More on the Adobe/Apple slapfight

Hey, it beats talking about Gizmodo!

Well, because it's either this or Gizmodo, and I do have some standards.

So because Steve Jobs wrote a letter, of course, John Warnock and and Chuck Geschke have to write one too. In theirs, entitled "Our thoughts on open markets", they take a rather predictable, and somewhat incorrect tact, namely that Apple deciding who can develop native applications for the iPhone that are sold through the App Store is exactly the same as Apple trying to control the web. So you get an odd muddle of a letter:

As the founders of Adobe, we believe open markets are in the best interest of developers, content owners, and consumers. Freedom of choice on the web has unleashed an explosion of content and transformed how we work, learn, communicate, and, ultimately, express ourselves.

That's very nice guys, and everyone, even Apple, agrees, when it comes to the Internet and the World Wide Web. But then, Apple's not trying to control the Web. They just aren't supporting or allowing Flash on the iPhone or your Flash packager in the App Store. Not the same thing.

If the web fragments into closed systems, if companies put content and applications behind walls, some indeed may thrive — but their success will come at the expense of the very creativity and innovation that has made the Internet a revolutionary force.

Okay, so seriously, this from the company that still hasn't fully opened the Flash spec, or handed it over to a standards body, and who still makes the only Flash player that is 100% compatible with all past, current, and foreseeable Flash content. Trust me, you've already fragmented the web, but since you like how you did it, that's okay with you.

We believe that consumers should be able to freely access their favorite content and applications, regardless of what computer they have, what browser they like, or what device suits their needs. No company — no matter how big or how creative — should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the web.

Unless of course you want to write your own Flash player to display DRM'd Flash content. Then you're out of luck. (No, Apple is no better here with regard to Fairplay, but, they aren't pushing Fairplay on the internet at all, nor are they claiming to be open where they clearly are not. Fairplay only exists in the iTunes store for movies, books, and applications. It's not being pushed on the broad internet, whereas Adobe is rather enthusiastically pushing Flash DRM on internet video streams.)

When markets are open, anyone with a great idea has a chance to drive innovation and find new customers. Adobe's business philosophy is based on a premise that, in an open market, the best products will win in the end — and the best way to compete is to create the best technology and innovate faster than your competitors.

If you're so open, how come you threatened to sue Microsoft if they included free, native PDF generation in Office 2007. You hadn't yet released PDF to a standards body, (in fact, you did that the day before Office 2007 was released), but you were eagerly and continually telling us "Don't worry, PDF is an open standard", even as you threatened Microsoft for doing the same thing that Apple and rather a lot of other people were doing. It couldn't have been because you saw that as a threat to the Acrobat income from people who just want to output Office documents as PDF, right? That couldn't have been the driving reason, not even a little.

I guess by "open" you meant "unless it messes with Acrobat's income stream, then we will threaten to sue you into oblivion." Y'all have a strange definition of open in San Jose.

That, certainly, was what we learned as we launched PostScript® and PDF, two early and powerful software solutions that work across platforms. We openly published the specifications for both, thus inviting both use and competition. In the early days, PostScript attracted 72 clone makers, but we held onto our market leadership by out-innovating the pack. More recently, we've done the same thing with Adobe® Flash® technology. We publish the specifications for Flash — meaning anyone can make their own Flash player. Yet, Adobe Flash technology remains the market leader because of the constant creativity and technical innovation of our employees.

Anyone can make a Flash player, but no one but Adobe can make a Flash player that can play 100% of all Flash content. Funny, you guys keep leaving that out. Harmless oversight, right?

We believe that Apple, by taking the opposite approach, has taken a step that could undermine this next chapter of the web — the chapter in which mobile devices outnumber computers, any individual can be a publisher, and content is accessed anywhere and at any time.

Yet you've never even shown us a technology demo of Flash running fast and light on the iPhone, and dissembling aside, you can do this. Legally. The restrictions on Flash only apply to the App Store. If you want to create a technology demo as an in-house, enterprise application that never goes anywhere near the App Store, you could and can do this. In fact, you could have been proving all of Jobs' technical points wrong, via the best method ever: showing it to work the way you claim it does.

Yet, you never, ever do, and instead, just point fingers and blame Apple. Last I checked, pointing fingers is not actually proof, just blamestorming. Maybe you should try the "proof" thing first. You know, for a change.

In the end, we believe the question is really this: Who controls the World Wide Web? And we believe the answer is: nobody — and everybody, but certainly not a single company.

Coming from the company that is the sole source for a fully-functional...oh come on, do I keep having to say this over and over? This is just more corporate dissembling. Apple isn't trying to control the World Wide Web at all. They're just controlling hardware and software they make, and to date, Adobe hasn't proved Apple wrong once. They say they will. One day. This next version of Flash, boy, you'll be sooooo wrong Steve Jobs, you'll see. Any day now. Really. Trust us.

Of course, that's not the end of it. Chuck has an interview with John Paczkowski over at All Things Digital, (home of one of my favorite raconteurs, Kara Swisher), breathlessly entitled "Adobe Co-Founder: We Never Abandoned Apple, but Apple Is Abandoning Us"

It's pretty much more of the same, but there are a few parts that jumped out at me, kind of like the antagonist in "Alien", only if the part of the alien was played by a mogwai at noon. One choice bit:

Our customers, a large percentage of them, are the people who generate and distribute information and content, and for them they have one production stream that they use to do that and they’ve gotten used to the fact that we’ve worked very hard to open up the standards that we support so that we can offer them ubiquity of output on all kinds of platforms. So the fact that Apple is precluding that puts them in a tough position because it means that they’re going to have to create that content twice, and that’s not very productive.

