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Apple’s Not-So-Secret Plot to Change Technology Standards

No, folks, this isn’t a conspiracy theory, nor do I actually believe Apple’s being especially secretive about the things they do to make you switch from one technology standard to another. But it sometimes takes a few years to comprehend their vision.

Take the decision to embrace USB in 1998 starting with the original iMac. Till then, Apple used several connectivity schemes, such as ADB for a keyboard and mouse, SCSI for such devices as external drives and scanners, and LocalTalk for printers. USB aimed to replace all three, while Ethernet ports continue to do the honors for networking. USB, in fact, was first introduced in 1996, developed by a group of companies that included Compaq, Digital, IBM, Intel, Northern Telecom, and Microsoft. But not Apple.

In any case, USB went pretty much nowhere until Apple embraced it. Within weeks, there were loads of adapters and peripherals that supported USB. Best of all, most worked on both Macs and PCs, as the latter began to support USB too. Apple saw the future and embraced it without flinching. Soon all Macs ditched the legacy ports and had USB.

Even though Apple continued to incorporate the faster FireWire ports on most Macs, that support has been lacking of late, as the basic MacBook doesn’t have FireWire, and iPods long since went USB, the better to support the Windows platform.

Oh and do you remember floppy drives? When Apple began to phase them out with that first iMac, Mac users and tech pundits complained vigorously, but it only made sense. Floppies just didn’t have the capacity and reliability to serve as removable storage mainstays.

More recently, Apple is moving to change standards yet again, though it may not be as readily obvious. But those unofficial quotes attributed to Steve Jobs at a company town meeting last week made it crystal clear what it’s all about — Apple wants to purge Flash from the online world.

This may not be something that Adobe would like very much; they were accused by Jobs of having lots of potential, but being “lazy.”

Now I don’t think any of you would disagree with me when I say that Flash is probably one of the most prominent causes of crashes on the Mac, which is precisely what Jobs says. What’s more, Flash is also credited (or blamed) for ongoing security lapses. I won’t get into the issues of whether the Mac version of Flash is worse than the Windows version or whether they are equally buggy.

When asked about the lack of Flash support on the iPhone some time ago, Jobs said that the light version was, well, too light, and the desktop version was too resource intensive. While that imply that a “just right” version might come eventually from Adobe, when they announced development of a new mobile version, support for the iPhone was notably absent from the press release.

Now the iPad is a far more powerful beast than an iPhone, but there’s still no Flash support and none promised in our lifetimes. It has become crystal clear that Apple regards Flash as just another floppy disk that needs to be discarded as a relic of the past. The question is whether the rest of the online world is ready to follow.

There are millions of sites out there with Flash-based content, and Adobe continues to evangelize the platform that it acquired several years ago when Macromedia was taken over. Indeed, one of our sites still has a Flash video and navigation bar, but I’m working on removing the last vestiges of Flash.

As more and more online surfers use devices that don’t detect Flash, there will be a growing incentive for Webmasters to give it the heave-ho. There are open source alternatives to providing multimedia on a site. Apple and, in fact, Google, are moving towards HTML5, which contains improved support for online videos. There’s already a beta version at YouTube. The HTML5 version doesn’t support ads yet, but most of you would prefer it that way.

Right now, those videos are primarily supported on browsers based on Apple’s WebKit, which includes both Safari and Chrome and a number of mobile-based alternatives. It’s a sure thing that iPhone’s popularity won’t abate any time soon, and the iPad may prove to be a bigger sales sensation than the so-called experts anticipated, particularly in light of its lower sale price. At $499, the iPad sits just above mass market netbooks and basic desktop systems. Despite the state of the economy, it doesn’t stretch logic to see customers opting for something cool rather than dull and drab for only a small amount of extra cash.

As the installed base of people who can’t view Flash content grows, it’s only a matter of time before more and more sites decide to drop it and use other methods that are compatible with all or most browsers. While I don’t want to see Adobe lose business, they will have to simply move on or show us they can deliver something better.