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Feb 01

Google isn’t Evil. Flash isn’t Dead; Thank god the Open Web doesn’t have a single vendor

Adobe, Apple, Google, Tech Add comments

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Steve Jobs didn’t hold back when talking about Google and Adobe. That is great. Life is so much more fun when people speak their mind. I remember hearing a story when Sir Steve was asked why mac keyboards where the way they were. He grabbed a PC keyboard and started to rip out “stupid keys” (print screen, F keys, and the like) and swore a lot.

We love to paint with broad black and white brushes these days don’t we? Whenever I hear people talking about Google being “evil” or not…. I sit back and think about how interesting it is that companies become “people”, especially in this country.

It makes sense when you look up Corporation:

Corporations are recognized by the law to have rights and responsibilities like actual people.

That may have been a convenient (and often almost genius) abstraction by lawyers, but it is screwed up. It feels like the times when you use inheritence in a way that isn’t a ISA relationship, but it does kinda make the code nice. We have all done that, until we learned to favor composition. Corporations ISA Person? No. They are composed of them though.

I have been thinking about this ever since the recently surprise court decision the other day that “allows corporations and unions to pour unprecedented amounts of money into elections.”

Lawrence Lessig had some interesting commentary:

The court decision does feel totally wonky to me. Right now, $ has a direct bearing on elections, and allowing multi-nationals (who have the money) to rain it down makes no sense.

Fun aside

My renaissance friend Graham Glass talks about how corporations can be considered a single conscious in his series on “the mind”.

The issue with the vast number of corporations is that they are profit driven entities whose charter is to bring financial reward to shareholders. While you could argue that we as a species are driven by the selfish gene, corporations are driven by profits. Duh. Capitalism.

Google is a company. It is driven by this same goal. Now, there are various paths to a particular goal to make profits. Some companies sell things that kill people (weapons, cigarettes, etc). Others offer medical devices. All companies are not equal. Having spent time at Google, I do feel like the place isn’t just an evil cult. The people that make up the consciousness were very driven strong willed people that cared about the company mission (universal access to information and all that) more than just the $. Sure some folks are focused on that. Also, although the wool could be placed over your eyes, the guys at the top of the chain have their hearts in the right place. While Larry and Sergey are there, decisions will be made that aren’t solely based on profit. They want to create a different kind of legacy and company.

That being said, I think it is quite easy to fall into a trap such as:

If we do something here to block competition, we can make more $ and since we are Good Guys we can do better things with that money!

Google will sometimes do things that could be considered “evil” by some. That is life.

The good news with Google is that their search and ads business deals in a trust economy. It doesn’t take much to switch from Google to Bing. Google knows that. Even though they have some HUGE advantages (technical [data centers, talent], brand, etc) the low barrier to change is huge.

Not all corporations are profit driven

I had the huge pleasure of working for Mozilla, which is a mission based corporation. Wow does that make life different. While you have to sustain yourself, it does mean that you think of the world very differently. You would rather go out in a blaze of glory doing something great for the mission, than just slowly die not doing much. Every choice you make …. you think of the mission.

It was interesting to work there knowing that I actually wouldn’t want Firefox to be a 90% browser. You can fall into the similar trap as above and think:

We are mission based! If we had that domination we would use it for good!

But, not having that power in one hand is even better. Imagine working somewhere thinking “in my wildest dreams, the market would be shared somewhat evenly with the competition.” The Open Web is amazing in that there is NO SINGLE VENDOR. If we are able to keep a decent balance between browsers (and thus the platform as we know it) then we have a balance of powers. Sure, in some ways you can’t move as fast as a dictatorship, but there is a reason we don’t want dictatorships in our government (even if the trains run on time!)

And, this brings me to the Adobe half of the Steve Jobs equation. Flash isn’t dead. HTML5 is slowly going to put a dent into it if we ever get some of the use cases just right (e.g. video), but Adobe has a good penetration and can move at the speed of a dictatorship. The iPhone/iPad combo not shipping Flash will have an interesting dynamic here too, hopefully helping the HTML5 video cause. There is still much more work to be done. Flash and browser plugins have had a long history at forging new paths, and the Web can come in behind them and standardize. May that continue.

I do watch for single-owned platforms such as Flash, Silverlight, or now the Apple platform (even though they do great work on the HTML5 side of the house). I don’t want any of those vendors to have too much power. The thought of a Web that required the use of their technology makes me shudder (we have a piece of that with Flash video). Right now I can turn off those plugins and life moves on. Sure I can’t Hulu or Netflix, but that will change. I would miss some of the Flash sites that my kids use, but they could even be partially ported over to HTML5 these days.

