Adobe's Flash of Insight

Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE  ) ain't going down without a fight.

Adobe's market-defining Flash platform, which powers the majority of all online video sites and lots of other applications , is in danger of becoming irrelevant as fresh Web programming standards take hold. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) already lets you watch some YouTube videos without Flash, for example. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) has never offered a Flash player for its popular iPhone and iPod product lines, and the iPad will be Flash-free as well.

But the next version of Flash comes with some very significant changes that may keep Adobe in the game for the long run. Unlike earlier versions, where the inferior Flash Lite was required for mobile environments (and not supported by many phones), Flash 10.1 offers the same player experience across all platforms and looks like it will be rapidly adopted.

And that's another key point: This Flash version runs on Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows, Apple's Mac OS, Google Android, Nokia's (NYSE: NOK  ) Symbian, Research In Motion’s (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) BlackBerry, Palm's (Nasdaq: PALM  ) , WebOS, and eventually Windows Mobile as well. The only big name that's missing is the iPhone operating system. For that, Adobe's upcoming Flash development tool lets you write Flash-based applications and then export them as iPhone apps with a few simple clicks.

The long-term vision is to provide a unified environment for programmers everywhere using the company’s AIR runtime -- write once, deploy to any device you like. Sun Microsystems did this with Java years ago, and that platform is still very much alive: Your cell phone probably runs Java applications even if it isn't a smartphone, and there are enterprise-class business applications built on the Java framework as well.

Adobe's platform-agnostic strategy makes too much sense to fail. Once again, I see value in the $3.4 billion buyout of Flash designer Macromedia. Is this unified cross-platform strategy enough to save Flash? I think so, but your mileage may vary. Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Microsoft and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple and Adobe Systems are Motley Fool Stock Advisor choices. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2010, at 5:46 PM, SeekTheFire wrote:

    I welcome the demise of Flash. Over the years, I have had many flash issues with different browsers. I'm not a techie, I just want it to work. In 2010, web video should not require a separate plug-in piece of software. It should be built in, ready to go. HTML5 seems like a natural evolution. What was once a fancy high tech add on is now a part of the system users don't have to even think about. Apple is just ahead of the wave. Here's to seamless video playback over the internet that is invisible and built in.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2010, at 6:22 PM, marv08 wrote:

    There is no such thing as an "unified cross-platform strategy". Platforms differ, mainly in design and operation. And people demand applications to act accordingly. A cross-platform app is always the least desirable option. Cross-platform tools make sense in special areas, like e.g. system administration in mixed network environments, or to quickly visualize some data, like election results or surveys for a broad audience. The benefits (time and cost) can outweigh the caveats in these scenarios. If somebody wants to sell me an application, he/she has to provide a native application supporting the look and feel and usage patterns of my platform.

    So far Adobe's promises for improvements are nothing but vaporware. They have not improved their runtime environments for Mac OS X or Linux at all (they simply suck), and the current mobile versions only succeed at turning every mobile into a pocket warmer, as long as the battery lasts that is. Apple rightfully saves its customers from Flash and the programmers working on Nokia's N900 browser have recently removed Flash support, because it "ruins the browsing experience". You can't make a product by issuing press releases...

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2010, at 8:02 PM, Smorgasbord1 wrote:

    I agree there's a lot to learn by comparing Adobe and Flash to Sun Microsystems and Java, but none of it supports the author's intent. Just as Java's continued success didn't stop Sun Microsystem from going down the tubes (with the stock declining from $250 to $4 over the last decade), Flash's success (if it continues) won't help Adobe. Both products are free to use and there just isn't enough money to be made on selling development tools.

    And then there's the very real threat of HTML5. Many sites use Flash just to play videos. HTML5's video tag is supported in all but one of the popular browsers, and web sites like YouTube and Hula that were once Flash-centric now do not require Flash.

    The handwriting's on the wall. Perhaps the article should have been called "Adobe's Flash in the Pan."

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2010, at 7:32 AM, markm72homeruns wrote:

    As usual people make simplistic arguments. HTML 5 is not going to kill flash or silverlight. It is still years away from being a full spec. It has the inherent browser implementation problems as well as a codec issue where they are now fighting over which codecs to support. Many companies still run IE6 because a lot of their software does not work on the newest browsers. Go get a clue before making stupid arguments.

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