Tag Archive | flash

How the Adobe/Apple struggle might pan out

Last week I talked about how Apple’s CEO, the inimitable Steve Jobs, predicts that the Flash platform is a dying technology, shortly to be consigned to the mausoleum of history.

Predicting the future is notoriously difficult; those that practice such dark arts often produce proclamations that are vague, misleading, or ultimately entirely wrong. Any meaningful prediction is merely educated guessing, and so I’m not going to bore you with my ultimate view of how Jobs is wrong.

Instead, I’m going to bore you with 4 possible scenarios in which he is wrong – or right.

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Steve Jobs hates Google and Adobe even more than I do

I haven’t been a fan of Adobe products ever since Creative Suite became a total pain in the backside to install on a network, and when they took over Macromedia and inherited Flash, I liked them even less. Nor am I a fan of Google, whose laissez-faire attitude to privacy runs utterly contrary to their stated company ethics, and whose Windows software is too often amateurishly designed with support for managed networks either not present at all, or added several months late as an afterthought.

My own distaste, however, pales in comparison to that of the CEO of Apple, as reported by Gizmodo:

“That ‘Don’t be evil’ slogan Google’s known for?… ‘Full of cr**,’ Jobs said, after which he was reportedly rewarded with a big round of applause from the gathered throng of Apple employees… ‘Make no mistake, they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them.'”

The attacks became more specific when it came to Adobe:

“Jobs also criticized Flash for being buggy. When a Mac crashes, it’s usually because of Flash, he reportedly told the crowd. ‘The world is moving to HTML5’, he said.”

I’d have to agree with the first part of his assessment: Flash, along with other Adobe software, has more bugs than a world-class entomologist. I cannot recall a single instance of my browser crashing within the last year that wasn’t down to Flash or Adobe Reader. That said, if a browser plugin is taking down the whole system, Jobs needs to level some rage at his own developers, since the OS should be able to cope with one piece of miscreant user-mode software.

However, the world ‘moving to HTML5’? I think that’s a little premature…

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It is a source of endless astonishment to me how many software companies will invest huge sums of money to craft their perfect product, then fail at the last hurdle by shipping it using an install program that doesn’t work properly.

The Windows Installer (.msi)  format in particular is a fabulous software install system that, when properly executed, allows me (the system administrator) to automatically install the required software on hundreds (potentially thousands) of computers with no manual intervention.

Sadly, the vast majority of companies use mangled versions of this system that incorporate unreliable third-party addons, often to do things that Windows Installer itself is capable of without any help. Even when they don’t use these, the open nature of the Windows Installer format means that a variety of tools exist to create .msi files, and many of them do not follow the specification correctly.

This often means that while the software will work fine for a manual, single-computer install, it performs unpredictably when used for an automated install. At best, the install will not work correctly. Our Adobe Acrobat deployments tend to have about a 5% failure rate even though the install is identical for every computer. At worst, it can stop the entire computer from booting up. I once had to remotely kill the Flash Player plugin setup on more than 200 machines in one day because it popped up an invisible modal dialog box at system boot.

As a result, I have spent the last few years becoming intricately acquainted with the internal format of Windows Installer files, the various stupid ways in which systems like InstallShield muck them up, and the various ways in which they can be fixed.

On rare occasions, an installer will be so bad I will start over from scratch and build my own. I’m not prone to blatant product recommendations, but I have been using the freeware version of Advanced Installer for a couple of years now, and it’s sheer reliability cannot be ignored. I have never managed to create an installer that did not work first time, which only begs the question as to why so many install programs I deal with work so poorly when making a good one is so easy.