InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman fails to understand Apple, Adobe Flash
May 10th, 2010
Daniel Eran Dilger
InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman likes to offer an authoritarian opinion about tech subjects, but rarely has any clue what he’s talking about. That’t evident in his “peace plan” regarding Adobe and Apple.
Gruman fails to understand competitive markets
Contention and competition are necessary for life, for functional democracy, and for markets. If we all just attempted to “get along,” we’d end up without technical advancement, without social advancement, and without genetic advancement. Eventually we’d all end up dead.
Gruman apparently doesn’t understand this principle, instead offering his “solution” to solve the “problem” of competition, an idea he endorsed under the name of his trade rag, IDG’s InfoWorld. The rest of his writeup is so similarly and completely off the mark that it serves as a useful framework for dismantling much of the ignorance about the current contention between Apple and Adobe in mobile software development.
Gruman fails to understand Apple’s issues with Flash
First off, Gruman starts by saying “No one doubts at this point that Apple is on a mission to kill Flash.” That’s not the case however, because were Apple trying to simply kill Flash, it would have removed Flash support on its desktop platform as a bundled plugin three years ago when it launched the iPhone.
Instead, Apple has worked to develop new APIs to allow Flash to access hardware acceleration on its Macs, while also devoting considerable efforts in Mac OS X Snow Leopard to enable Adobe’s Flash plugin to crash without taking Safari down with it.
That was done because Apple identified Flash as the number one reason for crashes in Mac OS X. The only thing Apple can do about Adobe’s bad code is to isolate it from causing additional damage when it blows up. There is little Apple can do about Flash Player hogging all system resources on the Mac.
Gruman seems to think the main problem with Flash is related to poorly developed content that eats up too much RAM and CPU, but the main problem for the Mac is Adobe’s terrible code delivered in its Flash Player web plugin, which consumes massive resources even when nothing is currently happening.
Gruman fails to understand that Flash as a mobile platform doesn’t exist
Apple similarly didn’t kill Flash on the iPhone OS platform. You can’t kill something that doesn’t exist. Adobe’s chief executive Shantanu Narayen promised two years ago that it would bring Flash to the iPhone, because it simply wasn’t available when the iPhone launched. All Adobe had back then was Flash Lite (which didn’t do anything of value) and the desktop Flash plugin, which wasn’t at all designed with mobile issues in mind, and couldn’t run on mobile architectures such as ARM.
Back then, the iPhone was running an ARM11 processor at 412MHz, yet Narayen said, “We have evaluated [the iPhone's software developer tools] and we think we can develop an iPhone Flash player ourselves.” Adobe promised a mobile version of Flash by the end of 2008, then the beginning of 2009, then the end of 2009, then the beginning of 2010, and now the middle of 2010. That beta is still just crashing in demos today.
As Adobe’s mobile Flash vaporware has failed to develop across the last two years, the minimum specifications Adobe says it will need have ballooned, currently to a Cortex A8 CPU running at 1GHz with 512MB of RAM. That effectively leaves out any potential for mobile Flash to ever run on any phone sold before mid 2009 (the generation of the Palm Pre, iPhone 3GS, Droid/Nexus One).
So Adobe, over the last three years, has flat out failed to deliver Flash for the iPhone as promised. And yet Gruman words this failure as a preemptive strike by Apple, as if Steve Jobs willed Adobe to be incompetent just so his company could refuse to install some software that didn’t ever exist. Presumably, this was the result of Apple being angry that Adobe did essentially delivered the same lack of progress on its Mac plugin.
Gruman actually called this a “lockout of technology,” fearing that it “could eventually lead to an Internet future of multiple, incompatible platforms that demand multiple proprietary technologies.” Perhaps Gruman and the InfoWorld publication he speaks for isn’t aware that both he and his trade rag have been doing nothing for the past fifteen years but hailing a series of silos of proprietary technologies, from Windows to Flash. Pretty much everything apart from Apple’s, which fails to enrich IDG with much ad revenue.
