Sure, join the dinner party! (but it’s potluck)

Phrases like “the execution of Adobe”, “makes Flash an absolute toy”, “Flash Killer” and the like annoy me. That’s why I pay attention to what happens later, when the press releases become deliverables.

When Silverlight announced the deal, lots of people said Flash and Silverlight would then be comparable. But long after the press release, the eventual website was still Flash, and the common forum advice was likely why we didn’t hear much later about what this campaign did for adoption.

Then deal and were prophesied to close the desktop gap with Flash, rendering the technologies equivalent. I’ve heard quotes like 50 million unique visitors for the first and 30 for the second, but no word on how many of those succeeded in watching video, rates of successful installation and so on. It has been mysteriously quiet.

Until today. Microsoft announced that H.264 video will be “in a future version of Silverlight”, and also let slip some stats on “How did Silverlight do at the Olympics?”

“On the Silverlight-enhanced NBC Olympics site, the average viewing time was over 27 minutes, as opposed to an average of just three minutes on some Flash-powered sites broadcasting Olympics coverage elsewhere. We think this indicates Silverlight provides a more compelling, engaging and rich media experience for viewers.”

This is the press release, the first after the event to put the whole Silverlight/Olympics storyline into final context. If there was good news, this is when we’d hear it trumpeted. If there was neutral or poor news, this is when we’d hear it managed. And the most important statistic mustered? An observation on the average size of YouTube files.

It seems to say a lot, but somehow, I’m not sure it will change the debate…. 😉

Look, it’s great that Microsoft is trying to refactor WMP and CLR to fit in webpages, like Flash. It’s great that Firefox is adding Ogg Theora, and that Google Chrome is trying to build a generic HTML-driven application shell. If Ajax gurus can make HTML apps smoother, then that’s a big help to the world. Java FX moving towards the Flash vision? I’m all for it.

I could do without the negative stereotypes, but having everyone agree on this “experience matters” approach is a good thing.

The more options, the better.

But… you know… not all of these technologies work equally well in the real world. Most websites can’t afford to turn audience away. You hear such objections to Shockwave, even though 60% of computers already run it.

The “software wars” are fun to debate and evangelize online, but all that extra rhetoric makes it harder for people to learn about and actually use these technologies in the world. Confusion costs.

Even newspapers frequently lump Flash and Silverlight together. I guess the brandnames fall into the same basket, for the reporter. But for readers, one has a near-prohibitive cost to use. How much of your audience can you afford to turn away? The reporter isn’t doing the reader any favors by suggesting either technology can be used equally.

Same with video. What types of sites can afford to use Ogg Theora? Commercial video sites won’t change their existing On2 VP6, Windows Media or H.264 production workflows to move to a codec considered outdated in 2001. I can see Wikipedia using On2 VP3, but how many other sites can afford it?

A fast scripting engine, eating platform-neutral files to run fast OS-native code for datagrids and 3D and games? How much of your audience must arrive in that brand of JavaScript runtime before you can afford to use it?

The more options, the better, true. But that doesn’t mean they’re all equal. The namecalling and fake drama can only distract, not hide this.

Flash just works. Back in June, 85% of consumers already supported H.264 on their computers. Forrester says 97% in enterprise have a JIT. It’s all open and free to use, right there on the world’s desktops.

You can actually use it. That’s what distinguishes Flash. How can there be a debate?

This is not an exclusive dinner party, this little RIA-in-the-browser soiree. You’re welcome to come, and it’s flattering that you’d like join in. Glad to have you here! But it’s a potluck dinner, so you really might want to bring something, other than announcements of how next time you’ll bring something, and saying (between mouthfuls) how much better it will taste than this evening’s poor proprietary fare…. 😉

6 Responses to Sure, join the dinner party! (but it’s potluck)

  1. Hugo says:

    Hi John,
    i couldn’t agree more with you, I’m a bit biased because i’ve always liked Adobe products specially flash, it’s my tool of the trade;
    without getting too personal on it, my point is Adobe cares for the customer and it listens there was a project called adobemakesomenoise and adobe did make some noise; the new flash player features are amazing i really wish for the best, looking back a few years ago none of this would be possible, it took the flash move for technologies like javascript to get this far at least considering the fact that javascript was kind of dead before tweening libraries and frameworks for a whole lot of new things started to appear.
    Maybe then realizing the true potential of the flash player other companies realized that they were sleeping, the point is it takes a pretty good company to be able to develop an application with the power flash has and the window of opportunity for that is extremely slim but it’s also pretty good to have competition it makes things go forward it pushes boundaries so I’m glad Microsoft jumped on the wagon, what makes me feel bad is that now everybody talks bad about flash so if the other “alternatives” to flash are so good why do people need to constantly try and discredit flash.
    There is no flash killer as long as Adobe keep listening to the community, and there will be no flash killer as long as there are evangelists making sure the community gets listened to, for me that’s the true power of flash.

