Adobe fights Apple with pro-Flash ad campaign

The next battle in the Apple-Adobe war over Flash takes the form of an Adobe publicity campaign, including its own letter propounding openness.

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Stephen Shankland
4 min read
Adobe ad promoting Flash
Adobe's new campaign includes this ad. (Click to enlarge.) Adobe Systems

Adobe Systems may not have a chief executive with Steve Jobs' high profile, but it does have money. And on Thursday it began spending some of it on an effort to rebut the Apple CEO's criticisms of Adobe's Flash technology.

The campaign includes a Web site promoting choice, an accompanying "truth about Flash" page rebutting some Apple criticisms, and a letter from Adobe co-founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock that brings a personal answer to Jobs. They don't mention Jobs or or Apple by name, but there's no mistaking the target.

"The genius of the Internet is its almost infinite openness to innovation. New hardware. New software. New applications. New ideas. They all get their chance," the co-founders said in the letter. "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."

Adobe's public-relations response takes a much more genteel but less biting tone than Jobs' Flash-bashing letter, which characterized Flash as being being proprietary, a power hog, behind the times with multitouch interface support, insecure, unstable, and generally a relic.

Adobe's campaign, published in several daily newspapers and online news sites, also features an advertisement rebutting Apple. It starts with a large-type proclamation of love for Apple and concludes on a less amicable note.

"We love creativity. We love innovation. We love apps. We love the Web. We love Flash. We love our 3 million developers. We love healthy competition. We love touch screens. We love our Open Screen Project partners. We love HTML5. We love authoring code only once. We love all devices. We love all platforms," the ad reads. "What we don't love is anybody taking away your freedom to choose what you create, how you create it, and what you experience on the Web."

In a response, Apple directed attention to its support for Web standards that let some applications run in a browser, though not addressing the issue of applications that run natively on the iPhone.

"We believe in open Web standards too, like HTML5. Flash is not an open web standard like HTML. It is a proprietary Adobe product," said spokeswoman Trudy Muller. "Just ask the W3 consortium that controls web standards--they have chosen HTML5 as the open Web standard to move forward with."

Adobe is fighting back with technical arguments, too. Mike Chambers, Adobe's principal product manager for the Flash platform, has written blog posts focusing on Flash's support for touch and multitouch and its processing power requirements compared with other video, audio, and animation technologies.

Flash lets programmers create everything from video-streaming sites and games to stock charts and photo albums on the Web, and a big part of the sales pitch is that programmers can write a single program that will work on many computers regardless of differences among browsers and operating systems. But Apple long has denied Flash a place on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and most recently, the iPad.

Adobe tried to bypass the lock-out with the new CS5 version of its Flash Pro developer tool. But just as it emerged Apple blocked Flash and related tools in April through a change to its iPhone OS 4.0 software developer kit license language. Adobe scrapped further development of the Flash-to-iPhone tool but hasn't been happy to see the cross-platform promise of Flash curtailed by its absence on the iPhone.

Adobe is fighting back against Apple's Flash-bashing with an ad campaign.
Adobe Systems is fighting back against Apple's Flash-bashing with an ad campaign. Adobe

It's too strong to say Adobe is fighting for Flash's life--it's very widely used, the alternatives are immature, and even if programmers were to abandon it tomorrow, countless Web pages already in existence still use it. But it is fair to say the current assault is probably the most significant threat in its existence.

Flash got its start as a tool for animated graphics on Web sites, but its popularity was cemented by its painless solution to the earlier difficulties of Web-based video. Now, however, a collection of Web technologies--including Hypertext Markup Language, Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript, and Scalable Vector Graphics--is gradually maturing as an alternative to Flash. Among those allied behind those technologies are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Opera, and Mozilla, and they're tapping into some Web developer disgruntlement with the difficulties meshing Flash and the more neutral standards of the Web.

Developers aren't universally happy with Apple's approach either, though. One programmer, Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch, canceled his C4 Mac programming conference because of his distaste with the way Apple blocked Flash-derived applications on the iPhone.

Adobe is making sure all its eggs aren't in the Flash basket. Even as it promotes Flash, including the forthcoming Flash Player 10.1 due by the end of June, it's also embracing Web technologies in its Dreamweaver tool for Web development.

Last month, Adobe Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch declared, "We're going to try and make the best tools in the world for HTML5."

Updated 10:05 p.m. PDT with Apple comment.