Apple Should be Punished for Attempting to Kill Browser Plugins


Can you imagine if Microsoft back in the days of operating system wars… just after the time they bailed out Apple when it was on its death bed, said to the world.., “Our browser will not support plugins.  Instead, we have made an app store on Windows where we will get 30% of apps sold.”  Well this is what Apple did.

A couple of things have changed since the Microsoft reign:

1. HTML 5 has introduced the canvas tag and we have kludged JavaScript to get better at making apps in the open source world – so why do we need plugins?

2. Mobile is here with less processing power than desktops – so we can’t run plugins… right?

3. Mobile is small and plugin content was built for large screens – right?

4. Apple has become a cult and can seemingly do no wrong.

Let us address these points:

1.  The world should not rely on one type of thing.  We know that.  Why are we allowing HTML 5 (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) to have a monopoly in our Web world?  Plugins offer a forum to let companies build improvements.  How can people support open source and then say… sorry, it has to be made in HTML 5.  That is hypocritical – or perhaps to be more delicate… narrow minded.  We need plugin architecture in our browsers or we will stagnate.  Alternatively, we will find companies making their own browser systems ala Second Life, Steam, etc.

2. The processing power of mobile devices initially was understandably slow.  Blackberry and Android supported the Flash plugin for instance and performance on existing Flash content was sluggish for the most part.  Speeds have been getting faster and faster and soon, if not already, have reached acceptable rates.  Also, plugin makers did not design them for mobile.  So, let them design plugins for mobile.

3. Mobile screens are small and any legacy content runs the risk of not working well from an interface standpoint.  There are a number of HTML sites that do not work well on mobile – why single out plugins and in particular Flash for not working well?  Here is an idea – plugins have version numbers… why not allow version numbers after a certain date so that legacy material is filtered out until it is updated with mobile in mind.  Going forward, designers and developers know they are making for mobile.   Flash, for instance, does run on mobile – the thousands of apps in the app stores built with Flash prove it.

4.  Apple, through its iPod, became huge.  This success continued with the iPhone and iPad all the while glamorizing the brand and also selling its laptops and desktops to a point where it is the most profitable company in the world.  Hey… and it takes 30% of all apps and songs sold.  Obviously, Apple benefits from killing browser plugins.  If the world can’t get free apps and games in the browser, they will have to buy from the app store where they get 30%.  Now this is somewhat good for app developers because they have a better chance of making some money too.  It is also somewhat beneficial to the public in that they love consuming and the app store is a laid out to easily consume.  So… Apple seems to have gotten away with it and unfortunately influenced other browser makers like Microsoft to make similar decisions – while also giving plugin makers an inferiority complex as advertising companies and the world shun them for not being on the iPhone browser.

A browser should find and present things.  Browsers find and present an image, a video – why not an interactive piece like a Flash Feature, a Java Applet or a Unity Game?  The browser should NOT say – oh… I have a way to make interactive content – therefore no other way will be allowed.  This is especially true when the plugin structure has used by billions with content created by millions of designer/developers.

Now… Apple did what they did – and if the market says okay – then I guess they should not be punished – is that how it works?  I find it unethical for a company to present an Internet browser to a captive audience that does not include plugins like other standard Internet browsers so that people will be forced to a store run by that company.  Apple, I punish you even if our business society does not – you are not getting any more of my money nor have you for the last 3 years.

The real loss, however, has been a setback in advanced interactive works in the short term followed by a monopoly led by a slow moving open source conglomerate in support of HTML, CSS and Javascript.  I have said it before, and I say it again… Open Source should not kill Closed Source – it is not good for advancement.  They should both exist.  Killing browser plugin architecture (or the likes) is a bad move.

Dan Zen


A caveat is that I don’t make browsers or plugins, so do not really know the technical difficulties of all this.  I heard from Adobe that it was not practical to support all the different phones, etc.  Yet, Flash works as an app through AIR on these same phones so there should be a plugin architecture for browsers that will just play the app in a frame.  If it can be done on the desktop it should be able to be done on mobile.

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2 Responses to “Apple Should be Punished for Attempting to Kill Browser Plugins”

  1. Dan Zen Says:

    Getting some good conversation on Facebook for this. But… as always it seems it heads towards bashing Flash. One response said how solid Flash looks compared to the hoops developers have to go through for the HTML side. And another responded along the lines that at least the HTML side does not run like crap on mobile. Here is my response to that.

