A quick note on the openness of Flash

30 Apr

Thanks to Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash post, there’s been a whole new flurry of posts on the subject of flash vs html5, this time with some focus on the issue of openness, since Steve made such a point to bring that up.

Some people have already pointed out that Adobe has been moving Flash to be more and more open over time, including the open screen project, contributing tamarin to Mozilla, and Flex being completely open source. That’s all well and good, but people seem to be forgetting that historically, Flash had a very good reason for being closed. If one remembers back to the early days of the web, the wild west era as I do since it was such an exciting time for a young whippersnapper like me, one must only think back to what happened to Java to realize why making Flash closed was a very smart move.

For those who don’t remember or weren’t on the web back then, I’ll share what I remember which may be a bit off (that was quite a while ago now!). I’m talking about the hairy days when Netscape was revolutionizing the world and threatening to make desktop operating systems irrelevant and Microsoft was playing catch up. Java was an open and exciting platform to write once and run anywhere, promising to make proprietary operating systems even more irrelevant.

Of course, what ended up happening was that Microsoft created their own implementation of Java that not only failed to completely follow the Java spec, but added on some proprietary extensions, completely breaking the “write once, run anywhere” paradigm and helping to marginalize Java on the web, something it seems Java on the web has never fully recovered from, even though Microsoft has since settled with Sun and dropped their custom JVM after being sued.

This directly affected my personal experience with the language, when I took a Java class at the local community college while I was in high school. I wanted to write apps for the web, but even basic apps which compiled and ran fine locally would not work on IE, Netscape or both, the only solution being to spend hours fiddling and making custom versions for each browser. Needless to say, I quickly lost interest and haven’t really touched Java since I finished that class.

The atmosphere has certainly changed since those early days, and I don’t think it’s nearly as dangerous to “go open” now as it was back then, so Adobe’s choice to open up more and more of the platform now makes perfect sense, just as the decision to keep it closed until relatively recently also made sense.

  1. James Hartig

    April 30, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Shoot! I`m taking a Java class right now…