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Apple reels as Steve Jobs Flashturbates

Inside the HTML5 traveling roadshow

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Open ain't what it used to be

The Showcase looked good, but there was a disconnect: it only worked with Apple's Safari browser — but not because those browsers don't support HTML5. Most of the demos would work just fine in Chrome and Firefox, but the Showcase won't let them. It instead checks to see what browser you're using, and if it's not Safari, it pops up an error message telling you to download Safari.

Also, Apple had cherry-picked the parts of HTML5 that suited it — namely the video and audio tags and Cascading Style Sheets — in addition to using JavaScript.

The event riled browser rivals Mozilla and Opera Software that use the same HTML5 media tags. No big deal — they are, after all, the competition — but their entry into the argument was nonetheless a significant escalation, given that this street fight had only been between Apple and Adobe until that point.

Further, the site caused confusion in the market. Opera's Haavard Moen posted a counter blog saying he'd been bombarded by queries from Opera users "and others".

It's not just browser rivals who are miffed. Ordinary coders are also becoming increasingly alarmed at Jobs' boosting of HTML5, saying that he's damaging the yet-unfinished spec by focusing on just its media tags and CSS.

JavaScript specialist Ext JS said before the Showcase appeared that HTML5 was becoming increasingly "unhinged from reality" because of statements by Jobs — and by fellow HTML5 evangelist Google. Ext JS products vice president Michael Mullany reckoned that just as AJAX and Web 2.0 became widely misused shorthand for "next generation" web development in the mid-2000s, "HTML5 is now becoming the next overloaded term."

By riding HTML5 so hard, and by publicly mischaracterizing HTML5 to win a war he initiated, Apple's chief executive is on thinning ice among coding practitioners.

For decades, Apple produced advances that such people couldn't — religion aside — really argue with: the reliability and ease of the Mac, the convenience of the iPod and iTunes, and the breakthrough of touch on the iPhone. People overlooked the closed nature of these systems, or at least forgave them, especially if the alternative was an unreliable PC or standards-loner Microsoft.

Mischaracterizing technologies to prove a point is a fast track to losing credibility among coders and other experts in the biz. There are plenty of marketing people who can obfuscate and inflate, and whose words technologists have to pick apart to understand what's really being said.

The man behind the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad is held to a higher standard, and is risking his credibility by deliberately muddying the message on a spec that everybody has access to and theoretically "owns" simply in order to win a personal fight of his making.

Blowback

The focus on open technologies will also backfire on Apple. Jobs' escalation of the HTML5 versus closed and proprietary Flash battle, and his crudely partisan claims about Safari's support for "open" standards are forcing a debate on open and closed systems.

Part of that means looking at the closed and proprietary nature of Apple and whether it's something developers can benefit from and live with, or whether it's bad for them and the web because it means building different versions of their software for Apple's walled garden and for the rest of the web.

There's a group in our industry that is already familiar with this kind of fragmentation and whose members know that it means they'll be forced to build different versions of the same application: the people who build applications for mobile phones.

Jobs might be right to damn Flash, but his Ahab-like pursuit of Flash player and his stretching of the truth on HTML5 to win a personal war will ensure that Flash publisher Adobe is not the only company that will lose supporters. ®

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