    Three things about Flash running like crap on mobile:

    1. Legacy Flash in mobile browsers was not designed for mobile nor was there really enough time to optimize the plugin (and for now, they seem to have given up). That is a main point of the article above.

    2. Flash running in AIR as an app on mobile works well enough for me and I have not even optimized. ( Remember, Flash now has GPU acceleration where a lot of the earlier apps did not have that. Look at Starling for Flash based on Stage 3D.

    3. Having made 8 or 9 Flash apps for mobile I can say that iOS devices are slower at running Flash than the Android and Blackberry devices I have tried although I have not tried any of any brand’s latest devices. But… as of one or two years ago, on Swoodle I had to double the speed of easing otherwise it lagged too much on iOS devices and it still lagged too much for my liking. Once again, I did not optimize with the GPU.

    Each release, Adobe improves the speed of AIR and devices are getting faster all the time so I think the performance difference issue is going away (especially when we realize that HTML 5 doing complex games and animations still runs into speed issues. I tried some Tumult Hype examples and they lagged – and that was on my desktop. It was the most complicated of the examples – but it was lagging.)

    One more factor to throw in the mix is that I am now building mobile apps using vector graphics in Flash. Clean graphics at multiple screen sizes – the reason we have been using vectors in Flash since its inception (15 years). Developers have been going through hoops on mobile to provide multiple size image, bitmap cache stuff, sprite sheets, media queries, etc. to optimize for mobile. If mobile speed improves so that vectors are fast enough, we are ready for it in Flash where you would find perhaps 1% of the web developers having even made a vector graphic. Not that they can’t – it is just another culture shift. Like the shift it is still taking to get to drag and drop… rotation… collision detection, etc. all staples of the Flash environment.

    I am not looking for a rebuttal. This has been argued over and over by people with and without experience. I program extensively in both and I tell you… Flash is a way better environment for enhanced interactive works ( Asset building is 5 times easier than HTML and CSS. ActionScript has 5 times more classes, properties and methods to accommodate advanced interactivity and the language itself is one graduation over JavaScript and that was major graduation that allowed me and others to properly understand Object Oriented Programming ten years ago. We loved the consistency of AS3 over AS2 and AS2 and the current JavaScript are on par.

    I am not looking for a rebuttal. There is nothing you can tell me that will convince me that Flash is not a great platform for enhanced interactive works. Think… for ten years we had amazing communication between all the great interactive designers and developers along with an excellent engineering team at Macromedia and Adobe working to hone this tool – not just adding features but pruning as well. Flash is AMAZING.

    Also remember, that enhanced interactivity is not the same as information pages – even if those information pages adapt to different screen sizes (which Flash has been doing for years). HTML and CSS are excellent for displaying organized pages with lots of information and links. Flash always kind of sucked at flowing text – they recently introduced a new text system but I digress…

    Note that I did not say that HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (HCJ) will not become an excellent tool for enhanced interactivity. At the rate that the open source community is moving and its understandable philosophy of backward compatibility currently thwarting the official progress of JavaScript… (JavaCrypt) it will be a while before the native structure is on par with Flash. There is also the tooling and culture to catch up.

    There are many more HCJ designers and developers out there than there ever have been Flash Developers. Always have been, always will be. The difference is that they are now starting to build enhanced interactive works. Great… try not to get too cocky (and I will try not to get too patronizing). And in general… thanks a lot for supporting the smear campaign on Flash.

    Great… more enhanced interactive works? Funny, many people in the industry say there has been a dirge of good experiences as Marketing and their clients want HTML 5 (so it’s on the iPad) and developers try and figure out what framework they are going to use only to discard it because a better framework just popped up. With the advent of so many frameworks to bolster the cracks, it is hard (but exciting) for developers to keep up and concentrate. Ah well… give it a little time and perhaps it will all shake out. My hope is on CreateJS – they’ve done a great job. My hope too is that we bring back the plugin system – not just for Flash but other ground breaking products too that are 10 years ahead of HTML.

  2. Processing is Dead! All Hail JavaScript! | Dan Zen Says:

    […] My experience is with ActionScript and Flash – a mature authoring environment which allows developers to make once and publish anywhere.  Anywhere that is until Apple came along an banned it from the mobile Web with lame self-serving excuses.  What followed was nothing short of persecution.… […]

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