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State of the Art: Flash Is Back

Microsoft to distribute Flash Player in XP By Dave Nagel
Not too long ago, I went on a bit of a tirade against Microsoft for failing to deliver the Flash plugin with the basic installation of Internet Explorer for Windows. After all, if it could happen on the Windows platform, the same fate couldn't be far off for the Mac platform either. But now (as of last week) Microsoft and Macromedia say Flash Player 5 will be distributed with the Microsoft Windows XP operating system, which is scheduled for worldwide availability Oct. 25.

Microsoft Internet Explorer, of course, has become the dominant Web browser, and the exclusion of the Flash player from the basic installation of IE for Windows had some serious implications. What tipped me off to it was an incident a few months ago in which I downloaded IE 5 for the Mac, and the Flash Player failed to load. I installed it again; same thing.

I immediately contacted a representative at Macromedia, who told me that Flash was indeed being distributed with the Mac version but that it was not being distributed with the Windows version. Odd that my installation didn't include the player. But then on a subsequent download the Flash Player was once again included as a component of the installation.

Nevertheless, the Windows version continued to ship without the plugin.

For creative professionals and developers alike, this revelation was something of a shock. After all, think of just how many people base their livelihoods around this one proprietary technology. And, what's more, this proprietary technology is essentially at the mercy of two gigantic corporations–Microsoft and AOL Time Warner–neither of which realizes any profit whatsoever presently from the distribution of their browsers, and neither of which has too terribly much to gain from distributing third-party proprietary software.

While in the beginning, it could be argued, Netscape was indeed a team player with the best interests of its users at heart, it is by far a different company now with a whole different set of priorities. Microsoft, of course, has never placed a high priority on users and has routinely shown hostility toward any company that even remotely competes in market spaces it currently occupies or plans to occupy.

Macromedia is a different story. This company has everything to gain from the wide distribution of the Flash player. And, what's more, I firmly believe Macromedia does have its users' interests at heart.

However, this does not change the fact that the company is at the mercy of Microsoft and AOL Time Warner when it comes to the distribution of their player. We all know what happens to plugin developers whose software is not part of a basic browser installation. You and I might download their plugins, but we don't create our content for each other. We create our content for clients who need to reach consumers. And consumers are morons when it comes to technology. They either don't know how to download browser components, or they're scared to do so. This means that any Web technology must be available to all consumers without any extra effort on their part, or the whole thing just dies a slow death.

For some, the answer is simple: Turn Flash into a truly open standard. I don't like this solution, and I'll tell you why. Neither Netscape nor Microsoft has been able to implement open standards fully or correctly to date, and there's no reason to think that they'd do the right thing with Flash either.

Think of Java. If you're developing JavaScript or Java, you know the problems involved. Does it work in IE? Does it work in Netscape? And does it work the same in both Mac and Windows? (It never works the same in Mac and Windows.)

Now think of Flash. It's trouble-free. Everything works as advertised regardless of the program used to generate the Flash content. This would certainly not be the case if Macromedia lost control of the end user experience.

No, the answer lies somewhere else.

This latest announcement from Microsoft bodes well for the near-term viability of Flash. Heck, even if Microsoft outright refused to distribute the Flash Player permanently, Flash has such a large installed base right now that developers wouldn't feel the impact for years to come. Nevertheless, it is disconcerting to know that just two companies whose interests are not tied with those of Macromedia control the future of this medium. And, by extension, they could put a whole lot of people out of work very easily.

What I and other creative professionals want is some assurance that Flash is here to stay as long as there are consumers to view Flash content. And this means planning for the eventuality when Microsoft decides that the distribution of Flash is no longer in its best interests.

What do you think? Post a message in our user forum.

Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications. You can reach him at [email protected].

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  • State of the Art: Flash Is Back by DMN Editorial at Aug. 03, 2004 10:19 pm gmt (Rec'd 5)

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