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Monday, May 3, 2010

Thoughts on "Thoughts on Flash"

There is a war going on. No, I don't mean THOSE wars. I mean the war being fought on American soil. The media/internet/mobile war being fought by two giants in the industry. One one side is Apple, makers of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod-- almost anything with an "i" in front of it
. On the other side is Adobe, makers of Photoshop, After Effects, and Flash. And what, exactly, are they fighting over? Why, the very future of the interweb, of course. That, and the future of Flash developers everywhere...or so they want you to think.

Here's the situation: Everyone may (or may not) know that Flash is what is responsible for most video and tons of web-based applications (games and slideshows, among other things). Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, is not a fan of Flash; he finds it to be an unstable, performance draining, security risk-- things that are not very good for desktop computers, but even worse for mobile devices.  He sees other technologies, such as HTML5, as the true future of the web, particularly for video playback (as of this writing, Microsoft has agreed with this position). Adobe, of course, thinks that all of this is motivated by the fact that Jobs is a control freak, trying to close them out of the web business. But this stance seems disingenuous, as last year Adobe announced that their newest version of the Flash development tool (Flash CS5) would include a compiler, allowing Flash to publish iPhone apps. But within only a few days of its release, Apple announced that it would not accept any apps produced using Flash. And this set of a firestorm among the Flash development community.

I should explain. iPhone/iPod/iPad apps are produced using Apple's Software Development Kit (SDK). Basically, this is a series of applications (run on Mac or PC), that allows the user to create the apps that you see in the App Store. The programming languages used are Coco Touch (based on Apple's Coco language which is how all Mac desktop programs are written), Objective-C, C, and C++ (the latter 3 languages have been around for nearly 30 years).

Flash is an application (written in C++), which developers use to publish animations (for the internet, as well as movies and television shows), and rich applications for the web. Flash's programming language is called ActionScript. Since Flash's inception, there have been 3 versions of ActionScript-- each version was a drastic shift from one to the other. Flash has be the primary source for publishing video to the web, among other things, and has been in use since the late 1990s.

Last week, Jobs wrote an open letter to the masses, outlining his views on why Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is not suitable for the Apple mobile platform. This article was accompanied by a slew of snarky, pissy posts by pro-Adobe supporters who find Jobs and his Draconian rules over at Apple to be nothing more than a power play, made to phase out a "vital" web technology, just so he can control the industry.

Well, I am looking at this argument as someone who has been working with Flash since version 3 (over 12 years ago), as well as just recently (within the last 5 months) started building apps with Apple's iPhone SDK. I am looking at this "war" as someone who remember print guys in the mid-90s saying how "that internet-interactive crap is never going to go anywhere!" And I also remember all the analogue video engineers and filmmakers saying "Digital video?! That's stupid-- no one is EVER going to go for digital video!"....

I have been listening and reading about what Flash developers have been saying about this stuff. Basically, what I'm hearing are a lot of pissed off people that think their careers are going to end...but to hear some of the hyperbolic statements being made, you'd think they were going to lose their jobs in a matter of days! Everything, from "Jobs is running a monopoly", to "Jobs is a Nazi", to "Jobs is ruining developers"-- it's all, quite frankly, a bit silly.

Many of the snarky-bitchy anti-Apple/Jobs articles I've read only really touch on a couple of the points that he makes. But none of them really directly address some of the technical points, and when they do address them...they only pull the information that's relevant to their argument, forsaking the complete picture.

I think Jobs has some great points about what he's doing with HIS mobile platform. Unless you've got your mouth firmly wrapped around the head of Adobe's penis, you have to admit that Flash is NOT perfect!!! The damn thing crashes, some of the applications slow down the most powerful of CPUs, and the video SUCKS. These are facts-- I've been working with the damn thing for 12 YEARS and I see it all the time!! Now, does that mean that iPhone apps don't crash? Of course not! NONE of this crap is perfect! But to suggest, or pretend, that Jobs doesn't have a point is just silly-- it really is. Most of the criticism is, again, coming from Flash developers-- most of whom own iPhones and Macs and iPod-- that feel as if they are being shut out. Bullshit.

Ask any programmer-- I'm not talking about Flash programmers, I'm talking about the guys that WROTE Flash AND ActionScript using C++!!! Real programmers think Flash is a joke. And it's not that there aren't some cool things made with Flash...but Flash is viewed by many hard-core programmers as a sort of entry-level programming environment. And hey-- I'm not a programmer at all. I'm a creative artist and filmmaker that is learning as much as I can to do as much as I can...and I have seen developers do some amazing shit with Flash...but it ain't the end-all-be-all. There are Flash developers that say that have tried to work with the iPhone SDK, but they can't do it because it's too hard. And that is what it is-- if it's too hard for you, well...what can one say. For me, once I read an article about a 9-year old kid making an iPhone app...that was the end of it for me. It's taken me 5 months of watching tutorials, and reading blogs and books to get me to the point where I've been able to get something to work (and I will be submitting my first app for approval this week--wish me luck...unless you're a hater, then f*ck you--I'm trying. That's the least I can say to your complaining ass....).

