Flash versus Windows: Can Adobe break Microsoft?

"If we execute appropriately we will be the engagement platform, or the layer, on top of anything that has an LCD display, any computing device -- everything from a refrigerator to an automobile to a video game to a computer to a mobile phone."
—Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen

Amid all the fuss and excitement about Web 2.0 and the latest speculation about Google's plans, it's easy to lose sight of the rest of the industry. But for most of the 1980s and 1990s, the marquee conflict in high tech was the battle for control over the PC operating system. That battle faded when Apple stumbled and Netscape failed to use the browser to break the hold of Windows. There have been efforts from the Linux and Java crowds, but in general it's been so long since there was an effective assault on desktop Windows that most people have given up on the idea.

But now the new Adobe/Macromedia is trying to break Windows, using Flash. Most people in the tech community are viewing this as a battle over web graphics, but it's really about next-generation applications in general, which cuts to the heart of the Windows franchise. Adobe's plan is extremely ambitions, and I think it might even work.


How to displace an operating system: Make it irrelevant

What is an operating system? To a computer scientist, an operating system is the software that enables computing hardware to work. It manages the basic operations of the system (thus the name), so applications can perform the tasks desired by a designer or user.

But to a user, the underlying plumbing of the operating system is irrelevant. It's just part of the hardware. What matters is the user interface, because that's what the user has to learn; and the application programming interfaces (APIs), because they determine which software programs you can run on the device.

Interfaces and APIs together are often referred to as a "platform," because they are the thing on top of which application software is built. So you'll hear industry people refer to the Windows platform or the Palm OS platform. This term platform is sometimes confusing to people outside Silicon Valley, because they think a platform is a wooden thing you stand on to give a speech.

The distinction between platform and OS is important because the underlying operating system plumbing doesn't generate much value. It's the platform that users and developers are loyal to. If you separate the platform from the underlying OS, the user interface and applications can run on any OS. The OS itself becomes just commodity technology.

There have been examples in the past of platforms separated from OS's. For example, Java is a platform of sorts (although it lacks a standardized user interface and it's not really consistent in the mobile world).

Flash: Adobe's new platform. The new software products that Adobe and Microsoft are working on are very complex, so I'm going to simplify aggressively here. You can find endlessly detailed commentary elsewhere on the web if you want it.

Basically, what Adobe's doing is merging the Flash animation environment with the Acrobat document environment, and converting them into a full-fledged application development platform. Last week Adobe announced Apollo, a software program that will let a Flash program run outside of the browser, even if the user is not connected to the Internet. This converts Flash programs from little presentations that run inside a web page into full-fledged applications that the user can store on a PC and run anytime by clicking an icon on the desktop. The Apollo program takes care of managing the underlying operating system, so a single Apollo application could run on a Windows PC, a Mac, or a Linux box.

This is very convenient for application developers who want to create a program that can run on any computer that downloads it. But since the vast majority of PCs run Windows, it's not that big a deal – we all know of websites that just don't work well on anything other than a Windows computer, and that's not a world-shaking crisis.

But Apollo becomes vastly more important because a version of it will also run on mobile devices. Unlike the PC world, there there's no OS standard for mobile phones and smartphones, and as I've written before, we're not likely to get one anytime in the foreseeable future. But if you could put Apollo on all those phones and handhelds, the OS wouldn't matter any more. Developers could just write their applications in Flash, and they would run anywhere.

This was how mobile Java was supposed to work, but it was allowed to fragment into dozens of different incompatible versions. Developers of Java mobile applications often complain that they spend more time rewriting their software to run on different Java versions than they do actually creating the programs in the first place. This is an intolerable burden for small developers, and it stifles mobile software innovation overall.

Today Adobe charges phone manufacturers to include Flash in their phones. This is a nice revenue stream, but it prevents Flash from becoming a standard the way it did in the PC world, where Flash is given away.

In a very detailed and interesting interview, Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen talked about the overall strategy and said he intends to make the mobile version of Flash free in the future. Some quotes:

"The changes to Flash "enables us to create an 'engagement platform.' Think of it as a layer or a vehicle in which anybody can present information that could be engaged with in an interactive, compelling, reliable, relatively secure way -- across all kinds of devices, all kinds of operating systems."

