Flash: I’m not dead yet!

My last post generated a fair bit of discussion around the true fate of Flash within Adobe. The original announcement from Adobe and the associated staff reductions had caused a lot of speculation within the Flash community. I should clarify some of my statements, especially the parts about the Flash Pro authoring tool and Flash Player.

All software follows a similar life cycle from 1.0 to a final version when it effectively becomes frozen in time. I didn’t mean to imply that Adobe is pulling Flash Pro from store shelves like salmonella-tainted spinach. A familiar pattern is to move software engineering to a low-cost geography like India or China as growth slows. This is not a bad thing, and actually lets the software have a long tail of maintenance and incremental feature work at a cost that allows it. The consumer can still count on that software being available for some time with support (usually from the same low-cost geography.) A handful of engineers will remain in the original geography to consult the new engineers as the hand-off occurs. The Flash Pro team in the US will have a handful of engineers left behind to manage the hand-off so, technically, the entire team is not getting eliminated at this time. Over time, the idea is to have your higher-cost engineers migrate over to your higher-growth projects. This is what occurred many years ago at Macromedia when Director moved offshore and the team moved over to working on Flash.

Last Tuesday’s announcements did not follow this pattern. Instead of moving the mobile Flash Player to a low-cost geography, it was discontinued outright. Instead of moving many affected Flash Platform engineers to the next high-growth agenda, they’re getting sent home. These events are what prompted me to write my last post as my friends at Adobe were blindsided by the whole affair.

I have a great deal of respect for the Adobe product managers who are trying to contain the damage and reverse the Elop Effect from the original announcement. It does seem like they were not made aware of the Tuesday announcement in advance. I sincerely hope they will be successful at affecting change within Adobe to keep Flash around for a good while longer.

Did Adobe finally kill Macromedia Flash?

Adobe announced that it is ceasing development on the Flash Player for Mobile Devices. As you may know, I was on the engineering team that brought Flash Player 10.1 to Mobile Devices back in June, 2010. This announcement is disappointing for many reasons, but not surprising given the realities of mobile web development.

While I was at Adobe, we spent a great deal of time and energy to get the Flash Player to run fast enough on the HTC Nexus One running the Android OS. At the same time, Apple was making it very clear that Flash would never be allowed to run under Mobile Safari, especially if our goal was to have it work on Android first. The writing was already on the wall even before we shipped: no matter what we did, or how well we did it, we were not going to have our ubiquitous platform extend to the Mobile world.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. What I’m truly disappointed about is that Adobe is exiting the Flash Platform business–they laid off 750 people yesterday, including the entire US-based Flash authoring tool team. This means that offering a free Flash Player runtime subsidized by selling tools is no longer a business Adobe is interested in. I always worked to ensure that SWF as a data type could have the same ubiquity as JPEG. That is, you could trust that the SWF you authored in 1998 would be rendered by a publicly available runtime in 2028. For this to happen, you need to have an organization that can shepherd the technology and commit to doing so for all time.

Unfortunately, Adobe is not that organization.

Or is it? I hope that they release the runtime code to the public domain so that others can extend and maintain it. I’m well aware that there are 3rd-party licenses in the code, but that can be easily redacted. If there is any hope left for Flash to survive, it will have to be an open-source implementation that can fulfill the promise of a ubiquitous rich-media data type for years to come. Adobe needs to acknowledge that the public needs SWF to survive, and that opening up the platform is now the only way to ensure that outcome.