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 25 Comments »


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? :)

Nov 17

The Flash Platform: How Adobe could join the Open Web to take on…

Adobe, Tech 7 Comments »

With Adobe MAX kicking off today, on the back of PDC, we get side by side comparisons.

We have heard talk of the new positioning of the Flash platform for Flash, AIR, and Flex. These have always been in the platform business unit, so nothing is really new there.

Adobe (via Macromedia) has traditionally been a Web designer company, but developers haven’t jumped in to the same degree (note: not to say they haven’t been wildly successful!). I think that the perception is something like this:

Flash Perception

With Silverlight making a huge charge I worry about a world where you have “Best viewed in Silverlight and IE” (which in fact is “only viewed in…”) and people often ask: “But isn’t Flash just as bad?”

Adobe has an opportunity here. They can move to the right and Flash could become strongly in the Open Web camp. Then we would all be stronger as we come up against Silverlight :)

The conversation tends to end up with opensourcing Flash, which I think will happen at some point through necessity, and the sooner the better (for everyones sake). Flex has a loyal base and has some open source help, but hasn’t gotten the love that it could get because it sits on top of something that isn’t open source itself. It is hard to get excited about an open source tech that sits on top of the same vendors proprietary platform!

There is much more that Adobe can do other than open sourcing Flash though. There is a chance to offer tools to help the Open Web. What if Flex could render to the HTML platform?

I hope to see a glimmer of this vision in the keynote and more at MAX. I have a huge respect for everyone I have worked with at Adobe, and I hope that the Open camp wins through, although it will take time.

I really hope that the real Flash Catalyst will be helping the Open Web developers too :)

Aug 05

Tough Love: How Steve could make us all like Flash more

Adobe, Tech, iPhone 2 Comments »

I was reading Om Malik’s interview with Kevin Lynch of Adobe, and mulling over the mobile question.

After reading, I popped online to view the menu for the Tandoori Grill in Boulder (I love that place!). They use Flash for the menu, which doesn’t make the iPhone happy. I cursed again, as their is no work around until either:

  • It gets on the iPhone (and I think it will)
  • Someone does the crazy Flash on the server hacks

After cursing, I sat down and realized that the tough love that Steve Jobs is giving Adobe could actually be a good thing for everyone (including Adobe!). You have to bet that the Adobe Flash / mobile teams are working their arse off getting Flash small and compact in a way they never have had to before. I am sure they will get there, and the day that Steve can pop open the debug Safari build and see that it runs Flash nicely without sucking the battery life, he will give it the OK. When that happens, we will not only have Flash on the iPhone, but also a much leaner and meaner Flash that can run on the desktop. A true win-win?

Jul 07

Flash indexing and SEO; Remember testing?

Adobe, Google, Tech with tags: , , 2 Comments »

Whenever you work on SEO for your Web site or application, what do you have to do? You have to test it. You have to make changes and watch what ends up in the index of search engines. Then you iterate on your task to get the correct and most relevant information in there.

Google announced that we now index SWF with a new algorithm, as does Yahoo!, in cooperation with Adobe.

The new SWF runner can “act like a human” and access elements and see what happens (e.g. click on a button). Immediately people worried that the tester could act like the Google Web Accelerator, and if you have a poorly designed application that had a [DELETE EVERYTHING] button it would get clicked and boom.

Aral Balkan asked if we are indexing too much and others went even further and randomly said don’t build your site in Flash.

The folks who came out saying that “now my internal files aren’t hidden!” are fooling themselves, as you can’t hide things via obscurity. To the real point though, if you are conservative you can use good ole robots.txt to disallow the search engine access to your SWF files.

Then, you can run some tests and see what happens. Just as everything else with SEO, you will need to play the game of seeing what happens as you make changes.

In the end, I want search engines to get a lot smarter at indexing this kind of content (ditto for rich Ajax applications) and we all need to work together to make that happen.

Jul 06

Passpack: Gears? AIR? Why choose!

