Following Up on Adobe & Linux

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Got lots of responses, both public and private, to my quick, one off entry knocking Adobe for their lack of Linux support. Many of you pointed to this interview with Mike Melanson, released the day before my entry, and it’s a very interesting look at some of the actual reasons for the delay. Ian and Jeff specifically called out this bit:

“I would say the hardest part is selecting APIs that have broad coverage across distributions.”

What Mike means by that, for those of you not intimately familiar with the intricasies of Linux on the desktop, is that Adobe’s facing a paradox of choice of sorts. Whether it’s audio, general graphics, GUI elements, and so on, Linux offers a choice of APIs. Usually multiple choices, and that presents Adobe with something of a dilemma. Which do they pick? Which distros use which APIs? What does that mean for compatibility? In another link that Jeff del.icio.us:for’d me, the Adobe guys discuss just this fact, and to their credit they are actually soliciting input from the community on their choices. That’s great to see, and really encouraging.

As an aside, I’ve been knocked for not having turned up the Penguin.swf blog previously, and that’s a fair criticism. It’s my job to be keep myself informed of such things, and I’d somehow missed that one. Suffice to say I’m tracking it now. One curiosity; it’s not Top 10 in a Google query of “flash linux,” while it’s #4 for “flash 9 linux.”

Even with the volumes of information available on that blog, however, which go into tremendous detail on the difficulty of porting to Linux – a definite topic for another post – my basic stance remains unchanged. I’m not now nor have I ever taken the position that some of the less rational commenters have, that Adobe somehow “hates” Linux. Nor am I unsympathetic to both the difficulty of the task and the resource limitations involved.

But here’s the thing: if Adobe wants to continue to position Flash as a multi-operating system, near ubquitous platform for developers and providers to target, it needs to be truly cross-platform. If Flash was just another application, like a Photoshop, we would not be having this discussion. It’s not. Flash is a platform, and thus has an additional level of responsibility to the developers that build on top of it. While simultaneous shipping might not be possible, as one private commenter pointed out to me, I think two plus years is too long. Far too long. I know some folks don’t agree with that, but I just call ’em as I see ’em. I’d be very interested to hear what the Flash developers in the audience might have to say about the issue; do you share my concerns, or not care?


  1. I’m somewhat surprised that Adobe hasn’t stepped up more to lead in desktop Linux… It’s like they’re waiting for someone else to do it. Novell can’t do it all alone… and Microsoft has painted a target on Adobe with Vista’s new features…

    If I was at Adobe working on their client side products, I’d spend all my time thinking about how I could make desktop Linux work – not complaining about APIs, blogging about issues, or asking “the community” for ideas. Step up and architect/develop the next chunk of bits you need to have that single API to write to. Donate the code back to the community, work with the distros, and actually invest to do something proactive.

    The Linux desktop won’t take off until Adobe takes charge. It’s all opportunity and you have to look at who gains from a Microsoft-less client. Imagine… a client desktop with no Microsoft software on it (unless Stuart Cohen’s right…). It’s everything Windows ISVs have been asking (or complaining about) for years. Finally Microsoft isn’t determining what icons are on the desktop, bundling its own competing software on every desktop, or wooing customers away from you daily with new competitive products…

    I don’t care if Adobe has blogs complaining or asking for advice on how to do Flash Player on Linux. Adobe needs to get a real Linux desktop strategy together or they’ll be the next Symantec… and a real Linux desktop strategy is far more than just Flash Player 9.

    Sorry for being harsh…. I’m just frustrated by the lack of true leadership from application providers who stand to get all the benefit. Heck, they could even stop complaining about Mac/Intel performance not matching PowerPC and run their apps on PowerPC Linux.

    This is competitive strategy 101 – I’m not sure where Adobe’s management team is at on this (maybe they’re hatching a master plan now… but I’ve heard enough to feel they’re not). I’d love to have a dialogue with an executive over there.

    BTW, this is my explicit personal viewpoint/rant and not that of my employer.

  2. slow news day yesterday — your post prompted me to go bug adobe 😉

  3. Xlib is love. Wait, no, actually its a festering pile of hate. Ah well, some day toker is gonna finish those xcb.net bindings ( http://www.ndesk.org/xnb ).

    If they really wanted to be cross platform, they could write Flash ontop of SDL. =-]

  4. I don’t think you can blame Adobe too much for not dipping its toes a little more into Linux/Unix [though I’d really like to see them port Acrobat to Solaris x86]. I wouldn’t say it’s an incredibly easy platform to write to, especially given the content of the Penguin.swf blog – I’m much more appreciative of the slow careful choices they are making. My experiences of API use and standardization is that Linux is generally trying to rush too many things out the door, when really a slow evolving approach seems all the more wiser. Maybe it’s the Vista window opportunity that’s causing all this rush.

  5. Mike: understand the harshness not to mention the frustration, but frankly i’d much rather have Adobe work with the community than set out on their own and reinvent APIs and so on. not sure if that’s what you were advocating, but just in case wanted to be clear on that.

    as far as greater Linux desktop efforts, that was something i stressed to one of the private commenters in an email; there is opportunity there, but i’m not sure it’s perceived.

    stacy: thx for keeping it top of mind, stacy – every little bit helps 😉

    rektide: SDL – wow, haven’t heard that one in a while.

    Glynn: it really isn’t that i disagree with the notion that the API situation on Linux is hugely complicated – a confirmation of Baus’ “Linux is Not Simple” argument. it’s more that if you are a platform provider, in my mind you have an obligation to support the platforms that you choose with minimal lag time from one platform to another. if Sun, for example, released Java for Windows and Apple, and the Linux version was over 2 years behind people would scream bloody murder. that’s the catch to being a platform provider.

    nobody ever said it was easy, but the obligation is there.

  6. Sorry if I missed clear communication on that one but I definitely wasn’t advocating they go out on their own and invent something new (inhouse or pushout). I was advocating that they take a leadership position in the community rather than sitting back and waiting for the community to invent/create what Adobe needs. Does Adobe have any representation in Project Portland?

    And I don’t agree that it’s that more difficult to write applications for Linux desktop environments. IBM embarked to put Notes on Linux and picked Eclipse RCP to do it – and delivered it a full year ahead of plan…. the technologies are out there.

  7. stephen o’grady:

    If only flash on Linux were only two years behind it’s Windows and Mac counterparts, it’s actually five years behind because Adobe have expressed no apparent interest in fixing a bug with Flash and HTML layers, meaning that many of the sites made in the last few years are unusable on Linux.

    Mozilla have come to the party by fixing the problems that prevented Flash from operating properly, but it’s been more than a year since that fix hit trunk and was ready for Adobe to test against. We’re now seeing another major release of Flash which doesn’t bring parity to Linux systems, which means we’re in for at least another two years of no parity for Linux systems.

    Fortunately open source developers working on a Flash reimplementation called swfdec managed to fix this problem in only a few weeks, so it’s possible to get a version created competent programmers in spite of Adobe’s desire that we be saddled with the incompetence of their one-man Flash Linux development team.

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