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Adobe open source code backs – gasp! – HTML5

Things that never happen in Steve Jobs' head

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Adobe believes in Flash on mobiles. But it believes in HTML5 too, and it would like the world to know that these two beliefs are not mutually exclusive.

On Thursday, at a press event in San Francisco, the company announced that over 20 million smartphones now ship with Flash Player 10.1, and that it hopes to push the player onto another 112 million devices, including tablets, by the end of the year. But it was quite careful to point out that it's working to facilitate the development of HTML5 applications as well.

And by HTML5, it means HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, and other stuff that's not really HTML5. Nowadays, that's common terminology.

"Over the years ... what we've focused our investments on at the runtime level is Flash," said David Wadhwani, executive and senior vice president for Adobe’s Creative and Interactive Solutions. "But this is the first time we've actually gotten involved and said we want to advance the HTML runtime itself."

Most notably, Adobe is contributing to the open source jQuery Mobile project, an effort to create a touch screen–happy framework for building mobile applications across platforms. It's based on the jQuery JavaScript and user-interface libraries. "We're working very closely with the jQuery organization," Wadhwani said. "We're doing a lot to help them create mobile components and to help them create the capacity to develop more interactive and more engaging animation experiences."

Wadhwani and company see jQuery Mobile as the ideal framework for building truly cross-platform HTML5 apps. "When you look at our customer base that's doing HTML development, jQuery is the top framework that people are using," Wadhwani said. "We've looked at a number of frameworks ... we want to make sure that HTML – and jQuery in particular – can give you the productivity gains that are necessary, to make it something that a broad base of developers and designers can leverage, as opposed to just the tip of the spear."

Adobe has also contributed advanced typographical-layout code to the WebKit project, the basis for Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, and so many other browsers. The company already shipped HTML5-centric packs for its Dreamweaver and Ilustrator authoring tools. And it has demonstrated several prototypes of future HTML5 authoring tools, including one that converts Flash graphics and animation into HTML5.

As Adobe man John Nack puts it: "This isn’t about one technology (HTML, Flash) 'vs.' another; it’s about putting customers, and the solutions to their problems, ahead of any technology. So, let’s stick a fork in the 'Adobe doesn’t like/doesn’t support HTML5' canard once and for all. Can I get an amen?"

Yes, all this is yet more reaction to Steve Jobs' version of reality, which paints Flash and HTML as mortal enemies. Clearly, there are places where Flash and HTML5 do come into conflict – most notably on video. But even this is more complicated than it seems. Google is pushing hard for HTML5 video, but its pushing just as hard to keep Flash alive.

Like Google – like any company, for that matter – Adobe will do whatever it believes will make it the most money. "Adobe lives or dies by its ability to help customers solve real problems. That means putting pragmatism ahead of ideology," he says. "Adobe makes its money selling tools, not giving away players. Let’s help people target whatever media they need, as efficiently as possible."

It's unclear what Adobe intends to do with jQuery beyond merely contributing code. But it's contributing nonetheless. Open source code delivered with an eye towards good PR is still open source code. ®

Update: This story has been updated to remove a suggestion that Adobe does not use WebKit. WebKit is used in its AIR runtime.

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