A game of musical chairs has been going on for the past few years between Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Adobe.
The tune changed with the mobile revolution and with the shift toward cloud services, prompting the major consumer-oriented computer software players to take seats atop their platforms.
Apple embraced the Web as the window that would let air into its otherwise sealed eco-system. For Google, it has always been about the Web. And Microsoft, still trying to reconcile the Web with its desktop roots, picked a fight on the desktop: It launched Silverlight to compete with Adobe for Web developers.
Adobe was left standing when the music stopped, its Flash platform straining under the weight of fifteen years of code, without a hardware ecosystem or operating system for support.
Detractors charge that Flash has become bloated, is insecure, and performs poorly on Mac OS X machines. When Apple CEO Steve Jobs is among those making such accusations, the problem can't be ignored. Unless Adobe does something and fast, Flash will become marginalized as developers move to HTML5 and whatever other technologies emerge to fill the void.
Apple's refusal to allow Flash on the iPhone, and as of last week, on the iPad, in conjunction with Microsoft's promotion of Silverlight and with the push toward open Web standards, has gone from being a matter of concern only for a "consortium of minority browser vendors" to a pressing threat to Adobe.
The issue has had executive attention at Adobe quite some time -- probably from the moment the iPhone launched. Last summer, on a conference call for investors CEO Shantanu Narayen dismissed HTML5 because it couldn't deliver a consistent user experience across different Web browsers and predicted that a decade would go by before the specification became standardized.
Recently, the company's defense of Flash has become less dismissive and more forceful. Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch on Tuesday published a lengthy blog post about Flash's utility and its destined co-existence with HTML5.
"Some have been surprised at the lack of inclusion of Flash Player on a recent magical device," his post begins, referring to Apple's iPad.
Adobe of course is not surprised. It has been working on the next version of Flash, which will include the ability to generate iPhone apps from Flash content. It won't let Flash run on the iPhone, but allowing developers to export Flash content in an Apple-authorized format represents the next best thing.
Lynch goes on to repeat Narayen's talking points from last year. "Longer term, some point to HTML as eventually supplanting the need for Flash, particularly with the more recent developments coming in HTML with version 5," he says. "I don't see this as one replacing the other, certainly not today nor even in the foreseeable future."
Developers, the ones who will ultimately decide Flash's fate, differ about that. Plenty of developers -- particularly those who have invested time and money in Flash training -- back Lynch and Adobe.
But more than a few among the 75 comments on Lynch's post at the time this article was written slam Flash for instability, poor performance, and security problems.
The upcoming Flash Player 10.1 and future Flash platform releases will need to address these complaints if Flash is to co-exist peacefully with HTML5.