....

Q: Are we going to see head-on competition [between Adobe and Microsoft] to establish the platform for the next generation of web and application development?

Chizen: "Perhaps.... The fact that we are ubiquitous today makes us believe that we will end up being the appropriate platform in which to have these rich Internet applications."

....

"Our goal is to get our engagement platform, or the 'light' version of it, on these devices (mobile phones)....Even though I like the revenue, I suspect over time you will probably see us back away a bit from charging for the client and look to make our money through servers, desktop software, advertising revenue models, and so on.... If I have to make a trade-off between ubiquity and revenue -- as it relates to the mobile client business -- I'll go for ubiquity. Because if I have my client everywhere, then I can make money doing other things."

Thanks to my colleague Nilofer Merchant for pointing out this interview to me.

So here's the picture of what will happen: Adobe will offer Flash/Apollo as a standalone platform on PCs, Macs, and Linux boxes; and a light version on mobile phones. The third element in the strategy is development tools. Adobe inherited the Flex app development tool from Macromedia. Flex will be positioned as the easiest way for a developer to create a single application that runs anywhere, on both desktops and mobiles. This pitch will be appealing to many commercial developers, and especially attractive to in-house developers within corporations, who want to span the range of range of devices in the marketplace with as little investment and support burden as possible.

Adobe's strategy potentially gives a very seductive message to IT managers – deploy the new Flash on your PCs and mobile devices and you won't have to worry about anything else.

Apollo and Flash don't kill Windows directly, but they are an attack on its financial model. People pay a lot of money today for Windows because you must have it to run Windows applications. If the applications of the future are written for Flash, Windows turns into just a bunch of plumbing (and pretty insecure plumbing at that). Its intrinsic value drops tremendously, and hardware vendors will feel free to substitute Linux or something else for it.

This won't happen overnight, and no platform layer will be able to run all types of applications (for example, highly graphical games will still need to be written to the "native" OS, in order to get the best performance). But Adobe is aiming at the next generation of productivity applications, the things that will matter most five or ten years from now.


Microsoft's response

Microsoft isn't sitting still for all of this, of course. It's developing Windows Presentation Foundation, which will include graphics, text, video playback, animation, and a lot more. It's the graphics engine built into the next version of Windows, Vista. A derivative version of WPF called WPF Everywhere will be ported to Macs and mobile devices in addition to older versions of Windows. So like Flash, WPF/E will be a platform that runs on top of other operating systems. Like Apollo, it will also enable applications to run independently of the browser. It's basically a new platform.

But there are important differences. To protect the Windows business, Microsoft is holding some features out of WPF Everywhere (in particular, 3D and graphics acceleration). That means applications written for the full WPF may not run on other devices. This makes sense for Microsoft – it wants the Windows version of its software to be the most powerful, so people have an incentive to buy Windows. But that makes WPF/E a second-class citizen. If Adobe does a better job of adding features to Flash, and keeps its implementations consistent, developers and IT managers may prefer its fully cross-platform software over what may be perceived as an "intentionally crippled" WPF/E.

The other logical move for Microsoft would be to bleed Adobe everywhere else, so it won't have the money to fund the Flash initiative. Sure enough, Microsoft is working on products targeting PDF and possibly Photoshop. But Microsoft's motives aren't clear – it is attacking almost every successful franchise in the industry, in a drive to get more revenue. It's not clear yet if Adobe is being singled out for special attention.


What to watch for

Adobe is by no means a lock to prevail in this competition, and indeed you can find a lot of people online who feel WPF/E is more promising. Here are some of the factors that will help to determine who wins:

Product quality. Flash's legacy as an animation tool is both an asset and a burden for Adobe. Flash has a large installed base and lots of developers, which will help Adobe. But turning an animation tool into a full-fledged application development platform can be awkward. In contrast, Microsoft is architecting WPF from the start to be an application development tool. So the architecture of WPF may be cleaner and more flexible than Adobe's.