The openness issue is also quite silly. How many times have you gone onto a site and have been slammed with the prompt "PLEASE DOWNLOAD THE LATEST VERSION OF FLASH"? How many times has that happened, even though you already HAD downloaded the latest version? Jobs is right when he says that having to constantly download plugins is making the user more reliant on Adobe and Flash. Are you telling me that's not true? On another level of openness, look at the cost:

Adobe Flash CS5: $699.00
iPhone SDK: Free. Individual developer license (enabling publishing to App Store): $99.00

The monopoly argument is just dumb. If Jobs was running a monopoly, he would have said to AT&T "You cannot sell any other smart phone if you want to sell the iPhone". Or, he would say to Best Buy "You cannot sell any other mp3 player if you want to sell the iPod." Is he doing that? No. He has said it time and time again, particularly when it comes to Flash (and porn)-- "buy an Android phone." The market is what has dictated Apple's success-- PERIOD. People will buy it if they like it. And if they don't, they won't. To say that someone is monopolizing the industry because they have popular products is nothing more than sour grapes. Hey, there are those OTHER tablet computers coming out...oh yeah, that's they aren't. I supposed Jobs pushed them out, too, huh?

As for the HTML5 argument...again, you have many Flash developers laughing at the notion that this technology will replace Flash. There's even a video floating around of a guy running HTML5 apps on the iPad to watch them fail. Fair enough. But to be honest, I've only heard of HTML5 being the "future" of other words, it's still in its infancy. This, again, reminds me of what people were saying about Flash 12-13 years ago BEFORE it became the standard that it is today. Many people did not have broadband connections-- and it took FOREVER AND A DAY to download the simplest of Flash animations-- on state-of-the-art computers of the day!  The one thing that the video does show is that there are many things that HTML5 can do that even Flash cannot (like running 3D, all in-browser, without plugins). I think eventually Adobe will even start to add HTML5 functionality in one of their software programs...they have no choice, really...

Look, I'm not kissing Job's ass. There are people that say that the man is a prick-- just like they say about Martha Stewart or Oprah. And maybe he is. I, personally, don't care. If that's what you wanna focus on, so be it. It's easy to hate someone who's on top-- especially when you want to believe that he's trying to screw you (which is a view at the height of narcissism). The fact of the matter is that Jobs and Apple have their finger on the pulse of what the future of computing will look like. And that future, to many people who rely on the old ways of doing things, is frightening.

Is this a politcal/holy war? Yeah, probably. Just like VHS v. Beta, or Blu-Ray v. HD-DVD. Some will argue that the less of the two won those wars. And they're probably right. But in the end, it doesn't matter. Hey, I didn't support the Bush Administration, and would LOVE to see Cheney and Rove behind bars for war crimes...but that more-than-likely won't happen. At the end of the day, content designers and developers need to be more focused on their products rather than the vehicles with which to create them. Most consumers don't give a rats fat ass about the problems of developers-- they want content and products, and they will get them from whoever provides them-- PERIOD.  You can't be in a software/hardware based industry and NOT expect things to change. If they didn't change, we'd all still be using Commodore 64s.

There are people who worked in print that refused to move their skills over to the web or other computer publishing...and they are out of work. There are analogue video and film people that continue to shun the digital revolution...and they are not getting any jobs. If you want to continue to believe that there is a future for Flash, so be it. And I've made a career by learning Flash. But, I've been around long enough to see that things change. If you are willing to adapt, you'll always have a future. If not...well, you'll be bitching all by yourself. But hey, what do I know? As one of my developer friends complained about the iPhone not working well with Flash: "When there's a car accident, do you blame the car?" My reply: "Say that to Toyota."

In summation, my Flash developing friends...Adobe will be introducing an AIR to Android compiler for Flash in the coming months. So I guess we'll see a bunch of new Android apps coming out, eh? Or are you still going to bitch about Apple? I guess only time will tell...


It seems that I have managed to piss off quite a few Flash developers with this article. And I thought the teabaggers were a surly bunch!!

I should mention, as someone that has been around computers since I was 9 years old  (I used to write Commodore 64 programs back in the day), and someone that KNEW AS1, got pissed about AS2, and gave up after AS3 came out....I am fully aware of the disappointments that have come with keeping up with this shit. But I've gotta tell ya...just like with the teabaggers, all I'm hearing from Flash developers is bitch-bitch-bitch-bitch-bitch. And it's stupid! 

I'm not at all mocking or putting down the art of Flash development. But to the developers that are whining about Steve Jobs "lies" and lack of fairness and all other bullshit of this sort...I can't say that I have any sympathy. At the end of the day, WHO GIVES A FUCK ABOUT WHAT STEVE JOBS SAYS?! Flash ain't goin' anywhere anytime soon. To act like Flash doesn't have ANY problems...well, that's just stupid. It is. Because it DOES have problems. And you KNOW it does!!!! I've seen so many of you sweating over problems and issues, not just with the problem solving that comes with programming....but the fact that FLASH DOES NOT DO EVERYTHING, and some shit it does not do well. Tell me that Flash doesn't crash. Tell me that the stupid windows don't slip out of place when you swipe over them accidentally. Tell me that the pasteboard is not too small. Tell me that there are some Flash apps that slow your down your browser and CPU!! TELL ME THESE THINGS DON'T HAPPEN, AND NEVER HAPPEN. I dare you.

Look, the only power Steve Jobs and Apple have is the power you give him. And again, if he liked Flash, and catered to it-- as many of your would LOVE him to do-- NONE OF YOU would be complaining. It's that simple. 

I do love Flash-- it's a great tool, and it's kept me employed over the years. But it's a PAIN IN THE ASS sometimes. And it's NOT perfect. Acting like it's God's gift, and trying to shit on ANYONE that disagrees with that, is foolish...plain and simple. 

Make no mistake, I am busting balls. And I can take a ball-bustin' with the best of them. But I have to tell I've mentioned before, I am YET to hear a mature and reasoned condemnation of what Jobs wrote in his letter. I haven't! I am more-than-open to hear smart and articulate opposing viewpoints. But all I hear is venom. And, just like with the teabaggers, I'm calling out all of those that are just being angry and pissy for no good reason. Why? I dunno...just because...

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