Adobe, Gears, Tech 1 Comment »

Passpack is an online password organizer that provided offline access early in its life via Gears.

Last week they announced an Adobe AIR version, and Ryan quickly commented saying:

For a while they were using Gears as a way to store those passwords on the client but they’ve just recently switched over to using Adobe AIR.

One of the reasons given was Safari support for Gears. You have to do a build for Safari which is not what we want, and we are working with the Apple team to clean things up and have a really nice Safari plugin. Unfortunately, Safari doesn’t have a plugin model, so you always feel like you are doing some hack using unsupported mechanisms like Input Managers. Grr, come on Apple, play nice with others! :)

At the same time, Air support for the Encrypted File store (a very nice feature!) doesn’t work on Linux yet (I am sure that will be fixed soon too).

Of course, the solution isn’t Gears vs. AIR. They aren’t really competing here! The Gears users of the product started to get vocal and we quickly saw Gears support added again.

There are two very different use cases:

  • Users who want to be using Passpack in the browser, who happen to want to use functionality such as offline, or any other Gears component
  • Users who want a desktop-like application, outside of the browser. This is where the AIR application fits in.

So, both can make sense for Passpack. In other cases, one of the choices could make sense.

I also expect to see more joint applications. Gears functionality is working into HTML5 the standard, which will end up in WebKit (as Apple is great in that regard), and AIR uses…. WebKit as its renderer!

I really hope that AIR will be able to bridge to those APIs, and you get the best of all worlds. I would love to use the Workerpool API from within an AIR application that is doing a lot of JavaScript work for example.

Jun 16

From Beer to Wine; Flying App Engine from Europe to Napa

Adobe, Google, Tech 1 Comment »

I have had an interesting week to say the least. I had the pleasure of joining the Adobe On Air tour of Europe in Prague. It was my first time to the city, which is a beautiful blend of east and west Europe.

The Adobe mini-conference was held at a great brewery, and we got the tour the night before. The Czech folks take their beer seriously, and they are the inventors of Budweiser, but don’t hold that against them…. their Budvar is actually good (and not like having sex in a canoe!)

Beer Taps

After checking out the taps, we got to taste the beer, which ran smooth. Holding the actual event at a brewery also means that you open up the taps in the afternoon, which gets the crowd in a good mood indeed.

After train rides shared with women and their pets, I got to another place known for beer. Sitting in the Biergartens of Munich, with full Litre jugs to wash down the Currywurst. It was bitter sweat to soak up the Euro 2008 footy action, what with our lads not being there at all.

The event was fun again, as I got to talk more about App Engine to the crowd:

Del Dotto

After a week of beer, I found myself back state-side and on a bus full of Googlers to Napa for an offsite. We ended up at Del Dotto Vineyards where the owner took us on a wild ride of fine wine.

Right at the beginning you will hear him say:

“You guys here do software and that kind of stuff? This is going to blow your mind”

This was one of the finest meals and wine tastings that I have ever had. I can’t recommend it enough! Now, I am ready for some water for the coming week…. until I head to Mexico and Sao Paulo, which will mean Margs and Caipirinha?

Feb 28

Gears and AIR: The Open Source Difference

Adobe, Gears, Tech 2 Comments »

AIR had their big launch this week, and I am very happy for the folks over there to have that 1.0 out in the wild. It is a huge deal. I really like the idea of taking Web technology and development skills, and expanding them out from the desktop browser into new worlds such as the mobile device and the desktop itself.

Who knew that little XHR would grow and the Ajax universe would expand in such a way that you can imagine a time 2 to 10 years from now where the world of Web vs. desktop vs. mobile no longer make sense. Many universes are combining. Surely in the future we will have APIs and services. You will be able to use JavaScript to talk to native services on a computer, as well as services in a cloud. It will all start coming together.

With Gears, you can start to see this vision. Starting with LocalServer, Database, and Workerpool; then maybe seeing notification, crypto, messaging, location, shortcut, and more.

Here we see more and more services being made available to the Web developer in a way that makes sense to them.

