Flash Bang

By combining our powerful development, authoring and collaboration software – along with the complementary functionality of PDF and Flash – Adobe has the opportunity to bring this vision to life with an industry-defining technology platform.

Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe, quoted in Adobe’s press release announcing the Macromedia acquisition [PDF]

Adobe’s announcement that it will stop working on Flash Mobile has widely been interpreted as a vindication of Apple’s controversial decision to keep the Flash plugin off the iPhone. Adobe has announced that it will continue to support the deployment of AIR-based Apps on all platforms. Has a major software company ever publicly stuck a fork in the ass of such a ubiquitous and apparently successful product the way Adobe has Flash? This isn’t like Microsoft trying to wean users off IE6 — they have a more modern version they’d like you to use instead. Adobe has pushed Flash into traffic, covered in gasoline, and tossed a few lit matches at it.

There are several ways of parsing this, but the two most common are:

  • Steve Jobs was right. Flash is dead. Apple wins. Haha.
  • Flash is alive and well on the desktop (et al) but Adobe is submitting to reality w.r.t. mobile.

The more sober analysis tempers the first version with the point that it’s not Apple that’s winning but everyone. Browser plugins have always sucked, and Flash was the last surviving plugin of importance. Similarly, the second point is tempered by the followup announcement essentially sounding the death knell for flex.

Apple Outsider takes the view that this is a win for Adobe, making the interesting argument that Adobe was never a platform company, and Flash was an outlier in its product suite which chiefly comprises tools (like Photoshop). This superficially attractive argument unfortunately ignores the fact that Adobe acquired Macromedia first and foremost to get Flash with a view to merging PDF support* into Flash to improve the reach of its PDF platform. So Adobe went to enormous expense (not to mention effort) to acquire Flash, and with it a bunch of other good or even excellent products, and ends up with little but ashes. (And recall that Adobe destroyed several major products to make the merger happen — Freehand is gone, Director is a barely warm corpse, Golive is gone.) While killing Flash may be a good move by Adobe, it’s also the dead end of a very expensive blind alley that began with the acquisition of Macromedia.

Notes: * remember how great the PDF plugin is? (Hands up if you still use it. Voluntarily.) Anyone who has the PDF plugin installed would generally chew their own arm off rather than click a PDF link, which is why I labeled the link to Adobe’s press release.