Gang warfare, Web 2.0 style

Golden Tamarin, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA -- (cc) by Michael Hanscom

Summary: Adobe + Mozilla + Google are ganging up to take down Microsoft to become the definitive future web platform.

I’ve been reading with great interest and intrigue about Adobe’s substantial contribution to Firefox’s codebase in the form of open sourcing Flash Player 9’s virtual machine.

On the one hand, I’m tempted to go and congratulate Adobe for their good will and desire to support “sustaining innovations“.

On the other, more cynical, hand, I know enough to read between the lines and see this for what it really is: business as usual, with the good grace of open source being used as a context for making this appear “nicer” than it really is.

But don’t get me wrong — this is a good thing for the web, for web denizens, for web developers, open source and for innovation. So that’s not what I’d like to point out here.

Instead, I’d like to offer a theory that this is a calculated move by at least Adobe (if not Mozilla and Google collectively) to go at Microsoft’s jugular just when it’s starting to regain its some of momentum as the dominant web platform after releasing IE7. (Note that my intimations are purely conjectural and not based on known fact. Whether intentional or not, this announcement spells out an alternative future, and it’s worth teasing out what it might look like, even as the story is developing.)

So let’s state some baseline assumptions and assertions:

  1. Adobe PDF is Adobe’s crown jewel. Their virtual monopoly on this rich format provides them a huge amount of business through their Acrobat product (now in version 8) — and they’ve moved to protect it before.
  2. Adobe Flash Players are installed in well over 90% of client browsers, making it the most widely deployed browser plugin anywhere (note the tie-in to Flash video — and who’s the biggest consumer here? YouTube much?)
  3. JavaScript and ActionScript (Flash’s programming language) are very close cousins — pushing EMCAScript and ActionScript closer through a faster virtual machine inches Flash ever-closer to subsuming the browser.
  4. Apollo offers to wed the best of Flash, Flex, HTML, Ajax and PDF — hell, you can even build a browser with this stuff

Contrary to Liz Gannes’ take, I think Adobe might, somehow, be positioning itself very wisely to help shape the future of online publishing, data interchange and rich web experiences. In fact, by nuzzling up to Mozilla and offering more and more open betas (though still with obnoxiously unruly EULAs), Adobe is starting to have the sheen of an open source player.

So let’s think about this: Microsoft is set to release Vista soon — and just as the delineation between web and desktop is finally evaporating — Adobe and Mozilla strike out with a bold partnership that firmly implants Adobe’s engineering technologies into the core equation between browser and desktop. And, given the large number of XHTML and Flash gurus in the wild, this seems like the death nell for before the shrink wrap has even been removed. This isn’t about Flash becoming the web OS; this is about Adobe protecting and promoting it own delivery platforms and formats as it tag teams with Google to suck the “Live” out of Microsoft before it even has a chance to counter.

Adobe wants to be front and center in every browser; it’s smart enough to recognize however, that, like Google, the core threat to their position in the market is Microsoft’s Live platform technologies. An Adobe browser couldn’t dent Microsoft’s platform share, but two open source browsers can by creating the de facto web publishing environment and tools for the future of the web-centric desktop.

An interesting development indeed.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

4 thoughts on “Gang warfare, Web 2.0 style”

  1. I agree, Chris. This is clearly part of Adobe’s Microsoft defense strategy, specifically against the very real threat of WPF. I wrote a little more about this on my blog.

  2. Hey Chris, four points:

    1. Adobe may or may not be practicing “business as usual”, but who cares? The hackers involved are now doing open source, and the code is tri-licensed. Divining intentions is hard and probably pointless; look to actions.

    2. Google had nothing to do with this.

    3. I personally would love to see more open source from Adobe, to open the implementations of de-facto web content standards such as Flash to the larger community of hackers, testers, and innovators who will define the future web.

    4. In my opinion, until Flash (if not PDF) escapes from the “plugin prison”, it will not be front and center on the web. Apollo may hope to make a break from that prison, but it’s not a browser, and this will limit its reach and depth.


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