Developer base. The developers who use Flash tend to be designers and artistic types. The users of Acrobat tend to be more oriented toward corporate processes and print publishing. These groups don't necessarily mix well (in fact, among parts of the online community Acrobat is seen as the spawn of the devil; check out the comments posted here). Can these groups merge and segue into full-scale applications development, and if not can Adobe attract other sorts of developers? In contrast, Microsoft's base of developers is generally corporate and commercial app creators. Can these people step up to new, more web-like development paradigms, and can Microsoft win over the creative types?

Feature set. Microsoft has a history of burying competitors in a blizzard of added features. Although Adobe is by no means a tiny company, Microsoft can definitely outspend Adobe if it chooses to. I think the main thing restraining Microsoft will be competition with itself. Will Microsoft be willing to add features to WPF/E that hurt the differentiation of native Windows?

Pricing. Microsoft hasn't announced licensing terms for WPF/E. Flash is already free on PCs, and eventually will be on mobile devices as well. It's fairly easy for Adobe to do this since it doesn't have an OS business to defend. But Microsoft doesn't want to destroy the value of Windows, and so it will feel a lot of internal pressure to extract some sort of payment for use of WPF/E. When I was at Palm, Microsoft approached us about licensing some Windows CE software elements and development tools to work with Palm OS. It was a great opportunity for Microsoft to establish a position as a standard-setter in mobile devices, but it would have hurt the differentiation of Pocket PC. We seemed to be having good discussions until we came to the topic of price. Microsoft demanded a per-copy price that would have eaten up most of our revenue for the OS. When we made it clear that we couldn't afford to pay that much, the talks ended abruptly.

Price also matters on the Adobe side. Much of Adobe's opportunity depends on giving away the mobile phone version of Flash, so it can make the software ubiquitous and set a standard. If Adobe continues to charge for mobile Flash, the whole strategy will implode.


Potential outcomes

At this point it's impossible to predict who will win. Adobe might cripple Windows, or Microsoft might crush Flash. It's also possible that the different developer bases of Microsoft and Adobe will continue to be different, with the creative types choosing Flash and the traditional app types choosing Microsoft.

There's also a pyrrhic victory scenario in which Microsoft defeats Adobe, but in the process gives away the differentiation of Windows and permanently weakens itself. In this scenario, Microsoft would have to fall back on Office and Outlook/Exchange as its main moneymakers. I think there's a good possibility that something like this will happen – not because Microsoft wants it to, but because the competitive situation will force it to choose between an immediate loss to Flash and a gradual decline in Windows sales. If forced to choose, most companies pick the option that delays pain.

The winner in the pyrrhic victory scenario would probably be Google – a Microsoft without the Windows franchise would have much less cash available to fund its assault on search. Speaking of Google, it has been making moves toward assembling bits and pieces of a development environment that could be a competitor to both Flash and WPF. Fully implementing this would require some unusual (for Google) attention to development tools, and to creating thicker clients that can execute apps when a device is offline. But it's within Google's capabilities. Google doesn't benefit if either Microsoft or Adobe controls the app platform of the future.


Would breaking the Windows standard be a good thing or a bad thing?

It depends. It would be a good thing financially for computer users. Microsoft extracts a huge tax on every computer sold; if there were effective competition to Windows, most of that tax would disappear and PC prices would come down a bit.

It's less clear to me what the effect would be on innovation. Considering that I spent ten years of my career at Apple, I'm surprised that I feel that way. At one time I believed Windows was one of the most evil software creations ever. Now I'm more muddled. I disapprove very strongly of the business tactics Microsoft used to establish and hold the Windows standard, but I've seen the effect of OS fragmentation on the mobile market. Software development is stagnating in the mobile world, and the lack of an open and uniform platform standard is a big reason why.

We could end up with a confused situation in PCs where there is no dominant platform standard in the future. This could hurt innovation and reinforce the proprietary instincts of hardware manufacturers. Imagine Sony's obsession with Memory Stick, but applied to operating systems and multiplied across a dozen vendors. It could be an awful mess.

On the other hand, it could be that the market will sort things out, pick a single winner, and we'll all rally around it. I think that probably would have happened in mobile devices already if the operators weren't standing in the way. There isn't an equivalent roadblock in PC-land.


What rough beast slouches toward Redmond?

