Thoughts on Stuff and Things + Adobe

So it has been quite a week…but I wanted to pass along my thoughts to everyone in the community around the news from Adobe.

First off, I want to thank everyone for all of their messages, e-mails, texts and thoughts on my behalf. Leaving a company you love is always hard, being laid off from a company you love is even harder. I was very shocked on Tuesday when I heard the news about my fate, but you have all helped me get through the week and I am very excited about my future and the opportunities that lie ahead. Layoffs suck, but they aren’t personal—they are business, and while you and I may not agree with the decision, it was made for business reasons, and I’m not angry with Adobe or any of my former co-workers and peers.

Whenever you get laid off, there is always a mixture of emotions. Happiness, relief, grief, anger and fear. That is hard enough, but when you combine that with Adobe’s news on Wednesday, the way it was communicated, and the community reaction, the emotions were exponentially magnified. Now, that being said, while I want to just sit on the sidelines (or my couch) and tune it all out, I can’t—because of my love for this technology and the community that I have tried to support for many years.

I also find myself in this weird middle ground. I am no longer officially working as a community manager or product manager at Adobe; but there are NDA restrictions that prevent me from sharing the how and why of the week’s news. While I might not have my Adobe badge anymore, that in my eyes does not take away any of my responsibility as a leader in the community and speak on your behalf to the stakeholders that are at Adobe. Which brings me to an important point—the product managers, evangelists, community managers, and developer relations team members found out the news and the way it was communicated at almost the same exact time you did. They are wrestling with the news and your reaction in real time—so please be supportive of them as they dig through everything. They really really have your back and are working hard to bring your reactions and feedback to the people that need to hear it.

So, on to the news itself:

First, let’s look at the facts of yesterday’s announcement. The announcement stated that Flash Player for mobile browsers was no longer going to be developed internally, and the technology and product teams at Adobe are focusing on Adobe AIR applications for application development, and continued investment in the desktop browser plug-in.

From an engineering perspective, getting one platform to behave nicely is hard enough, but when you consider the number of devices, operating system fragmentation, and wide range of device hardware, it was going to be a huge mountain to climb. The Flash Player and AIR teams implemented a number of changes to how they make their products and how they release them to try and meet this demand; but when you look at it from a ROI perspective, the investment outweighed the benefit.

Now those are the facts of the announcement—the part that was missing and was handled poorly by communications was around the technologies and roadmaps that go into it. The flow of the information started with a press release from Adobe, that went to the press who want to get attention from their readers, so they linked the “reason” to the Steve Jobs message around Flash, which was read by all of our clients, investors, backers, and then ultimately, us. All of these individuals contacted you, the designers and developers of the platform, and wanted an explanation; however Adobe didn’t prepare the community with information that would be helpful to defend our technology choices and expertise. This then compromised our integrity to our clients; the factual technology announcement didn’t matter—it was communication flow that backed the community into a corner.

The other side of this is the perception and the fundamental value proposition of Flash: to normalize user experiences across platforms, browsers and devices and make it more efficient for designers and developers to create amazing stuff. This gap of not having the mobile player directly hits that value proposition.

Now, let’s look at this from another point of view. HTML5 on desktop browsers is a mess—low adoption, inconsistencies, etc. On mobile, the support is far better and consistent, but the app technologies and languages are the biggest hurdle now between Objective-C, C#, Java and C++. So for Adobe, the choice was to continue to help normalize the developer experience for desktop browsers, and offer the same benefit for app development using AIR. With HTML5 being “better” (not perfect—I know better than to say that), the benefit and more profound impact that Adobe could bring to the community was better tooling support for HTML5 and to have a seat at the table for those that are charting its path. That is what has driven new products like Edge and Muse that I am proud to have played a hand in their early days.

The challenge that Adobe faces with Flash, Flex and AIR is to communicate a roadmap that is reliable and long term to the community to understand and trust and take it to their clients and know that they have Adobe’s 100% commitment behind it. It is this roadmap that I feel will be difficult to deliver, since for a number of the community that work with enterprise know—the roadmap needs to be long term between three to five years. In addition, it needs to be within the mobile and device ecosystem, which has become so volatile that any roadmap will need to have significant shifts and changes since the platforms themselves haven’t provided clear roadmaps of their own. It is the silence around the lack of a road map that has been deafening—but the teams are working hard to give you the information you need to do your job and run your businesses.

