Pick Your Open

April 29th, 2010  |  Published in mac and iphone  |  2 Comments

Thoughts on Flash from Steve Jobs:

Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

Apple has many proprietary products too. Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open. Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript – all open standards. Apple’s mobile devices all ship with high performance, low power implementations of these open standards. HTML5, the new web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member.

Apple even creates open standards for the web. For example, Apple began with a small open source project and created WebKit, a complete open-source HTML5 rendering engine that is the heart of the Safari web browser used in all our products. WebKit has been widely adopted. Google uses it for Android’s browser, Palm uses it, Nokia uses it, and RIM (Blackberry) has announced they will use it too. Almost every smartphone web browser other than Microsoft’s uses WebKit. By making its WebKit technology open, Apple has set the standard for mobile web browsers.

One of the earliest essays I remember reading on LinuxToday was from Dave Whitinger in 1999, entitled “The Battle That Could Lose Us the War.” His focus was Microsoft, IIS and Internet Explorer’s recently established dominance. The Mozilla project was stuck at “Milestone 10,” Firefox didn’t exist, and it was still pretty easy to find sites with amateurish “This site works best with …” buttons.

The essay is a little goofy. His opening anecdote involves telling his wife, “a complete computer illiterate,” that she can choose between a Windows computer he’ll refuse to help her with, or a Linux machine for which he’ll offer “complete technical support and training assistance.” If someone offered me a choice like that, I think I’d pick the Windows box just to minimize contact with them, but he shrewdly waited until after they were married to spring that on her and she wisely chose the Linux box. That’s when he sprung his second surprise, which involved “training assistance” in the form of teaching her to open a shell and type killall -9 netscape ; rm ~/.netscape/lock every time Netscape froze.

Anyhow, I did take something away from that essay that’s stuck with me since: We don’t want a Web that’s beholden to a single entity to work right. In trying to shame Apple for keeping Flash off the iPhone, Adobe’s advocates have repeatedly and obnoxiously claimed Apple is somehow breaking the Web for its users. I don’t know about other folks, but in the space of two or three weeks, Adobe managed to move Flash out of the category of “things I don’t like but don’t want to work up the energy to get aggravated about” to “things I hope will eventually become the same badge of rank amateurism that the ‘this site works best with …’ buttons represented.” Or, to add a bit more nuance, “things that a skilled developer will never include as a dependency for full functionality.” (See Zeldman.)

Whatever you think of the iTunes App Store’s policies, iTunes DRM, or whether your iPad comes with a user-replaceable battery or USB port, Apple’s in the right on this one: It has done exactly what open source advocates want even commercial entities to do by a. supporting open source projects and b. supporting an open Web.

In terms of freedom and choice, I think I’ll take a company that supports openness for the thing we’re each least able to control—the standards and technology that drive the Web—and acts sort of like a prick about what it’ll sell in its own store, over the company that thinks the best way to argue for its own existence is by telling you how much you’ll hate the Web if you don’t use its products. In the end, you can choose to not buy an Apple product because there’s a market full of alternatives (some of which are using open technologies Apple has helped to build). You’ll have less luck choosing an alternative Web.


  1. Michael Burton says:

    April 30th, 2010 at 5:27 am (#)

    Ugh, I agree that Jobs is on the right side of this battle, but it strikes me the same way as when Limbaugh on occasion says something I agree with; the point is valid, but he’s still a prick.

    Jobs touting openness as his shield is laughable to me considering the gtalk decision he made for the iPx products.

    Hmm… anytime when I can read my own posts in the “nerd voice” and it sounds fine is probably a signal to stop writing.

    Good on ya, Jobs – you jerk.

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