I wonder what it feels like to be a senior executive at Microsoft right now. The company's own success has extended it into so many different markets that it's hard to even keep track of them all, let alone figure out how best to win. As soon as you focus your attention in one area, a fire breaks out in another.

This challenge from Flash is largely Microsoft's own fault. If it had been able to innovate rapidly in Windows, and had established an OS standard for mobile devices, there wouldn't be much of a market opening for Adobe. Instead Vista has been delayed repeatedly, and although Windows Mobile has made some progress, it is nowhere near setting a standard in the mobile world.

A situation like this cries out for autonomous business units, in which you could hire CEO-types to run their businesses independently and make quick decisions. But Microsoft's greatest competitive asset is its ability to tie together its businesses, to leverage strength in one area to give it an edge in another (for example, leveraging the Exchange standard to dominate mobile e-mail). So Microsoft has recently consolidated business units, making the company more centralized and designating Ray Ozzie the Pied Piper of technical direction for the whole company.

But that means less responsiveness in the individual businesses, and it's easier for new competitive assaults to slip through the cracks. At some point your vigilance will slip and something bad will happen. While Microsoft struggles to find ways to bite into Google's advertising revenue, Apple has already sprinted to early dominance in mobile music, a new world of component software is emerging on the Web, and now Adobe of all people is attacking in probably the last place where Microsoft expected to be assaulted, the core Windows OS franchise.

Although the situation must feel overwhelming for someone in the middle of it, to an outside observer like me it's exhilarating. So many things in the industry are changing all at once that I don't think anybody can see where it will take us. You get the feeling that the old order in high tech is melting away, and the old rules and assumptions will all be called into question.

Historically, this sort of transition in high tech has killed off most of the leading companies and cleared the ground for a new generation of companies and standards to take root. Whether you see that as a good thing or a bad thing probably depends on whether you work in one of the big established leaders in the tech industry today.* I don't know if Adobe's strategy will succeed or fail, but I admire it for trying to take advantage of the transition rather than just clinging to its current franchises.

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*Remember the old story that the Chinese character for "crisis" is composed of the symbols for "threat" and "opportunity?" Unfortunately, that turns out to be a crock. But if it were true, it would apply here.

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Thanks to The 3G Portal for including my post on the info pad in this week's Carnival of the Mobilists.

17 comments:

niloferm said...

Mike -
Good thinking in the post, and I appreciate that the Wharton interview inspired this dig down.
I wonder 3 things.
1. Do you have an understanding of what is going to be key in the developer community. Is it better care and feeding? better UI tools help (let's say, using AJAX) or something else? Because it seems to me, you are saying that the one who wins the development community ends up the platform player of the future. I'm simplifying but that's the walkaway.
2. Do you think the mobile HW companies have an incentive to work with Adobe vs. MSFT? Would Moto or Nokia seek that? Because that could be one place where Adobe would have an advantage over MSFT.
3. How do you see the economic strength of MSFT playing a role?

Sorry for doing all 3 in one post... but I think this article raises a very good perspective to consider.

Michael Mace said...

By the way, here's an interesting article on Flex and how it's developing. There's also some commentary comparing it to Microsoft's tools. I think it's a good overview, and helps to flesh out the picture of what's happening.

Michael Mace said...

Nilofer M. wrote:

>>Do you have an understanding of what is going to be key in the developer community. Is it better care and feeding?

It's a lot of things, but I'll give you my take on it. In my experience, developers usually support a platform for one of two reasons:

1. They think they can make a lot of money from it. In general, this is what drives the big software companies, although it also drives some startups.

2. They can do cool things with it. This is what motivates the most creative small developers. They don't have the most money, but they are the people most likely to produce breakthrough apps.

So the business proposition that you provide to developers is key -- how many apps can they sell, how easy is it to reach customers, how fast is the installed base of the platform growing. This is one reason why I think it's important for Adobe to give away Flash in the mobile world, because it's the most direct way to build a really significant installed base.

The tools and quality of the APIs are also critical, because that's what lets developers get cool stuff done. The best developers are like artists in the sense that they want to express their ideas as fluidly as possible. Give them an easy and powerful tool and they'll flock to it.