Gruman fails to comprehend that he isn’t Jimmy Carter
In his efforts to broker peace between Apple and Adobe, Gruman suggests that all Adobe really needs to do is “take a step toward openness as well and help ensure that developers create Flash apps that are secure, stable, and suited to mobile use.”
This is like solving the issue of America’s dependence upon foreign oil by asking Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to simply “take a step toward being countries that provide oil in such a way that doesn’t fund Communist enemies of the US and/or enrich repressive regimes run by religious fundamentalists who funnel money to terrorism.” Problem solved! We can keep fueling up our SUVs without also fueling up enemies. Peace!
Gruman then fleshes out his simpleton view of what’s wrong with Flash, without ever really happening upon what’s really wrong with Flash in the first place. He talks about “application stability, resource hogging, compromised security, and lack of gesture support” as if these are things that could be quickly addressed in Flash if only InfoWorld were to bring them to Adobe’s attention. He seems to fail to understand that these are only symptoms, not the root causes, of what’s actually wrong with Flash.
After failing to comprehend anything about what’s really wrong with Flash, Gruman then throws out the logical fallacy, “we can all agree, however, that the HTML5 future is years away,” even though HTML5 is already in production use now, as well as being supported in all of the significant mobile browsers, none of which currently support Flash. HTML5 was “years away” years ago, when Flash was also years away. Now, HTML5 is here in the mobile realm, and Flash isn’t. Make a note of that, InfoWorld.
Gruman fails to understand video playback
As part of his solution to the problems he fails to understand, Gruman first insists that Apple should “let Adobe create a Flash video player plug-in for the Phone OS,” as if Adobe’s inability to deliver a Flash Player for any mobile platform is the fault of Apple refusing to “let Adobe do it.” He then thinks outloud that such a feature might perhaps need to wait for iPhone OS 4′s multitasking, apparently unaware that the iPhone has been playing audio and video media without needing a multitasking UI, but effectively multitasking nonetheless, for three years now.
Apple’s role in helping Adobe create a “Flash video player plugin” for the iPhone (which Gruman seems to think is separate from Flash Player), would be to “make sure that security, stability, and other concerns are met” as part of its normal app review. This apparently will work along the lines of Apple making sure that the Mac version of Adobe’s Flash Player plugin also works as its supposed to, and its fine software overall.
Gruman then throws out some tech talk to suggest he has some understanding of what’s involved with playback of Flash video, most of which is in older codecs that can’t be played back in hardware as H.264 can. “Apple can also set the processing threshold required for supporting Adobe’s F4V video format and its more resource-intensive VP6 codec,” Gruman muses, apparently unaware that this could only possibly result in unacceptably poor playback. If a task is too resource intensive, limiting its resource allocation doesn’t exactly solve the problem.
“Sorenson Spark codec [based on H.263, the codec most Flash video like older YouTube stuff is encoded in] is equivalent to the requirements for the H.264 codec used in HTML5 and on the iPhone, so it should be allowed,” Gruman says, clearly unaware that H.263 and H.264 are not “equivalent” by any measure, and that mobile devices play H.264 via hardware, while other codecs (just like Ogg Vobis) would need to be played back far less efficiently via software. This is so blatantly ignorant that Gruman needs to edit the entire section out just to limit InfoWorld’s shame.
Gruman fails to understand standards
Next up, Gruman offers his genius solution to Flash being proprietary: just open it up as a standard! The problem is that Adobe didn’t put up $3.4 billion in stock for Macromedia just to make Flash a free software standard. Additionally, publishing a proprietary standard under the guise of being an open standard does not make it one. Just look at Microsoft’s VC-1 (aka Windows Media Video, which were rubber-stamped by the SMPTE) or Open Office XML (the proprietary Office file formats which were run through EMCA and then the ISO using a bulldozer of money).
“For Adobe to realize its ubiquity goal, it needs to do with the Flash technologies — the ActionScript language and the Flash file formats — what it did with PDF files: Release the core subset to the standards community,” Gruman writes. But Adobe isn’t trying to make Flash ubiquitous, it’s trying to make Flash profitable as a proprietary platform it controls.