I don’t want to “kill” these other platforms as they offer competition and spur on the industry. I just don’t want any one of them to take over. It may seem like the world would be better if we all just used Macs and iPhones and iPads, but would it? Do you think Steve would be a benevolent dictator?

Erm, no.

And thus I find myself torn. I really want to go out and by that iPad……. but when is it “too late”. Surely I have a few years right? I can enjoy the shiny new toy? :)

25 Responses to “Google isn’t Evil. Flash isn’t Dead; Thank god the Open Web doesn’t have a single vendor”

  1. Chess Says:

    I think your over thinking it. Sure its closed, but having and enjoying an iPad for what it is while you can doesn’t mean you’ve turned your back on Open Source and anyone who judges you by that it is just stupid.

    If it wasn’t for the iPhone do you think Android and things like the Nexus One would be around? Can’t say for sure, but you can say this the ‘closed’ iPhone definitely spurred innovation in that space, and I expect the iPad to do the same for its product category.

  2. Chess Says:

    Oh, and would someone tell me what the heck that picture of Jobs is? Is that a morphed picture of some Balmer photo?

  3. Francesco Sullo Says:

    Great post. I fully agree :)

  4. dion Says:

    @Chess,

    I totally agree that we wouldn’t have Android and Palm and other device manufacturers doing what they are doing if it wasn’t for iPhone. I don’t think Mozilla would be doing as well if Chrome wasn’t around. I think I explicitly mention that. Competition is good, which is why I want to see it continue :)

    Cheers,

    Dion

  5. leef Says:

    Nice perspective. I think it’s an easy conclusion about why Apple mobile devices don’t have Flash Player. Might not run great. Will require extra work on Apple’s part to add. Potential to decrease iTunes video/movie/book/app sales. Little viable competition with Flash Player. So they focus on other things like video chat, and MMS, and whatnot.

  6. David Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I just think there should be a distinction between Flash as a platform and Flash as a plugin. There may be a time when the Flash plugin is less useful. But Flash / FlashBuilder / AIR / Actionscript goes far beyond the browser. For the average user, Flash may as well be invisible. It’s just the means to view content created with the Flash platform. So while it might be beneficial for Adobe if the plugin reined supreme, I’m sure they’re aware that a broader delivery mechanism stands to ultimately broaded the uses for the Flash tools. Their iPhone exporter speaks to this directly. And who knows, maybe CS5 will export to HTML5…

  7. Sony Mathew Says:

    ahm..i believe Android was in the works alongside and released soon after the IPhone.

  8. Todd Says:

    “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.”

    - Obi Wan Kanobi, Star Wars episode III

  9. josh Says:

    Agree with you, but I don’t think we have to worry about Apple taking over the web, at least not now. They’re really pushing for open web standards and I think they’d have no problem supporting Flash if it worked really well on their platforms and didn’t crash so much. Yes, it’s true that much of the reason for that is Apple not giving Adobe access to things that would allow for better optimization and less crashiness, but that’s beside the point. Apple has told Adobe (and others) “here are the rules to play with us” and given those rules, Flash is kind of a suck despite its pervasiveness.

    Also, the reason that Flash became so pervasive is that it (mostly) solved a problem that HTML 5 is only now getting around to.

    So while I agree that a world in which iPads and iPods and iPhones rule the world would be no better than a world in which Windows devices rule, I think the web and internet as we know it are safe from said domination, at least from Apple’s perspective. The OS battle however is another story.

  10. James Pearce Says:

    “Having spent time at Google, I do feel like the place isn’t just an evil cult.”

    or

    “Having spent time at Google, I do feel like the place just isn’t an evil cult.”

    ?

  11. Faruk Ates Says:

    “I do watch for single-owned platforms such as Flash, Silverlight, or now the Apple platform …”

    I think that’s a weird comparison; Flash and Silverlight are single-owned plugin platforms for the Web; Apple’s platform is an Operating System that is a shell _around_ the browser, not the other way around.

    As mentioned on Twitter and in my own blog post of today, I *do* think Flash is dead; the beauty of the open web is that it encourages competition just fine, and in a better way even: by preventing one technology from dominating the others. Everyone will be able to do HTML5 and that means that competition will be driven purely by good ideas and execution, _not_ by proprietary content.

  12. Joeri Sebrechts Says:

    I think the saving grace in apple’s case is that they won’t license their OS to third parties. This means they will never be a dominant player, so they can’t do much harm. Still … the app store creeps me out. It’s way too seductive, with bad policy underneath. My objection to the ipad comes more from the notion that others might see what apple is doing and think “bingo”.

