Steven P. Jobs certainly didn’t gain any friends at Adobe when he pronounced Flash dead and buried earlier this year, essentially the next floppy disk. In response, Adobe’s PR people, and some of their executives too, have engaged in pointless spin control, while at the same time continuing to avoid the real issues.
The most recent volley of complaints arose over Apple’s decision not to bundle Flash with Mac OS X anymore. Starting with the revised MacBook Air, and all new hardware, Flash will be an optional installation. If you want a copy, you have to go to Adobe’s site and get it for yourself.
Forgotten during this latest uproar is the fact that Windows Vista and Windows 7 weren’t bundled with Flash either. The only difference is that Adobe will let you know if a newer version is available on that platform. That’s not yet true on the Mac. But give it time.
However, the deepest cut of all was the news about an independent test from the Ars Technica Web site, which revealed that battery life on the new MacBook Air is substantially less with Flash installed and rendering Web content. That’s something that hasn’t been tested previously, simply because Flash has been ever-present for years.
So product reviewers now have something new to evaluate, not just on the MacBook Air, but on all Macs and Windows note-books. Just what is the resource impact of the typical collection of Flash menus, navigation buttons, videos and games?
When Steve Jobs said, in that infamous blog a few months back, that Flash was resource-hungry, it does seem as if that proposition was never actually examined — at least until now. It was assumed he was referring to the mobile version, not the impact on a regular note-book computer.
More to the point, just what Flash content has the worst impact? Videos? Games? I would presume they would sit at the top of the list, but this sort of testing would require use of the same sort of animated content formatted, where possible, in HTML5.
Once those results are available from several sources, the truth will be out there, and Adobe won’t be able to make any excuses if Flash rates inferior to an open source Web standard.
Of course, it may be that there won’t be such a material difference, in which case the Ars Technica test simply reflects what might happen whenever a personal computer is forced to render animated content of any kind.
Or maybe it’s a byproduct of the fact that the latest versions of Flash don’t provide hardware acceleration with the integrated NVIDIA graphics chips in the MacBook Air. If rendering is forced to occur in software, that would also harm battery life substantially.
Then again, if Adobe can devise a fix, a demonstration of the revised plugin would go a long way towards mending the company’s tarnished reputation.
However, the biggest potential problem of all is revealed in Apple’s most recent massive security release, which arrived as part of the 10.6.5 maintenance update, and as a separate download for 10.5 users.
Among all the fixes, some 42%, 55 of the total, involved security lapses in Adobe Flash. That’s the unkindest cut of all, and that, in addition to those resource issues, represents another objection that Jobs voiced about Flash — poor security. What’s Adobe’s excuse, or is that, too, a deep-seated plot on Apple’s part to destroy Flash? After all, a security leak is a security leak, and nobody believes that Apple somehow hacked Flash to add them.
On the other hand, it’s not as if Adobe wants to kill a cash cow, because they continue to build new products for the Mac. Consider Audition, their high-end audio post-production product, which has just entered public beta with lots of promise. Indeed, I will be evaluating this release against our current post-production tool, Peak Pro, to see which gets the job done better. And, no, I have no prejudice against Adobe. If it’s the better product, I’ll consider buying the final version.
Adobe has also joined with Microsoft in saying that, yes, they love HTML5. At the same time, Adobe continues to tout Flash, as much as Microsoft wants to promote Silverlight, as the best cross-platform multimedia technology.
Of course, Apple is building more and more iOS-equipped gear that supports neither, and is dissuading Mac users about installing Flash simply by not including a bundled copy. So it’s a sure thing that Adobe’s corporate masters of spin will have to devise more paranoia about Apple, while at the same time doing what they can to sell more products to Mac users.
When you consider Flash’s absence from Mac OS X, the decision not to upgrade Java, and the forthcoming demise of the Xserve, you can see that Apple is moving faster and faster to embrace their own future. If older products must disappear — whether Apple’s or someone else’s — that’s the way it’s going to be.