks on Apple, Flash and the "I Hate Apple" People

I've want to put down in words a few loosely related thoughts on controversy regarding Apple's policy of not allowing Adobe Flash Player on its mobile devices, and on the I Hate Apple crowd in general.

First, the "I'm anti-apple" people. I hear this mantra repeated frequently by friends and colleagues and also by noisy people on the Internet. I tend to rail against this sort of thinking, and as a result, come off as an Apple apologist to people who know me. I'll clarify: there are plenty of legitimate reasons to be angry with Apple. This vitriol, however, just seems irrational. Apple, as a company, has a lot of surface area and characterizing them in such broad strokes is problematic. They do things that are frustrating, but they also do things that are great. Most people who revel in waving their Apple-hating flag struggle to articulate just why they they hate them so much. It usually goes something like "grumble grumble, closed, proprietary, grumble grumble, App Store, grumble, no flash on the iPhone." The argument usually doesn't hold together well, and often these people will even admit that they just can't quite put their finger on what they hate so much about Apple. Look, we all are frustrated with Apple's App Store policies, even veteran iPhone and Mac developers. Even John Gruber, often accused of being an apologist is frustrated:
Serious App Store Doubts
Excerpts From the Diary of an App Store Reviewer
The App Store’s Exclusionary Policies

Further, if we're going to jump on the Apple-hating bandwagon, which is very in vogue nowadays, there are a lot of big-company-hating bandwagons we're going to have to jump on and start bitching about and boycotting. That's tiring. I don't have enough hours in the day to hate every company that needs hating. Sigh. Pick your battles.

Moving on to Apple's prohibition of Adobe Flash Player. It's not that complicated. Flash on the iPhone specifically, and cross-platform development frameworks in general, have the effect of diluting all platforms, including the iPhone, down to the lowest common set of platform features. No company should want their mobile device to be reduced to a state of generic similarity to their competitors' devices. Apple is perfectly justified, in my opinion, in wanting to keep this sort of shovel-ware out of the App Store.
This week Apple CEO Steve Jobs penned an open letter regarding his company's position on Adobe Flash Player on the iPhone OS:
Thoughts on Flash
I won't dissect the letter; it's been covered. But I agree with everything in it.

In response, this blustery counterpoint was posted on
Apple's Steve Jobs is spreading FUD on Flash

This author's post actually makes me angry. It makes me angry because he is so bigoted against Apple, that he actually comes to Adobe's defense, conveniently forgetting that they've been dragging down the Linux desktop experience for years.

I self-identify as both a a Mac user and a Linux user. For years I was a full-time Linux user. I was the most obnoxious of Linux bigots, so I have that perspective. I have unhappy memories of flash on Linux. Since flash video became prevalent on the Internet, Adobe flash player has been the bane of Linux users' existence. Its performance on Linux has always been abysmal. I remember times when my laptop's fans would spin up to full speed, and the battery would start draining, and it would start scorching my lap. I would have to go hunt down whatever Firefox tab had a flash-based banner ad that was eating my CPU for lunch.

Adobe was slow to update it to the latest release, taking a year or more after it was released on Windows to release a new version for Linux. Also, Adobe still hasn't released a 64-bit version of the Flash Player for Linux or the Mac. Yeah. Seriously. It's 2010. Although major Linux distributions have gotten a lot better at making flash installation easy, you used to have to do weird 32-bit library wrapping voodoo to get Adobe Flash Player to work with 64-bit Linux and Firefox.

Because the Adobe Flash Player is closed and proprietary, Linux distributions couldn't ship with it installed. Users would always have to jump through hoops such as configuring third-party package repositories in order to install it.

Yes, as the author points out, flash is an open specification, so anyone technically can implement it. But to date, there haven't been any open flash players that are worth a damn. Open implementations such as Gnash are turds. They are several versions of the flash specification out of date, their performance is abysmal, and getting them configured and working is black magic. So let's leave flash's "openness" aside, because that's a red herring.

What is material is that much of the Internet depends on your browser being able to play flash. This is just as bad as the Internet of a few years ago requiring Internet Explorer, and being broken on every other browser. An Internet dependent on Adobe Flash Player is bad for Linux users. An Internet that has embraced HTML5, CSS, and Javascript is good for Linux users. Get off your Apple-hating high horse and acknowledge the fact that the two of you are on the same side.