Saturday, May 15, 2010

Where did Flash go wrong?

Harold McCracken has written a piece about Flash's origins and current condition. He lists a number of reasons why Flash finally flipped the TOO_ANNOYING bit. Among them:

Flash got unreliable. "On some of my computers," McCracken observes, "in some some browsers, it works fine. But while I was writing this post in Google Chrome, I got a message saying Flash had crashed–and the whole browser was rendered unusable."

Flash got cumbersome. Says McCracken: "I went through a bout of it constantly telling me I needed to allocate more memory–which was a problem in itself. Even worse: The interface it provided for doing so was hopelessly confusing."

Flash got abused. "Especially by misguided Web designers who built pointless intro screens that did absolutely nothing for consumers except make it harder to get anything done on the site in question. (If I were Adobe, I’d bribe sites if necessary to dump Flash intros–they’ve been enormously damaging to the software’s reputation.)"

Flash didn’t evolve fast enough in the right direction. "For eons," McCracken says, "Macromedia and Adobe have failed to seize the opportunity to make Flash as important in the mobile world as it has been on the desktop."

I agree with many of McCracken's points. But I also think Flash's problems are much easier to sum up than this. To my way of thinking, the main problems with Flash are simply:

It's proprietary. Adobe could have guaranteed a future for Flash by making it 100% open and putting its governance in the hands of a standards body. Right now, the last thing the Web needs is a major graphics format that's (largely) closed and under the tight control of one company.

It relies on plug-in technology, which makes it a nuisance, as all plug-ins are. People don't want to run plug-ins in their browsers, especially resource-hungry plug-ins that are in frequent need of upgrading.

It's arcane. Flash is an unfamiliar, quirky format with a significant learning curve. It's nonstandard. People have enough standard technology to learn without having to go to school on nonstandard proprietary boutique formats. If there's a choice between learning HTML5 and learning Flash, people are going to (wisely) choose HTML5. At this point, you're not doing your resume any good by showcasing "Flash" skills on it.

All in all, Adobe has a big problem on its hands. And it's probably too late to do anything about it. The tipping point, I think, has been reached. Flash will ebb. Mark my words.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

IT's new killer app?

Yesterday, at its annual investor briefing in New York, IBM made it clear (if there was any doubt) that it sees a big future in business analytics.

Company president and CEO Sam Palmisano outlined a five-year roadmap that includes a reported $20 billion for acquisitions through 2015, to support strong expected growth in the business analytics and optimization (BAO) segment.

Since 2005, Big Blue has invested $11 billion acquiring 18 companies. The largest of these deals was IBM’s 2007 acquisition of BI and performance management powerhouse Cognos for $5 billion. At IBM’s first-quarter earnings presentation in April, Mark Loughridge, IBM’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, said that “Cognos, which was our largest acquisition ever, posted strong double-digit growth and gained share, providing a proof point on analytics demand in the market.”

According to Loughridge, IBM's recent acquisitions have generated aggregate compound revenue growth of 16 percent.

An April IBM Market Insights report referenced in the investor presentation claims that last year, BAO represented a $140 billion market opportunity, or 18 percent of the total IT market. IBM reportedly earned $9 billion in BAO revenue in 2009, and projects growth to $16 billion in revenues in 2015.

If that isn't "killer app" territory, I don't know what is.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Chrome 5 aces browser benchmarks

Google has quietly released a new beta version of its Chrome browser, which not only blows other browsers out of the water in terms of performance, but comes with a handful of important new features, including direct integration of Adobe Flash.

In testing by Wolfgang Gruener, Chrome 5 was the clear performance winner. "In Google’s own V8 benchmark," Gruener writes, "Chrome 5 has set a new record on our system, scoring 4868 points, compared to 4456 of the most recent beta and 3804 of Chrome 4. This compares to 1945 for Safari 4.04, 654 for IE9 PP, 472 for Firefox 3.6.4 and 104 for IE8." The results are shown as a pie chart above.

The same results with Chrome 4 taken out of the picture make the comparison even more striking:

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Steve Jobs details Flash shortcomings

Steve Jobs recently posted an interesting essay called "Thoughts on Flash." It succinctly summarizes Jobs's various objections to Flash technology. Some of his major points:

  • 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.
  • Security and stability: Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.
  • Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it.
  • Battery life: On an iPhone, H.264 videos (which are decoded in hardware) play for up to 10 hours, while videos decoded in software (e.g., Flash) play for less than 5 hours before the battery is fully drained.
  • Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript? Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices.

The final reason Jobs gives for not allowing Flash on Apple devices has to do with third-party control over development tools. "We know from painful experience," Jobs notes, "that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers."

So to make Flash acceptable for Apple hardware, all Adobe would have to do is convert Flash to a 100% open technology, vastly improve its security and stability, make it decodable in hardware (or otherwise ensure that Flash devices will have adequate battery life), and give Apple control over development tools.

Not bloody likely.

More power to Apple, I say.