Jobs on Flash: Hypocrisy So Thick You Could Cut it with a Knife

Holier-than-thou, an adjective, meaning “marked by an air of superior piety or morality”. Everybody has moments in their life where they get into a “holier-than-thou” attitude, and I think Steve Jobs’ open letter regarding Adobe, and Flash in particular, really fits the bill. There are three specific points I want to address to illustrate just how holier-than-thou, hypocritical, and misleading this letter really is.

Jobs’ letter contains a lot of good points. Flash is indeed a very problematic piece of software; its performance is terrible (although 10.1 improves this), it’s riddled with security issues, and it’s highly unstable. It crashes a lot, eats CPU, and to boot, opens up your machine to all sorts of security nastiness. To make matters worse, it’s proprietary and not a web standard in the true sense of the word.

That being said, Jobs’ letter is incredibly two-faced, hypocritical, and very misleading. It’s clearly a marketing trick to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers, and while that’s okay (they’re in it to make money, after all), it’s our job to remove that wool from our eyes. Just as we geeks immediately understand Microsoft’s ulterior motive in licensing patents to Linux/Android vendors, we should not just accept Jobs’ words either.

There are three points I wish to address specifically to illustrate just how hypercritical the letter is: Carbon, H264, and iTunes on Windows (or iTunes’ non-existence on Linux). The order is entirely random, and there’s no deeper meaning behind it.

Carbon

In his letter, Jobs derided Adobe for not adopting new technologies quick enough, pointing specifically towards how long it has taken Adobe to leave Carbon behind. It wasn’t until the recently released Creative Suite version 5.0 that Adobe switched its applications over to Cocoa. Considering how old Cocoa is, it’s indeed about time.

But then, why did it take Apple so many years to transition the prime Mac OS X application, the Finder, to Cocoa? The Cocoa variant of the Finder shipped with Snow Leopard, which was released August 28, 2009. To make matters worse – iTunes still hasn’t been re-written in Cocoa, and is still shipping in all its 32bit Carbon goodness.

You could argue that surely, iTunes has no benefit from switching to Carbon and 64bit, and I’ll grant you that one. However, Apple has one massive application that is still fully Carbon and 32bit, an application that is very similar in scope to Adobe’s product offerings: Final Cut Pro is still written in Carbon, and is still 32bit. In other words, it’s okay for Apple to neglect Cocoa for Final Cut Pro, but it’s not okay for Adobe to take their time.

I think the prime reason it is taking/has taken both Adobe and Apple so long to transition these massively complex applications over to Cocoa is quite a simple one: it’s really hard. These aren’t Chess or TextEdit we’re talking about, people – we’re looking at what is probably a massive amount of complicated code.

It’s not just Adobe that has taken its sweet time to transition to Cocoa. Microsoft Office:Mac 2008 is also written in Carbon, and heck, even Apple itself is still in the middle of transitioning to Cocoa.

H264

We’ve talked about this on OSNews in quite some detail already. H264 is no better than Flash. This video codec is proprietary and patented up the wazzoo, and therefore, wholly incompatible with the very concept of an open standard. To make matters much, much worse, the licensing body that oversees H264, the MPEG-LA, has stated in no uncertain terms that they will not hesitate to sue ordinary users for using the video codec.

Why, then, is Apple, in a letter full of talk of openness and standards, promoting this closed codec, a codec that will once again shackle the web to a proprietary technology, just as we’re busy breaking free from Flash? The answer is easy: follow the money.

Apple is part of the MPEG-LA, as is Microsoft. This means that the more people license H264, the more money Apple and Microsoft get, since their patents are in the patent pool. Steve Jobs might go all starry-eyed and gush about how much Apple believes in open standards and the open web, but just as with any other company – Adobe, Microsoft – this support ends where Apple’s wallet begins.

That is the sole reason why they’re promoting H264, disguising it as a web standard. As you can see, I can get very worked up over this. At least when Microsoft is talking about standards, everybody knows it’s out of self-interest; we geeks know Microsoft, and none of us will fall for that trap any longer. This, however, is not yet the case with Apple – people still have this 1984-esque perception of Apple being the rebel, and this leads to people accepting H264 without question.

This is dangerous, and will cripple the web once again. And yes, I will hammer on this subject on OSNews for as long as it takes. I have no problems whatsoever with proprietary software or technologies (heck, my media centres both run Windows 7, and I love my iPhone), but when it comes to the web, I am nearly militant about keeping it open. I still remember the days when not having Flash was a major problem on many alternative operating systems, and just as we are starting to break free from it, Apple and Microsoft come in, pull the wool over everybody’s eyes, and shackle the web to yet another proprietary technology.

I don’t want to boot up Haiku R1 only to not be able to watch video content on the web. It brings back too many unpleasant memories of yore.

iTunes

This one is strongly related to the Carbon aspect. Jobs’ letter talks about how it’s bad for a platform if developers use cross-platform technologies, and more specifically, that Adobe has been slow in adopting new technologies in Mac OS X, with Carbon of course being the prime example.

And yet, without any sense of shame, Apple ships iTunes for Windows. iTunes for Windows is by far one of the worst pieces of (major) Windows software you can possibly think of. It does not integrate with Windows in any way, does not use any of the advanced technologies present since Windows Vista (refined in Windows 7), it’s incredibly slow, it crashes a lot, it still hasn’t been ported to 64bit (despite consumer 64bit versions of Windows existing since 2005) and in general, sucks harder than a… No, I’m not going to finish that analogy.

Oh, and of course, it installs a whole boatload of services that run in the background without actually asking you for permission. Install iTunes on Windows, and watch WinPatrol spaz out.

Remind you of anything? Yes, iTunes (and all other Windows software Apple ships) is the Flash of the Windows platform (other than, uh, Flash itself, obviously). The hypocrisy is so thick here you could cut it with a knife. What makes it worse is the situation isn’t getting any better – quite the opposite. Every new version of iTunes for Windows only seems to make it worse instead of better.

I have an iPhone and I love it. However, I will not install iTunes for Windows. I installed it to first set up my iPhone and transfer my CD collection, and then removed it as quickly as I could. I’ll install it again on a Windows machine once iPhone OS 4.0 is released. Point releases be damned.

This actually brings up the last point I wanted to make, yet another point to illustrate the hypocrisy. My main desktop, which I use for everything, has always had Linux installed alongside Windows, but somewhere late last year I realised I didn’t really use Windows any longer, so I decided to just remove it altogether.

This, of course, has cut me off from iTunes (yay!), while also cutting me off from access to my iPhone (boo!). It would be incredibly trivial for Apple to allow people to manage their iPhone’s and iPod’s contents manually through the file manager, but illustrating its love for double standards, Apple refuses to. They want to tie you to iTunes, world’s worst piece of Windows software.

Conclusion

I really dreaded writing this article, since it will surely be construed as me somehow being pro-Microsoft. The issue, however, is that pointing out that Microsoft is two-faced about open standards is about as useful as pointing out that humans need oxygen to live. Stating the obvious is not interesting.

Apple is continuously putting itself out there as the hero of open standards, which is okay. That’s called marketing and there’s nothing wrong with it. Every company does it (Google comes to mind), but the scary thing with Apple is that so many people actually eat this marketing up as fact.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to watch Twin Peaks on one of my Windows 7-powered media centres, while checking my iPhone for messages. I’m nothing if not totally aware of my own hypocrisy.

123 Comments

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