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Apple reels as Steve Jobs Flashturbates

Inside the HTML5 traveling roadshow

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Comment There was a time when Steve Jobs and Apple were cool. Jobs built a genius-like persona that was founded on his rare appearances and statements, and this was bolstered by his ability to deliver products that looked good, worked well, and forced others to follow.

But 2010 is turning into the year Steve Jobs and Apple lost that cool.

Jobs squandered it when he ignited a heated fight with Adobe Systems about Flash. In so doing, he hitched his reputation, and that of Apple, to HTML5. He risks damaging Apple in the eyes of the very people it needs most: developers serious about open technologies and programming for the web.

Jobs has always been a somewhat combative tech leader — sharp tongued, yes, but he was mostly an aloof figure who'd only ever appear at Apple events or dispatch the odd, single-sentence email slap-down.

That ended in January 2010, when Wired reported that Jobs slammed Adobe's player for being buggy, and for its publisher's laziness — presumably for not being as inventive or creative as he.

What might have been excused as an outburst of boisterous competitiveness on the eve of a major product initiative has now dragged on for six months.

Attackers in war portray themselves as the wronged party, and this is the case here. Jobs has cast Apple in the role of victim, the reluctant fighter in a war it didn't start with Adobe.

He said last week that his 1,600-word "Thoughts on Flash" open latter was a response to Adobe's bashing of Apple. "They came after us... We were getting tired of being trashed by Adobe in the press," Jobs told the D8 conference.

As is common is such attacks, this aggressor is airbrushing history. During the three years that Flash has been blocked from the iPhone, Adobe — like every other tech company desperate to get on the device — has been tiptoeing about, whispering that they are in talks with Apple, but not daring to speak too loudly in case they said the wrong thing and ruined their chances.

Adobe, however, finally grew a pair with its bleeding Adobe "hearts" Apple ads campaign and open letters from the company's rarely seen founders once Jobs made it clear they had nothing in common and there was no way they'd ever be together.

Jobs might have a problem with Flash — and from a security, performance, and proprietary nature of the technology perspective he could be justified, But that's been overshadowed by the ferocity of the attack and another factor that's becoming increasingly clear: Jobs' attacks seem to be personal.

Nothing personal... except that it is

Apple's chief revealed how personally he takes things last week when recounting his decision to ban an entire class of applications — third-party analytics — from the iPad. The privacy-obsessed Jobs was furious that Flurry Analytics revealed the existence of the iPad in his Cupertino workshops during its development and testing. Jobs blocked third-party analytics out of revenge, and only unbanned them this week — although making them subject to Apple's "written consent".

The proxy for Jobs' war with Adobe and Flash is HTML5, and it's Jobs' obsessive conviction that the next iteration of the web mark-up language that is starting to hurt both his reputation and Apple's.

Jobs' line is that HTML5 is the future for graphics, video, and presentation, and that Flash is history. Jobs, though, is misrepresenting and damaging HTML5.

Last week, his rhetoric was sanctified as the company's official position when Apple posted what it called an HTML5 Showcase, which purported to show what you can build on the web using open specs such as the World Wide Web Consortium's HTML5 and JavaScript.

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