A platform grows best when you provide both opportunities to do cool stuff and expectations of rapid growth. See Macintosh circa 1988 for a great example.


>>Do you think the mobile HW companies have an incentive to work with Adobe vs. MSFT?

I think the operators are the key. If they want a platform they will tell the hardware companies and it'll get installed. But they're not going to pay significant sums of money for it. Better to give them the software and make your money other ways.

I'm going to do a post on this in the next week or two (as soon as I get the time to write it up).


>>How do you see the economic strength of MSFT playing a role?

As always, Microsoft can spend any competitor into the ground if it wants to. I think the interesting situation in this case is that in order to fully compete with Flash, Microsoft has to put more and more goodies into WPF/E, which weakens the differentiation of Windows. So Microsoft has to hurt one part of its business to strengthen another.

Microsoft is trying to compromise its way through this situation by withholding some features from WPF/E. This gives Adobe a huge opportunity -- if it executes well.

blk911 said...

Michael, since the current state of mobile is in disarray because their has been no 'unifying' element (like windows accomplished for the PC - your reference) then the "gatekeeper" is on the hardware side of mobile; getting the various handset mfgs to incorporate a standard set of hardware components (memory, cpu, etc) necessary for flash to be deployed on each (either native on delivery or via upload after sale).

So my question is with regard to basic handsets and mfgs: is Adobe confident that the handset mfgs will provide that 'basic hardware platform' on an almost ubiquitous basis so that flash can become the 'default' environ for developers (as you stated developer economics guide them adopt to the least cost, widest standard - thus with only one environment to deal with versus today with 5-7 plus their cost are significantly lower - development, porting, support, upgrades, etc)?

It would seem that this is the largest hurdle to accomplishing the goals related to flash in the mobile environment you discussed in your article.

Michael Mace said...

blk wrote

is Adobe confident that the handset mfgs will provide that 'basic hardware platform' on an almost ubiquitous basis so that flash can become the 'default' environ for developers

Excellent question, and you're getting to one of the most important barriers to the adoption of a mobile software layer.

I don't know how confident Adobe is, and I can't speak for them. But in practical terms a lot will depend on how fat and resource-hungry they make the Flash/Apollo mobile runtime environment (and how fat and hungry the WPF/E runtime is).

I'm sure that today's low-end phones won't be able to run it, but the hardware specs in mobile phones are improving rapidly, and the operators are willing to subsidize phones with media features that they think will drive revenue.

The trick for Adobe and Microsoft will be to ride that wave of midrange 3G phones, what the phone industry calls "feature phones." They do have the horsepower to run a reasonable layer, and the operators will be subsidizing them because they want to move people to 3G.

(Note that if Microsoft pursues this aggressively, it will undercut the market for full Windows Mobile. It's yet another tough decision that Microsoft needs to make.)

As long as Adobe continues to try to charge for mobile flash, I think it'll get some wins but won't become ubiquitous. If Adobe gives it away, I think a lot of operators will spec in the runtime on all their phones that can run it, because it's a Web standard and they want mobile Web stuff in general.

Adobe should have done this already -- the 3G wave is already well established in Europe, and is coming on fast in the US. There's a long lead time to get software into phones, so actions taken today won't have an impact for another 12-18 months or so.

I'm skeptical about how many phone users will be able to download the runtime directly. A lot of these feature phones are semi-closed and allow you to download apps only into a sandboxed environment. That's fine for Flash applications but I suspect the Flash layer itself would need deeper access to the hardware, which means updating the phone's ROM. Much better to get it built in.

Oz said...

Mike, thanks for taking the time to craft such a well thought blog/essay. Great work.

I'm doing my part to help foster Flash developers and the platform. Which is a bit of a conflict for me since I work for MS as a Flash prototyper. Can you say irony? :-)

Michael Mace said...

Oz wrote:

>>I work for MS as a Flash prototyper. Can you say irony?

The only way it'd be more ironic would be if you worked in the Mac software team up there ;-)

Thanks for the nice comment, and by the way I liked your post asking for an Adobe Flash handheld. You're right, it would be cool (and I think there's a chance we'll get it, if not from Adobe then from someone they license to).

Liam @ Web 2.5 Blog said...