“Likewise,” Gruman writes as he tumbles downhill in terms of logic, “the Flash video formats should be released to the standards bodies, since Adobe wants it to be a de facto alternative to the MPEG-4 video standard.” If that happened, Gruman says, “Apple would — and should — be able to support it natively as it does MPEG-4.” Gruman seems to think that “being an open standard” suddenly makes it free, simple and attractive for vendors to support.
The reality is that there are already plenty of open standards for video encoding. There’s even lots of MPEG-4 profiles that Apple doesn’t support, because there’s no compelling need to. Apple also doesn’t support MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 playback on the iPhone, not because they’re not open and available, but because they’re not necessary to support.
Apple purposely does not support Ogg Vobis and Microsoft’s VC-1, for good reasons. Vobis, like FLV, isn’t supported in hardware playback and isn’t sophisticated enough to bother doing all the work to support. VC-1 provides a good example of Apple not supporting a standard for competitive reasons. There’s no need for Apple to enrich Microsoft when it has a perfectly acceptable, widely-used, high performance MPEG standard. More standards are not better, they’re just more work.
The best solution to lots of standards is more standardization upon the best ones, which is why Apple moved from its own proprietary, Sorensen-based video codec in QuickTime to the ISO’s MPEG-4 when it became available. Apple doesn’t support playback of old QuickTime codecs on the iPhone, so why should it be supporting old codecs from Adobe, particularly when the world is rapidly moving toward H.264?
Gruman fails to understand platforms
Similarly, Gruman’s solution to the Creative Suite iPhone-export issue is for Apple to simple certify that Adobe is doing everything right. The real problem though is that were Apple to sanction Adobe’s tools as a way to generate code that could be pushed into the App Store as an “app,” it would not only end up with a lot of junkware, but would also end up being dependent upon Adobe to continue delivering updates for its Flash CS5 development tools that would keep pace with its own development of iPhone OS 4 and subsequent releases, something Adobe has historically failed to do.
Gruman’s next childish solution, for “Adobe and Apple to work together on gesture UIs for SWF interactive content, so InDesign-based SWF creators can use mobile-oriented interface elements,” suggest that its somehow in Apple’s interests to make sure that the incompetent Adobe, after having proven for years to be unreliable as a partner, is intimately involved in the success or failure of its iPhone OS platform.
Similarly, Gruman continues with outlining how Apple should “explore a Flash app certification process,” as if Apple would somehow benefit from taking on a massive certification process for the simple junkware apps created with Flash that it does not benefit from in any way.
Apple runs the world’s largest certification process for mobile software apps. There are 200,000 apps its approved in the last two years, and the company earns a modest (in the view of the industry) 30% cut from the sales of these apps as a retailer and merchandizer. Why would Apple want to take on the same type of work for applets that it would not make any money from? Gruman doesn’t say, nor perhaps understand. But he does throw out the idea that “Surely, Apple and Adobe can figure out how to solve this issue if Apple’s business strategy can accept Flash as an iPhone app dev tool.” Um, what?
In conclusion, Gruman insists that Apple and Adobe “give peace a chance,” unaware that both companies are peaceably competing in the market already. Were Apple and Adobe actually at war, killing civilians around them, then Grumans’ ignorantly simplistic plea to stop the war might make some sense. But this isn’t a war, it’s competition. And competition is supposed to occur so that we don’t end up stuck with a bunch of bad options.
For the last fifteen years, the tech world has been strangled with the bad technology of Flash and Windows. Now that Apple is breaking this monster grip and injecting some real competition into the industry, we have idiots like Gruman insisting that Apple take on the task of making sure the losers and their poorly performing, insecure software should be preserved to “keep the peace.”
Gruman’s previous articles show a steady, ignorant bias against Apple, such as his blaming Apple for Microsoft’s lax optional security policies in Exchange Server, where he announced that the iPhone was “lying” to the server because he didn’t know how any of it actually worked. What the world really needs is accurate information, not misguided opinion. Maybe InfoWorld can live up to its name and employ some people who know what they’re talking about, rather than just writing up nice sounding but profoundly ignorant articles that make as much sense as Emily Litella.