  13. daily deals directory Says:

    So with Flash, the web began to move. (Apologies to all of the early Javascript programmers out there.)

    Flash is proprietary, IE is proprietary. Tons of other technologies are proprietary. But these companies invest tons of money to create things that people will want to buy. Then, open source comes around and says, ‘Hey! We’re open source!” And open source helps people use what the proprietary technology designers can’t really do: accommodate other proprietary technology.

    We really do need both. Think about patents. Good for seven years, unless there’s a major change, then Bam! Everybody’s making it. Let companies make their money so they can pay people to make other great wonderful things for us to buy so they can pay their employees who spend that money again. As long as there’s competition, who cares?

    Seriously, do you have access to only one dictionary of the English language? No! And the option to pick the best one available is what allows the slackers, open source or proprietary, to be weeded out.

    Now if only more people used their power to make decisions when voting (or not voting) for congress men and women. They get our money whether we want to give it to them or not….

  14. daily deals directory Says:

    And one more thing: the web is open! Success comes to those who deserve it.

    Check out this guy’s video and read up on his story –

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dadPWhEhVk

  15. henchan Says:

    Really nice balance in the post.
    There’s a class of protocols which are natural monopolies. They are not necessarily optimal for every use case, yet competitive protocols such as TCQ/IQ or HTTQ would in general be severely detrimental to the greater good.
    Such protocols need to be open and always and striving towards excellence, even in the absence of competition.

  16. Joe Walker Says:

    The problem is ‘dead’ is such an overloaded word.

    - dead as a Norwegian Blue
    - dead as Elvis
    - dead as Duke Nukem Forever
    - dead the Amiga
    - dead as Cobol
    - dead as Newsprint
    - dead as MS Office

    You can run a smooth spectrum from “dead and pushing up daisies”, to “dead, but only if you believe everything you hear on the Gilmor Gang”.

    I personally think that the open web doesn’t need flash as a competitor. There is enough internal competition right now, and I don’t see that going away in a short time.

    Joe.

  17. Michael Richardson Says:

    Where Flash still comes out ahead is in its abillity to deliver a truly consistent (no, not bug/crash free) product, and at the cutting edge. Check out this wonderful presentation of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: http://www.sfmoma.org/projects/artscope/index.html#r=64 (created by Stamen Design). This is Flash: truly software delivered via the browser that is incomparably rich. You cannot do this in JS (with any of its current graphic libraries, including Processing) or HTML5. The support of complex, vector-based graphics, motion, and all the rest make Flash YEARS ahead of HTML5. Having YouTube etc move to a new video format in HTML5 will indeed mean the death of Flash — as required for watching video on YouTube etc. — but Flash (and its IDEs) is very much alive.

  18. Marc Canter Says:

    Right on brother. You’ve communicated the challenges and tradeoffs of capitalism versus altruism. These are the issues I’ve been dealing with after enabling and creating the FIRST multimedia player – pre-Flash.

    Never in our wildest imagination could we have dreamed of getting the installed base of Flash, yet I think I would have done something differently with it – than the inheritors of our legacy did.

    Oh well.

    But the days of single vendor lock-in are about to go away.

    It’s ALL about multi-vendor. So Twitter better watch out. And Facebook – too!

    Our Open Stack of Open Standards keeps expanding – look at the recent Activity Streams standards!

  19. Rick Graham Says:

    There is a free documentary available on the Internet called “The Corporation” which analyzes the modern corporation from the viewpoint of a person. Corporations claim this status as their right in law. A corporation is a person without a conscience, without morals. By law the sole responsibility of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders.

    We have a name for a person like that. A person without conscience or morals that is driven by the sole purpose of gaining money or power. We call those people psychotics.

  20. cmcx_linux Says:

    Hey, regarding flash. Maybe not a lot of people know this, but flash it’s actually an open format..
    specs for flv can be found at:
    http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flv/pdf/video_file_format_spec_v9.pdf
    and for the swf format can be found at:
    http://www.adobe.com/devnet/swf/pdf/swf_file_format_spec_v10.pdf
    Regarding the language itself, this is also open, being a variant of ECMA-262 Javascript.
    The problem is that the player – flash virtual machine is of closed nature and also the IDE. But if there is enough support and a big enough community, alternatives to these can be built. Take the case of gnash for example, it’s still at it’s beginning but has shown some degree of success. As for IDE there is an alternative to Adobe flash, not as good tough which can be found here:
    http://www.flashdevelop.org/wikidocs/index.php?title=Main_Page
    All in all, one can see that flash as a whole is not that evil, and from some points of view resembles the status of javascript ( for some browsers at least), meaning you can build free content in a free environment to run on a closed platform ( how many of you had seen the internals of IE’s or Opera’s javascript Engine) and one has access to the language, the file format, the bytecode and internal data representation.