The real question is, can Adobe or MS break the Web? I'm not surprised to find Adobe & MS going down this path, but they're wasting their time; there's ample evidence for that.

One of the reasons the web made so much headway so fast, despite its simplistic UI capability, was the ease of development, and open platform. Ajax and SVG continue that trend. (Why do you suppose MS is resisting SVG?)

Flash is slowly dying on the web, in my experience. When I started using Firefox I didn't have the flash player. I haven't missed it yet!

Open, web-based UI platforms are the only acceptable solutions now, except for complex problems like gaming. Developers fill the gaps that currently exist in them with minimal use of flash or Java. In the near future, those gaps will close.

The real challenge is building novel platforms on web standards to deliver a more real-time user experience, both online and off. That's an area I have some insights into; see my blog for more...

Michael Mace said...

Liam wrote:

>>Open, web-based UI platforms are the only acceptable solutions now, except for complex problems like gaming.

Thanks for the interesting comments.

I don't think it's just a matter of UI. I'm looking at what the overall development platform will be; what do the developers write to?

The web open standards folks have been moving extremely slowly on the infrastructure and standards needed to make mobile data work. Thin clients fail utterly in the mobile world, and there's a lot of pretty complex technical and business infrastructure that needs to be built. I think a fast-moving company might be able to establish a de facto standard, just as Apple has established a de facto proprietary standard for mobile music.

To me, the big question is whether Adobe can move quickly enough to win. I'd feel a lot better about their prospects if they had made the flash player free already.

Liam @ Web 2.5 Blog said...

Doesn't the wi-fi smartphone eliminate most of the scenarios where thin clients fail in a mobile context? Such a phone works as a thin client where wi-fi is available. That's not as prevalent as PCS coverage, but it might be enough.

I certainly don't believe that, to paraphrase Sun, "the internet is the PC", but I do believe that web standards are progressing fast enough to serve developers. Look how long it took them to adopt Ajax.

The area with gaps is at a higher level -- app integration, e.g. how do developers provide a custom app inside a wiki environment. That context isn't something that Adobe or MS really understands.

Michael Mace said...

Liam wrote:

>> Doesn't the wi-fi smartphone eliminate most of the scenarios where thin clients fail in a mobile context?

It helps, but it still won't give you coverage everywhere. In fact, the places where you tend to find WiFi (urban areas) are also the areas where you usually have 3G coverage.

I admit it, I just have a strong antipathy to thin clients. I think mobile devices are all about instant gratification, and that's so darned hard to do with a wireless thin client. For example, I was working with a Sprint phone today on their EVDO network. I was using a thin client mapping app, and every time I scrolled the map it had to go out to the server to fetch the graphics, causing a five to 30 second delay, apparently due to network latency. It drove me nuts!


I do believe that web standards are progressing fast enough to serve developers.

That's cool. The more competition the better. Let's encourage the web standards folks and the proprietary folks to have at it, and may the best environment win.


The area with gaps is at a higher level -- app integration, e.g. how do developers provide a custom app inside a wiki environment.

That's an interesting thought. I'm used to thinking of wikis as text and graphics things, not programming environments. Care to expand on what you're thinking about?

Thanks for the comments.

ChrisK said...

Having watched several colleagues and friends struggle with j2me phones for the past 4-5 years, I think you are woefully misunderstimating what's wrong today and what a new platform can do.

- the hard part is device management, not presentation.

One developer tells me that she doesn't see herself spending lots of time 'rewriting the application'.
She spends lots of time finding the 2 lines out of thousands that have
to be changed to get the application working on some new device.

- the midp1.0 spec is a disaster.

It was designed for set-top boxes, not phones, and goes out of its way to make it difficult to use the phone's native UI and features (like, say, the phone book and making calls). The midp2.0 spec is getting widely implemented, but it did not fix this fundamental problem, it just added more APIs.

- most of the implementations have nasty bugs at a low level (like the on-phone storage system)

- there is no verification suite to check that a phone complies with the spec. Qualcomm has done this with Brew and it makes a huge difference.

- but device manufacturers whine that it's "too hard" and don't/can't/won't play the game. You can't just slap on Brew and say you support it - you have to pass their damn test! The Nerve! Hence the rather pitiful number of Brew devices in the US.

