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Adobe CTO paints Steve Jobs as Big Brother

It's like 1984. In reverse

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Web 2.0 Expo Adobe chief technology officer Kevin Lynch believes that Apple barred translated Flash from the iPhone not because Flash runs poorly on the Jobsian handheld but because it runs so well.

"We have already done a great job - technically - of getting Flash applications to run on the iPhone," Lynch said today during a question and answer sessions at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. "There are already a bunch in the [Apple App] Store that have already gone through the approval process. The technology issue that Apple has with us is not that Flash doesn't work on the iPhone, but that it does work. You can actually make a great Flash app that runs across operating systems, and they don't like that."

Last month, as part of its Flash Professional CS5 development suite, Adobe introduced an iPhone packager that translates Flash script into native iPhone code. But just days before its release, Apple introduced an SDK for the upcoming iPhone 4.0 OS that bars such code translation. In a recent open letter on Flash, Steve Jobs made it quite clear this was an effort to ban Flash translation in particular.

Lynch was asked if - in spite of the ban - Adobe would encourage the development of translated Flash apps for jail-broken iPhones and other less than official channels. But he reiterated that the company would not, instead choosing to focus on other platforms. "We are not going to play technology games when Apple is playing legal games," he said. "Apple changed their legal agreement to block what we did ... that's a different game. We're not going to keep doing technological work when we're being blocked like that."

The company has already announced that it has ceased development of its iPhone packager.

Echoing previous statements made by the company, Lynch said that by keeping Flash and other technologies off the iPhone, Apple is stifling innovation - though at first, he didn't point to Apple by name.

"The ... important question right now is about freedom of choice on the web. You should be able choose whatever technologies you want to choose and create whatever you want to create," he said. "The web has been very successful because it's been a really open environment for content and applications...

"We're facing a time now, though, where there are some who would like to wall off parts of the web and make it so that you need their approval to make content and applications. From Adobe's point of view, we don't express judgment on what people make ... I don't think it's the role of a company to exercise that judgment on what people are making. That's the role of society and law."

Asked if this was a reference to Apple, Lynch didn't hesitate to say that it was. "Yes," he said. "Apple is playing this strategy where they want to create a walled garden around what applications they can use."

Prior to his keynote, a outfit called Parrot SA demonstrated a flying mini-drone that's controlled with an iPhone, and Lynch pointed to the device to make his point about the future of mobile applications. "That helicopter was very cool, but you can only control it using an application on the iPhone. You should be able to control it using your choice of smartphone."

Cue applause 2.0.

With the Twittering crowd behind him, Lynch compared Steve Jobs to a 19th century railroad baron working to ensure that only his trains run on his tracks. "This is kind of like railroads in the 1800s," he said. "Part of the competitive advantage was that people were using different gauge rails to keep freight cars from running across the country...

"But that wasn't good for the industry. It wasn't good economically for the US. It wasn't good for competition. And that's a lot like what's happening now. It's totally counter to the internet. We need to have freedom of transport. We need to enable people to compete on the merit of the things they do."

The internet bit is a nod to the fact that Jobs has also barred Flash and other interpreted code from the iPhone browser. But the topic of the moment is translated Flash on the Jesus Phone. Whereas Jobs has argued that allowing cross-platform development tools leads to sub-standard apps, Lynch says just the opposite. "Computing has a history of creating new levels of abstraction in order to make people more productive," he said.

"It doesn't meant that you have a loss of expressiveness or a loss of fidelity. In fact, you can get more expressive than you have been before, because these patterns enable you do do more. We're gone from assembly language to compilers to frameworks to graphical user interface operating systems, and now, we have the layer of the web. That is not going to decrease your capability over time, it's going to increase your capability.

"I think it's a false assumption that if we try to make things run across a variety of devices they're somehow going to be less effective."

Among (so many) other things, Jobs claims Flash isn't suited to multi-touch. But Lynch argues that Flash is more suited to multi-touch than Apple's native development tools. "Inside Flash 10.1, we support multi-touch input and that's going to work across devices," he said. "Whether a device does 32 points of input or 8 points, your application can be incredibly innovative on how it handles multi-touch, and you've got a consistent way to take full advantage of that innovation."

Flash 10.1 isn't quite here yet. But Google has committed to including the new player with the next version of Android. And Lynch believes that Android and other more-open mobile OSes will eventually put Apple is its place. "All the variety of innovation that's happening from all these companies is going to dwarf what's happening from one company," he said. "We've seen this before. Basically, we're in the early days of where we were with the PC revolution ... and I think we're at the beginning of the game not the end of the game. I think it's like 1984."

He meant not only the year, but the famous Macintosh Super Bowl ad, where a blonde woman throws a hammer at a PC-loving Big Brother. The difference, Lynch seemed to say, is that Big Brother has changed sides. ®

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