  21. cmcx_linux Says:

    PS: Regarding the compiler part, I think Macromedia ( now Adobe) has built his own variant on top of JVM and use this to compile swf movies, otherwise the heck do I see the point of having JDK inside Adobe Flash’es directory, I mean, come on, everybody complains on Java being slow at drawing that ugly and primitive AWT/Swing GUI, which is not the case for Adobe Flash Editor.

  22. cmcx_linux Says:

    PS2: As for the open web format world, I have to say that we are in 2010 and I still have problems creating html4 websites to behave the same in all browsers and I have to build variants. Javascript is still slower than flash at rendering content in motion ( on linux.. even with google chrome..) and as for css I still see that on opera the scrollbar does not color the same way as on firefox. It’s 2010 and we still have all this problems. If browser manufacturers couldn’t agree on fully implementing the already existing standards, then I do not think that they will be able to implement and agree on a standard which is not even ready. But this problem does not resume only to the web part. Each company or OSS community have the freedom to adhere to the standard more or less. Take the unix variants for example: We have Linux, Solaris, BSD, MacOsX, IBM AIX, etc.. all of these systems are POSIX compliant ( which is an open standard regarding os behavior), but are they binary compatible? No, Can you compile and run software out of the box from one system to another? No. Even between linux distributions there are issues regarding some source code that works only on one specific distribution, because is dependent on the version of the library that runs on that system. This is the reason why the community could not port Gnash to Android, and we had to wait until google built a version of it, with the blessings from Adobe. This is why it’s still good to have a Dictator over a piece of software. I do not believe that java would be write once run everywhere if Sun did not have quite a tight control over the specs, JDK and JRE. You still have the linux kernel which holds under control the multitude of linux distro, so they can have a common denominator thus making the community’s work when it comes to source code writing much easy and lastly, flash, to run your web content truly the same way on all operating systems in all browsers. From my point of view, since adobe has opened the standards for flash, the company finds itself in the same situation as Sun is. The have a platform both loved and hated by programmers which will not die that easily. As shown, free alternatives have appeared to it and the multitude of support, code and examples for flash out there is uncountable. I won’t deny that the open and free alternatives do not have good support, but from what I felt is still no way near what the flash world has to offer.

  23. Hanto Says:

    Psychopathic I think is the term used in many cases, but most should understand where you are coming from. And since there are laws concerning the well-being of society against psychopathic humans, could there not be laws that might hinder the capacity of such organizations ( corporations ) to do harm. I would like to see all ads from such corporations carry a label warning the humans of this world that these organizations have sometime in the past or currently engaged in behavior considered illegal for an individual.

    There is far to much lying and spinning of tall tales in the advertising world. And somehow the individual needs just as much advertising spent on giving him/her fair warning about the Truth in Advertising this country claims to follow.

  24. MatTrue Says:

    Lawrence Lessig and the author of this post value “clean” politics more than “messy” free speech. Look at how much “$” was raised last election by both sides. Wall Street actually gave more to Democrats. They bought their bailouts.

    That was before this Supreme Court decision. Political speech should have no restrictions. Doesn’t matter if it comes from a newspaper, church, cult, commune, or corporation. Multi-nationals may have a lot of money, but they also have customers and shareholders to please, and hopefully competitors to be better than.

    The way to get *clean* politics is to give power back to individuals. Get it out of Washington, out of Wall Street, out of Hollywood, out of Silicon Valley, etc. All that power brokering can only be stopped when WE wise up and become more careful about where our hard earned dollars go.

    The less concentrated the political power, the less influence giant corporations have, and just that much harder to get “too big to fail”.

    Oh, and I hate flash, because I have a lap-scorching Macbook.

  25. arpit Says:

    This is my favorite post on the whole Adobe/Apple/Google thing. I think proprietary platforms often act as the catalyst for open platforms, and occasionally as the proverbial canaries in the coalmines too. Flash has been my meal ticket for the last 5 years or so but I dont consider myself a Flash developer, I consider myself an interactive developer. Whatever lets me get my idea/vision in front of people works for me. Cults of any kind are a turn off.

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