- the tools just suck, and the carriers don't help. The generic emulator works OK for development. Getting the midlet on the phone is a new hurdle every time: What Midlet permissions does this platform require (what is required on one will cause another to fail).
Does this application need to be signed to access some api?

That isn't even platform or carrier dependent -- the Cingular Motorola
RAZR does not require signing but the Cingular Motorola SLVR does.
What's up with that?

Switching to a new platform isn't going to make these problems go away.

Michael Mace said...

Very interesting comments, Chris. Thanks for posting them.

I'm not sure that you and I disagree all that much; I think we're just looking at the elephant from different perspectives.

I was trying to point out what Adobe's trying to do, not predict its odds of success. I think many of the questions you raise will be settled by how Adobe executes (and they'll need to execute extremely well to make this work.)


>> the hard part is device management, not presentation.

I don't think Adobe's limiting its product to presentation. It looks and sounds like a full runtime environment to me. But we'll have to wait and see.


>>One developer tells me that she doesn't see herself spending lots of time 'rewriting the application'. She spends lots of time finding the 2 lines out of thousands that have
to be changed to get the application working on some new device.


Good point. The conversations I've had with Java developers have been about how much time they spend, not what they spend the time on. So a better word choice on my part would have been "reworking the application."


>>the midp1.0 spec is a disaster....The midp2.0 spec is getting widely implemented, but it did not fix this fundamental problem, it just added more APIs.

Agreed. I'm hearing optimistic rumblings about midp3.0. What do you think?


>>there is no verification suite to check that a phone complies with the spec. Qualcomm has done this with Brew and it makes a huge difference.

And I'd expect Adobe to do a good job of this with Apollo, based on its history. But that's one of those execution issues.


>>You can't just slap on Brew and say you support it - you have to pass their damn test! The Nerve! Hence the rather pitiful number of Brew devices in the US.

Do you really think that's the main explanation for the number of Brew phones? I think it also has something to do with most of the operators not pushing it. If they all demanded Brew phones, I think you'd have a lot of Brew phones.


>>Does this application need to be signed to access some api?

Oh, man. Don't get me started on the subject of signing apps. I sometimes feel like signing is a voodoo incantation that the operators apply to applications whenever they feel insecure. Meanwhile, it has a terrible effect on small app developers – not only do they have to pay for signing their apps, but you have to re-sign every time you rev the app, which discourages bug fixes and feature additions.


>>Switching to a new platform isn't going to make these problems go away.

It depends on execution. If Adobe sandboxed its environment properly, there might be less perceived need for things like signing (hey, I can dream). Or, something that the platform vendors could (and should) start offering is automatic signing when you check an app into the software store.

I think the platform companies need to define more broadly what it is that a platform is responsible for.


Anyway, I think you're right that a new platform isn't automatically a panacea for a lot of problems. But I think that Adobe's going to tackle at least some of those problems as part of its offering. How many, and how well they'll do it...we'll have to wait and see.

josemiguelburgos@hotmail.com said...

Mike

I really enjoyed reading your article. Extremely helpful, especially for a Business Student like me.
Now I would like to know if you could give me your opinion about Adobe's Strenghts and Weaknesses concerning Operations, IT and HR. I am doing a project for school about this compnay and although I am almost done with it, I would like to have a different perspective towards this matter.
Thank you very much,
Jose M. Burgos-Benitez.

Michael Mace said...

Hi, Jose.

Thanks for the note. I wish I could help with your project, but unfortunately I don't know Adobe's IT, HR, and Ops teams well enough to do a SWOT analysis on them.

Sorry.

Andreas - News of the future said...

Quite interesting remarks, you made here, so I had to cite you on my blog:

http://www.newsofthefuture.net/index.php?/archives/11-Windows-or-Mac-The-OS-doesnt-matter-in-the-future.html

Anonymous said...

Hey, its a great article. Very constructive thinking. No bias but I would place my bet on Microsoft. It has a history of coming in late and killing everyone else. I definitely would like them to have some competition. I am just not sure who that will be. Google? No way! Adobe? Maybe. Sun? They are already dead!