  2. I agree with Hugo; the differentiator for me has always been that Adobe seems to have a close and positive working relationship with its users, especially the development community, and listens. However I do think we’re in one of those situations where the loudest voice gets heard, albeit for a day or so thanks to the nature of the blogosphere, and MS is shouting VERY loudly about Silverlight. No-one is going to uninstall Flash of course, but up until now I’ve quite liked the ‘it’s cool, bring it on’ approach Adobe has taken, although I can’t help wondering if there may be a point to counter more aggressively.
    When I attended a launch event for Silverlight, the amount of misdirection and deliberate evasion of the subject of Flash wasn’t lost on me, or many attendees I spoke to. Most people wondered what the point of Silverlight was (other than stopping a steady flow of .NET developers to Flex), but as MS seems intent on copying every feature of Flash, the differentiation is going to have to be more than relationships from now on – toolsets, features and the user experience will be crucial, and in terms of PR I guess the job is harder when your runtime is something most people just accept is ‘there’.

  3. John Dowdell says:

    Thanks for the confirms, folks… helps me.
    “Up until now I’ve quite liked the ‘it’s cool, bring it on’ approach Adobe has taken, although I can’t help wondering if there may be a point to counter more aggressively.”
    Yes, there’s a lot under evaluation right now… ECMAScript triggered a re-look. Time of change.
    But take a look at this recent interview with Charles Geschke at Wharton last week… it really reveals a lot of the motivations in this particular corporate culture:

  4. Scott says:

    JD… Thanks for your thoughts… sure looks like the dinner party is getting crowded.
    I’m curious though as to what you think will happen if/when On2 announces their VP8 codec as they allude to in this blog at TMCnet ( It seems that the biggest single issue for the internet going forward, at least in the United States, is bandwidth usage. Even Comcast is talking about putting a cap on usage where they may shut off access to people who are their ‘max users’.
    Obviously, viewing quality is what will propel the growth of on-line watching and eventual set-top IPTV video and I’d love to hear your thougths on this issue.
    [jd sez: Thanks, but that’s beyond me. Bandwidth seems more like water than air in its infrastructure requirements. I was baffled when Google hired the scurrilous to lobby “network neutrality”, until I realized the legislation behind the phrase sought to price-fix communication companies, to Google’s advertising benefit. Too many big players, too much payola for me to scope out, sorry, I can’t predict.]

  5. rich says:

    [jd sez: This is actually an undiagnosable support request, or it might even be an astroturf, but it’s a different topic than what the rest of us are talking about here. I don’t like digressive comments… makes refinement/consensus on the post’s actual ideas even harder. The “Firefox” part sounds like this recent attempt at addressing communicational entropy.]
    Flash doesn’t “just work”!
    I tired of trying to get Flash to install on IE — to view current things you have to upgrade.
    I’m also finding problems with Google Chrome but I’m not sure what’s up with that. I’m sure things with Flash, Java, and Javascript are more confusing for naive users.
    Firefox doesn’t give me problems with RIA, etc — but it’s the only browser where Flash “just works.”
    Sorry, Flash doesn’t “just work” always in Firefox either.
    I have a problem where Flash video won’t play for more than 2 seconds. It comes and goes with restarts and happens even with 1GB RAM free.

  6. rich says:

    JD, you said: “Flash just works.”
    I just popped in and didn’t see the earlier post on video. My comments were not an astroturf move but an individual’s response.
    Flash does NOT just work. [jd sez: Does for millions of new people each day, even on IE XP SP2. If you could say something beyond “I couldn’t install it” then the usual troubleshooting technotes should identify the difference.]
    If I could I’d install it manually in Internet Explorer, but as it is it won’t install on XP SP2+.
    And there are problems in Firfox and Chrome that almost certainly have nothing to do with low memory.
    I don’t expect you remember everyone, but please keep in mind this:
    “Test early, test often and test on all target playback platforms.”
    [jd sez: Hey, nice. 😉 ]