You mean like how they've had to pretty much forever, because up until some future date, Flash on portable devices, especially ones with small screens and limited hardware resources has been a complete mess? I know this is all supposed to be Apple's fault, but come on Chuck, Apple didn't create the hardware problems with Flash up through and including the still-current 10.0, (not to mention the sad joke that is "Flash Lite"), you guys did. Where was this magical, as-yet unreleased perfect version of Flash in 2007? In 2008? Why was this suddenly only a massive, overarching priority after the release of the iPhone? Why is it that even as late as Flash 10.0, the Flash team was admitting that Flash performance on the Mac was poor, and that they were finally working on fixing that with 10.1? Gee, what happened to change that? I wonder.

Adobe, far more than Apple, created the need to "create that content twice", and they did it years ago, before the iPhone even.

The next bit is just so glorious that I have to include John's question to ensure we all have the right context here:

JP: Cross-platform mobile apps tend not to take advantage of native features unique to each device. What do you have to say about complaints that write-once-run-anywhere software results in subpar apps? CG: Well, people don’t say that about Photoshop. They certainly don’t say it about Acrobat….I’m a little confused about what the real examples of that are. If there’s a problem with the performance of Flash as demonstrated on the iPhone, it’s because we haven’t been able to access the inner layers of hardware and software we need to to provide the kind of performance we can provide on other platforms. But that’s Apple’s choice, not ours. And now, of course, you can’t use it at all.

It's statements like these that make me think Chuck hasn't tried to use Acrobat on a Mac in years. Maybe decades, and I guarantee the number of Acrobat users not working for Adobe he talks to approaches zero. Rapidly. Acrobat on the Mac is a rather obvious poor stepchild to the Windows version for any number of reasons:

  • Office integration on the Mac sucks, because contrary to popular belief, it's not that Adobe can't do better, it's that the only language they'll use for inter-application automation is VBA, so in spite of the huge improvements to Office's AppleScript implementation that Microsoft has made every release, Adobe has made, since at least Acrobat 5, exactly one visible improvement to Acrobat's Office integration on the Mac: it can now recognize and correctly handle Internet links. Indesign did that back in version 2. Acrobat? Version 8, and that was it. It's why you can't have any sort of integration with Entourage at all, even though I showed this is entirely possible many years ago. With actual code even.
  • Want the 3D features in Acrobat Pro Extended? Not on a Mac.
  • Want to create top-notch forms with Acrobat Pro and the included LiveCycle Designer ES? Not on a Mac.

I could go on, but I think we've shown that Chuck isn't as quite up to speed about Acrobat as he wants us to think he is. I don't think Chuck's dissembling here, I think he's saying what he honestly believes, and there's just no one at Adobe willing to cowboy up and point out where that's not true. Wonder if Chuck will see this and start asking some questions. Regardless, using Acrobat as an example of the way Acrobat shows how cross-platform doesn't equal subpar is a really bad idea. Maybe next time, he should use InDesign. Oh, and he should also show us the completely identical codebase for Adobe's Windows and Mac products. Since of course, you know, that's how they roll at Adobe.

Chuck does make one good point, although not for the reasons he wants us to think he does:

Not really. I mean there may be certain features in certain environments that you’ll want to do customization for, but the more you go down that road, the more you get the experience of HTML on the Web, where the kind of browser, hardware and OS you use determines what your experience. That’s because HTML is not well codified and standardized and people sort of roll their own.

Well no, you don't get that problem with Flash. But that's because there's still only one source for a fully-functional Flash player, and one controlling entity for the "standard": Adobe. HTML's a bit different.

We never abandoned Apple. Apple now seems to be abandoning at least one aspect of our product line right now. No, we never abandoned them. We’ve always ported our apps simultaneously to both platforms. There have been times when Apple has changed its strategy on hardware or on operating systems that didn’t meet our product cycle, so there have been periods of maybe six months where we didn’t keep up with their latest release. But that’s our own business model; we can only afford to re-implement our products at a certain rate. We have never, ever abandoned Apple and we don’t want to abandon them today. Everything you read in our new ad is true. I myself own probably between 8 and 10 Macintoshes — both laptops and work stations. I don’t buy PCs, I buy Macs.

The killing and resurrection of Premiere Pro, the attitude of the Acrobat team towards Mac customers, the death of Framemaker on the Mac, the complete absence of LiveCycle on the Mac, Flash Media Streaming and Interactive Servers being Windows/Linux only, Central Pro Output Server...well, really, if, as a Mac user, you try to venture outside of the CS garden, you find that not only doesn't Adobe welcome you with open arms, but they actively reject you. Chuck, maybe you should learn a little more about your own company before you start crowing how you're such a Mac company, hmm? The data, she does not support your statements well at all.

John, being the good journo he is, brings up the "Flash is not really an open standard" thing, and well, you get this interesting back and forth, wherein Chuck gets very defensive:

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