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Can't find a smartbook to buy? Blame Adobe

Vendors waiting for Flash, suggests ARM exec

Flash Gordon

Adobe's failure to release a version of Flash optimised for ARM CPUs, not the hardware itself, is what is holding back the release of netbooks based on the chip platform.

That's the clear conclusion to be drawn from comments made by ARM marketing chief Ian Drew in an interview with ZDNet UK this week.

"We thought they would be launched by now, but they're not," Drew said. "I think one reason is to do with software maturity. We've seen things like Adobe [Flash] slip — we'd originally scheduled for something like 2009."

To be fair to Adobe, developing a version of Flash for so-called 'smartbooks' isn't straightforward. The code has to be tweaked for each operating system - despite the prevalence of Android, the OS isn't yet a given - and for the underlying silicon infrastructure.

Different ARM licensees produce different and not always fully compatible ARM-based CPUs, and an app created to run on one is not necessarily certified to run on the other. That means it has to make multiple versions, and it's not going to do that off its own bat - someone has to pay for the development work.

The Android-on-ARM version of Flash is expected to appear in the second half of 2010. It was expected to appear last year. Maybe ARM needs to re-negotiate the development deal its signed with Adobe in 2008.

This lack of a consistent, single version of Flash for ARM devices is what allowed Intel to claim its Atom platform is much more suited to presenting the so-called "full web experience" - Flash support, essentially - in a mobile device. Since Atom runs Windows with the same compatibility as any other Intel CPU, Atom-based netbooks are ready to run that OS, its many browsers and the now well-established Flash plug-ins they all use.

Difficulties encountered in persuading Adobe to create a Flash implementation for the iPhone's OS and hardware combination - or maybe just the cost - is almost certainly why the Apple device has always lacked the capability, which Steve Jobs is now trying to portray as an advantage.

Indeed, the momentum gathering behind HTML 5 - even Microsoft seems keen on it - may shift the balance of power away from Adobe. That will either see Google, ARM and co. making a strategic move to HTML 5 - or Adobe will, sensing the change, decide it needs to develop a broader array of Flash implementations to prevent its technology losing its relevance. ®

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