Adobe: 'Not you, too, Microsoft!'

Redmond's abandoning Flash latest blow to Adobe

This article has been updated to clarify Microsoft's position on support of Flash in Internet Explorer 9.

Microsoft has now clarified the company's position on support of Adobe Flash in Internet Explorer 9. In a post last week, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of the IE team at Microsoft, blogged that "the future of the Web is HTML5," which is based on the industry standard H.264 video format. Hachamovitch also stated that "IE9 will support playback of H.264 video only."

In a followup post, Hachamovitch clarified that while IE9 will be based on HTML5, it will still support Flash as a plug-in: "Of course, IE9 will continue to support Flash and other plug-ins. Developers who want to use the same markup today across different browsers rely on plug-ins."

Here's my original post. 

In the military, they call it a pincer movement. Adobe has been attacked on one of its flanks by Apple, which has been dissing its Flash technology for rich Internet applications such as Web video and games. Now, Microsoft is attacking on Adobe's opposite flank, telling the public "the future of the Web is HTML5."

The rebuke comes in the form of a Thursday blog post from Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team. He informed readers that the coming IE 9 will support HTML5, not Adobe Flash.

Losing Apple support for Flash is one thing, but losing Microsoft's support is far more serious.

Hachamovitch does his best to let Flash down easily: "Flash remains an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web," he writes. But, apparently, not tomorrow's.

While acknowledging that surfing the Web in a browser without Flash "is a challenge for typical consumers," he continued, "Flash does have some issues, particularly around reliability, security, and performance."

These shortcomings have been detailed by none other than Apple CEO Steve Jobs in the months since that company introduced the iPad tablet computer in January, which is notable for its absence of Flash support. Jobs ticked off six reasons why Apple no longer supports Flash in a letter posted on Apple's Web site. Calling Adobe's technology "proprietary," Jobs also argued that while 75 percent of Web video may be Flash, a new standard is emerging for Web video compression, H.264, which allows users to view video on Apple products and elsewhere. Microsoft's Hachamovitch makes a similar point, noting that HTML5 supports the H.264 industry standard.

Jobs goes on to also question Flash's "reliability, security and performance," criticize its drain on battery life, lack of support for touch-screen technology and the difficulty developers will face having to develop applications that support Flash and can run on Apple platforms. Putting Flash in between the application layer and the Apple platform "ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform," Jobs wrote.

While Jobs dissing Adobe Flash as "proprietary" is the quintessential "pot calling the kettle black" moment, Jobs' arguments are at least debatable. And Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen did just that in a live video blog on the Wall Street Journal's Web site Thursday afternoon. In it, Narayen tells the Journal's Alan Murray that Flash is an open specification, that claims about Flash being a battery hog are "patently untrue" and that when it comes to developers writing Flash for the Apple platform, "[Adobe's] view of the world is multi-platform."

You could dismiss Apple's abandonment of Flash as typical Apple arrogance -- or if you're an Apple devotee, to its foresight (some people thought Apple was nuts not to include a diskette drive in the first iMacs in the late 90s). But when Microsoft tells the world Flash is a thing of the past, Adobe's in trouble. Given's Internet Explorer's 60 + percent share of the browser market, not being able to run Flash in IE9 would be a crippling blow to Adobe.

This has not been a good week for Adobe. The attack on Flash also comes amid renewed security worries about Adobe Reader. Microsoft issued a security report that 46 percent of browser exploits reported in the second half of 2009 were aimed at vulnerabilities in Reader for viewing PDFs. Adobe's stock price had a bad week, too, closing below $34 a share Friday from above $36 at the beginning of the week.

I'll update this post if I hear back from Adobe on their response to Microsoft's position on Flash. Until then, let me know your thoughts on Adobe's situation. Are they seriously on the ropes or can they innovate to make Flash a viable platform once again?

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)