Last week I started a new semester teaching ActionScript 3.0 at San Francisco State University. One of the first things I said, and I said that my recent book reflect this, was that the biggest opportunity for new developers to the Flash Platform was in making apps for the smartphone and tablet markets through multiple app stores and ecosystems. The announcements this week are a validation to that belief. In a couple of weeks, I’m also going to start my new HTML5 course where I will be featuring Adobe Edge and JavaScript instruction for creating content for browsers. As an educator and a community leader, this is where I see technology going.

Say what you will about the way the message was communicated, but know that the teams at Adobe believe in you, support you and go to bat for you every day.

I know that I do…

…and always will.

32 thoughts on “Thoughts on Stuff and Things + Adobe

  1. There are a lot of rumours floating around. Adobe could start to fix the damage done to the community by putting those to rest. What is the Flex/AIR roadmap? What is the status of the Flash Pro team and the roadmap for that product? What is the status of the community program with respect to UGMs, ACPs and Educations? Thanks for your thoughts Doug. Wish you all the best, especially with your class this weekend.

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  3. One of the things that really is not clear is the relationships between AIR and the Flash Player which gets muddier with the recent announcement by Adobe.

    As Adobe always put it, AIR runtime contains in fact the code base of the Flash Player and I guess AIR for mobile platforms contains the mobile optimized version of the Flash Player as well.

    Now if the latter is true and the mobile version of Flash Player is no longer maintained, how can AIR be kept up to date with ever chaining mobile platforms? Flash in order to run as a plug-in just need to expose only certain APIs, which they never changed in the past 10 years, so from this point of view, turning the code base of the stand-alone player into a plug is not really a big job (and Adobe had all the experience to forecast the amount of work required, as they have been doing it since the Nokia days).

    Can anybody from Adobe shed some light?

    1. Guessing wildly I would think that they now focus on compiling directly to native code instead of relying on a runtime. That is what AIR needs to be competetive with technologies like Unity.
      A runtime results in worse performance, larger files or even requiring the users to install the runtime separately.

      If that is not the case and they plan to still have a runtime for mobile, the decision to abandon the Flash Player makes no sense whatsoever.

  4. ” This gap of not having the mobile player directly hits that value proposition.”

    This statement is exactly why Adobe will lose a lot of support from companies and developers that can no longer claim the “write once, deploy everywhere” mantra. I have been defending the Flash Platform for over 12 years. And all this time, I have sung the praises of the tooling and ubiquity of the player all the while being met by standards zealots and script kiddies telling me my technology of choice has no place on the web. And now I have Adobe doing the same thing. Even if they say it is just the mobile web browser, it is enough of a hit to the Flash Platform and community, that I am having a hard time continuing to wave the “red and white” flag.

    For me, that flag may have just turned white.



    1. It was never “write once, deply everywhere” since iOS wasn’t supporting mobile flash and Microsoft clearly stated they will not support it in mobile Windows either. Those are huge platforms that weren’t supported. Making mobile Flash player redundant in the light of these things is a smart move. This can jump start AIR to the right direction instead of clinging to mobile FP.

  5. A fantastic post and echos my thoughts and that of many developers. The community team at Adobe are fantastic and it is a pity that they have to deal with the consequences of a badly communicated message. Thank you for all the hard work you have done and best wishes for the future.

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    “In addition, Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it. Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?”

    Doug Winnie, you’re a liar. HTML5 adoption is strong on the desktop and it’s not a mess, just because you’re not running the latest version of the browser doesn’t mean you know shit about HTML5 browsers.

    Posted from Firefox 11.0

    1. HTML5 adoption with the latest generation of browsers is excellent, but when coupled with consumers and enterprises that are still on Windows XP either because they haven’t seen the need to upgrade or because of an IT standarization policy, it significantly impacts HTML5’s ability to serve these markets. Enterprise applications are a huge opportunity to anyone that can provide a consistent experience across all enterprise supported platforms which for the short term at least. means IE7 and IE8 support requirements–and as we know, these browsers have poor or completely absent support for HTML5.

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