Abobe: No more cornering the market

Proprietary standards are giving way to open

Given the recent popularity of standards-driven HTML5 applications on a variety of platforms, including Windows, iOS, and Linux distributions, it seems pretty silly for Adobe, makers of Flash, to tick off even one set of platform users.

Yet, as Caitlyn Martin pointed out last week, that's exactly what they may have done. It seems that Abobe's Flash Player is still not available for 64-bit Linux users, despite promises in 2010 to serve this particular platform.

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To Adobe's credit, Martin's initial column did illicit a promise from Adobe that they would indeed be getting out a 64-bit Linux product "later this year." But, really, are we still living in an age where platforms like this have to cajole proprietary vendors to get with the program?

Apparently so. In terms of 64-bit Linux specifically, it used to be a small minority of a small-to-begin-with platform base. But now, as users buy new machines, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to get 32-bit machines. Most new users of any OS want that 64-bit functionality they paid for.

This has prompted some interesting analysis from the community about Adobe's practices and their attitude towards Linux and Open Source. Christopher Tozzi wrote a great piece extolling Adobe that even if the user numbers were small, they could not afford to alienate any set of potential developers at a time when HTML5 is kicking their butt. I agree with Tozzi's analysis, but I don't think it goes far enough. He thinks Linux should not be ignored. I think Adobe can't afford to stay closed, period.

Here's the harsh lesson to be learned: we are finally starting to see a strong push back on non-open standards--like Flash--that will ultimately spell the end of these closed technologies.

It's easy to credit Steve Jobs, of all people, for starting this particular ball rolling when he refused to allow Flash on iOS. People came back and decried this as a suicide run, since Flash was so prevalent. The iPhone and the iPad would never truly succeed, pundits argued, if people could not watch their YouTube videos. That, clearly, did not happen. And, even though I personally don't believe Jobs wouldn't lock up his own set of standards if he though he could get away with it, he did indeed precipitate this chain of events.

With Apple so successful at pushing HTML5, it now seems that Microsoft wants to get in the game with their own HTML5/JavaScript play, Windows 8. I wrote about what that might mean for .NET and Mono developers, but what would that also mean for Flash developers? It doesn't seem like anything good, that's for sure.

Let's be honest: all of this embracing of open HTML5 standards goes beyond just looking good for the media and making developers happy. Not to take anything away from HTML5, either as a technology or as a standard, but knocking Adobe down a peg or two is definitely a bonus reason why HTML5 is getting such a big boost.

And maybe Adobe, by keeping their formats and standards locked up for so long, brought this on themselves a bit. In the past, the goal was to corner a particular part of the market and hold on tight to it for as long as you could. With PDF and Flash, Adobe did this quite handily.

Today, no one wants to be beholden to any one company for a certain bit of technology. They want choices. They want to make sure their stake in a technology is protected. That's the attraction of open standards: no one can arbitrarily decide to change the rules on you.

Because of the sheer proliferation on choices on the market and that fact that traditional sales channels are almost completely obsolete thanks to the instant-delivery-and-support system known as the Internet, there are really no more corners in the market anymore. To extend the metaphor, every intersection is becoming a traffic circle or roundabout. No one has to be stopped at a corner anymore, dependent on proprietary technology to continue on their journey. Now you can just cruise through the circles, slowing down here and there to integrate the tools you need to get the journey completed.

It will be a hard and disruptive lesson for companies like Adobe to learn, and opening up may be the only way to keep themselves alive.

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