AIR has a set of APIs too of course, but there are a couple of differences.

1. Desktop focus

AIR is very much about building desktop applications using Flash and Ajax. If you want a desktop application, you can choose AIR as a choice versus Swing, WPF, Cocoa, etc.

Gears is about adding more value to the browser itself, and letting you keep building your Ajax applications, just with more power. We will constantly be adding more and more APIs and services for you to work with.

2. Control

Adobe develops AIR, and they have plans for the future, which I am sure are constantly changing. You have the power to change their mind by being vocal customers.

Gears is an entirely open source framework. Although Google has the majority of developers on the project, you have different advantages, due to the open source model:

  • If you are running into an issue, you can get down to the metal and look at the source code. You can even contribute a fix!
  • You can scratch your own itch. Let’s say your company has a particular Gear that you would really like to see. You can create that Gear yourself. If it is generally useful (which is normally the case) then you can propose it to the Gears community, and it can get into the Gears distribution itself. That’s right guys, you can write your own Gears. Of course, there is no guarantee that your Gear will get in the distribution. If that is the case, you still have options though. You can distribute your own MyGears. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, but at least you have the option

This is why it is a big deal that Gears is open source. I know that it is hard when a company like Google is behind it, but I hope to see some non-Google Gears getting out there and attaching themselves to the browser service bus that is “Gears”.

Gears and AIR

Gears and AIR are very different, and although there is an overlap, they are complementary too. I would love to see some convergence in the future where Gears and AIR APIs join together. That would be a win win for everyone in my opinion. I would also love to see AIR open sourced, which isn’t a crazy idea given how Adobe has been moving in that direction for many of their projects.

Feb 25

The future is mobile…. soon.

Adobe, Comic, Mobile, Tech with tags: , No Comments »

The future is mobile…

I wonder if 2008 will be the tipping point over in the US where we see more developers targeting mobile versus desktop. I am sure it is going to happen some day…. but when is that?

Kevin Lynch at Engage told us that he believes we will be developing for the mobile form factor and extracting desktop interfaces from there, rather than the other way around.

I am twittering the Engage event using hashtags.

Feb 25

Lisa Awards: Most Overloaded Product Name

Adobe, Comic, Tech with tags: , 3 Comments »

Lisa Awards: Most Overloaded Product Name

In honour of the Oscar’s, which itself honours those of us who make millions of dollars for doing their job, I thought it was time for the geeks to have their own award show. This is the first in a series that awards a Lisa to those that deserve it.

To start with, Adobe announced Air today, and they win the award for “Most Overloaded Product Name” :)

In all seriousness, congrats to the Adobe team for the 1.0 release!

What about the other awards?

Got some ideas for awards you would give?

Jan 08

Desktop iPhone Apps with AIR

Adobe, Facebook, Tech with tags: 2 Comments »

If Ryan and I were in marketing then we would be talking about “making your iPhone applications BREAAAAATHE” or something ;)

Ryan has a wrapper that lets you run iPhone applications inside of the AIR container:

This implementation just uses the mx:HTML tag with the location set to http://iphone.facebook.com with some extra code to handle the custom chrome and the option to make it transparent. Ideally I could take all of the source code for the iPhone application and have all of those files locally installed with the application but going through that code was more time than I had. You’ll also notice that it just refreshes the entire page. My plan is to go through the iPhone facebook code more and call the function that loads the feed information and just refresh that. I’d also like to be able to detect when a new feed item comes in and bubble that up so I can show a notification but detecting changes to the DOM isn’t easily done with AIR so I need to check with the engineering team. I’m going to have some followup posts this week discussing little parts of the application and I’ll also post the source code later this week (I just need to clean it up).

This is a natural fit for certain applications such as Facebook. Doesn’t this application now look a little like Adium sitting over there?

This, once again, gets me back to Face IM. Similar form factor, just add a few more abilities than you get with the iPhone client (which is optimized for having a crappy keyboard etc).

Ryan, we should get together and hack on this bad boy sometime!