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Flash vs The Open Web: The FUD Continues

Posted in AJAX/DHTML, Browsers, Flash Platform by Joeflash on the April 27th, 2010

The thing that isn’t being said in all of this, in every debate I hear of “Plugins vs The Open Web” is the assumption that somehow, because it’s open, it’s somehow better. Better for whom?

Thing is, users, who at the end of the day are the major consumers, don’t give a damn if something is open or not, just that it works, that it’s interesting, that it captivates their attention, that it allows them to do what they have come to expect to be able to do, which is admittedly a floating target.

Developers, on the other hand, have a more complex set of priorities. What makes a technology good or bad for developers IMO is based a lot more on the perception of that technology vs its actual performance than one might think. That perception is fuelled by developers, but also by evangelists and tech pundits who each have their stake in the acceptance of a given technology.

Just look at the FUD generated by Apple recently around the Flash Player: Steve claims, in sum, that Flash is a crappy technology, and despite such assertions being proven utterly false, others believe it because of the trust Apple has built up around is products. Likewise, many Flash developers (of which I count myself) have decided that Apple is now an evil company who is against them, simply because Apple is protecting their platform’s market share from an incumbent.

So I’m not going to talk about which is actually “better,” because it’s a meaningless conversation. Each has its uses.

The problem I have is with the FUD generated over this issue.

In discussing “Flash vs the Open Web,” I’ll never understand why so many otherwise intelligent and tech savvy people go all soft in the head and completely miss the distinction between a language and a runtime.

People talk about the Open Web as if somehow browser makers Google or Mozilla or Apple or Microsoft or Opera are completely “open” about how they develop their own products. That somehow the W3C or ECMA establishes their standards (which browser makers may or may not implement) based on the feedback of a community of open source developers (which they don’t, BTW).

So how is that different from Adobe being the sole director of how the Flash Player is built?

(And yes, like Mozilla, Google, etc., Adobe does actually solicit feedback from industry and developers on what to include — and like Mozilla, Google, etc., they alone decide the direction of the technology.)

If we apply the same metrics to the Flash Platform as the Open Web, we find that ActionScript (a distant cousin of JavaScript) was “openly” guided by the ECMA, until Microsoft stepped in and played its trump card, derailing the development of ECMAScript 4 forever. Flex, like AJAX, is an open source framework, as are the dozens of open source MVC frameworks and libraries out there. And just as WebKit and SquirrleFish are open source runtime “components” of many browsers, Adobe has released part of the Flash Virtual Machine as open source under the Tamarin project, and AIR 2.0 uses both WebKit and SquirrelFish Extreme.

The only distinction I can see between the Flash Platform and the “Open Web” is that HTML/JavaScript interpreters are built into browsers, and the Flash Player is currently an “add-on” to browsers. But that is changing.

So tell me again how the Flash Platform is different from the “Open Web”?
I don’t see it.

Update: As Ted Patrick tweeted recently on Google’s Andy Rubin:

Sometimes being open “means not being militant about the things consumers are actually enjoying.”

Amen to that.