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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

November 9, 2011 at 4:05 PM

Adobe Flash move: influenced by another Steve?

Steve Jobs and his famous blockage of Adobe Flash from Apple devices is being credited with Adobe’s move today to phase out mobile Flash development in favor of HTML5.

Jobs was the most prominent critic of Flash and his decsion to exclude Flash from iOS devices was an early blow to Adobe, expedited the broad shift toward HTML 5 and directly affected millions of his customers.

I wonder, though, how much Adobe was also swayed by another Steve — Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows group.

Sinofsky has been clear that Flash and other browser plug-ins will be second-class citizens on mobile devices running the next version of Windows.

No wonder Adobe is finally changing course. Windows remains the world’s largest platform for software developers, despite the phenomenal growth of Apple’s mobile devices and the huge influence they’ve had over the development community.

In years past, Microsoft tried competing with Adobe Flash with its own plug-in, called Silverlight, but, with Internet Explorer 9, it shifted strategy last year and embraced HTML 5.

Microsoft’s going further in this direction with Windows 8.

When running in touch-friendly “Metro” mode, Windows 8 won’t support plug-ins at all. This had to be a factor in Adobe’s decision today: Metro will be the default mode for the thin, mobile systems running the new software due late next year, and Flash isn’t invited to the party.

Here’s how Sinofsky and Explorer boss Dean Hachamovitch explained the situation in a Sept. 14 post on Sinofsky’s public blog:

For the web to move forward and for consumers to get the most out of touch-first browsing, the Metro style browser in Windows 8 is as HTML5-only as possible, and plug-in free. The experience that plug-ins provide today is not a good match with Metro style browsing and the modern HTML5 Web.

Running Metro style IE plug-in free improves battery life as well as security, reliability, and privacy for consumers. Plug-ins were important early on in the Web’s history. But the Web has come a long way since then with HTML5. Providing compatibility with legacy plug-in technologies would detract from, rather than improve, the consumer experience of browsing in the Metro style UI.

You’ll still be able to run Flash in Windows 8, though. The system can be toggled with a click to traditional “desktop” style browsing, in which plug-ins such as Flash will continue to run just fine.

Meanwhile, Adobe will continue building new and more powerful versions of Flash for PCs. Its announcement noted that Flash continues to “reach more than a billion PCs through their browsers.”

Adobe seems right in sync with Microsoft here.

The timing of today’s Flash announcement gives developers time to adjust their plans ahead of Windows 8, which is expected to enter beta testing shortly after this holiday season.

Adobe also is taking the same tiered approach as Microsoft with Windows 8 — going all-in with HTML 5 on mobile systems, while continuing to support plug-ins as needed and on more powerful systems.

The more Steves the merrier, I guess.

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