Google’s burden of Flash
Thu, Apr 22, 10
Vic Gundotra spent over 15 years at Microsoft, becoming General Manager of Platform Evangelism to lock developers into that company’s proprietary APIs. In 2007 he joined Google and is now Vice President of Developer Products.
At Google his job is to get developers to support Google’s search and advertising businesses — which are anything but open or transparent — by promoting “open” technologies that lock into Google properties in somewhat opaque but forceful ways. A layer of misdirection has to be carefully laid out and Google has to be seen on the side of angels so that developers and consumers alike must not spend too much time thinking about just how un-open Google’s search and ad cashcows really are.
Things that interfere with this business model must be dealt with decisively, even if it costs billions. For example, on Microsoft driven mobile devices Bing is the likely search engine or on iPhone OS driven devices native apps are the direct conduit to information, both denying Google the ability to monetize search. Not good.
The holy fight
So Gundotra spent much of 2009 promoting the general proposition that the days of desktop software, proprietary technologies, native mobile apps and any number of development and deployment strategies that can have potentially adverse impact on Google cashcows were unholy [emp. mine]:
• Classic Gundotra evangelism from Google’s I/O 2009 developer conference:
Bet on the web…Its rate of innovation has dramatically accelerated over the past 12 months, giving rise to an open web platform that’s fundamentally more capable and more sophisticated than even a year ago. The combination of HTML 5, a vibrant developer community, and the pervasiveness of modern web browsers is delivering a programming model and an end-user experience that will surprise and delight people.
• Pitching HTML5 to Tim O’Reilly at Web 2.0 in 2009 (midway in the video) by showing how Google turned an iPhone native app via HTML5 to an Android web app:
• Gundotra’s Google I/O 2009 keynote clearly had an effect on O’Reilly:
“Never underestimate the web,” says Gundotra…he goes on to tell the story of a meeting he remembers when he was VP of Platform Evangelism at Microsoft five years ago. “We believed that web apps would never rival desktop apps. There was this small company called Keyhole, which made this most fantastic geo-visualization software for Windows. This was the kind of software we always used to prove to ourselves that there were things that could never be done on the web.” A few months later, Google acquired Keyhole, and shortly thereafter released Google Maps with satellite view.
“We knew then that the web had won,” he said. “What was once thought impossible is now commonplace.”Google doesn’t want to repeat that mistake, and as a result, he said, “we’re betting big on HTML 5.“
• During a panel at Mobilebeat 2009, Gundotra was unambiguous about Google’s long(er) term open vs. closed strategy:
“We believe the web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters and certainly that’s where Google is investing.”
That was then, this is now.
Google’s platform Android is now competing against Apple’s iPhone OS platform, currently as an underdog. It appears that Google needs a checklist of items that Apple devices don’t or won’t do to differentiate itself and solicit developers’ attention. Flash to the rescue!
So Google brings in another actor to the stage, Andy Rubin, Vice President of Engineering on Android, with a post at Adobe Featured Blogs no less:
Partnerships have been at the very heart of Android, the first truly open and comprehensive mobile platform…Google is working to enable an open ecosystem for the mobile world by creating a standard, open mobile software platform…Google is happy to be partnering with Adobe to bring the full web… [emp. mine]
Which neatly echoes what Adobe’s Mike Chambers was orchestrating the same day:
I think that the closed system that Apple is trying to create is bad for the industry, developers, and ultimately consumers, and that is not something that I want to actively promote…We are at the beginning of a significant change in the industry, and I believe that ultimately open platforms will win out over the type of closed, locked-down platform that Apple is trying to create.
Alice in Wonderland
We’ve come full circle: Google positions itself as the champion of “open web” (because it’s good for its own business), promotes HTML5 (because it’s the vehicle to get there) but comes across a formidable competitor in Apple and finds itself at a disadvantage. What to do? Why, let’s promote the very un-open and proprietary Flash, as a purely cynical competitive bludgeon against Apple. Never mind what our General Manager of Platform Evangelism Gundotra has been telling the world for the past year. Business is business.
This, of course, isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed naked displays of Google’s hypocrisy. Despite all sorts of criticism at the time, Google did go into business in China for commercial expediency, then feigned shock for having discovered there was censorship. Just like when it grafted the intrusive Google Buzz on top of the widely used Gmail without opt-in to quickly build traction even if it knew it would expose millions of users’ privacy, then blamed it first on users’ lack of understanding and subsequently on lack of external testing.
Comes a fork
Indeed, “we are at the beginning of a significant change in the industry” as Adobe’s Chambers says. And Google has a historic opportunity and responsibility (to its own incessant “open web” rhetoric) to let Flash die on its legacy vine. We do not get progress by blindly (and in Google’s case expediently) catering to legacy. That’s precisely why Apple is unique in the industry. It introduces and promotes new technologies by “killing” the old: from floppy disks to physical keyboard and stylus on mobiles…and now Flash.
This isn’t news to Google, however. It recently killed the IE 6 browser. Google knows “full web” is not the same as “open web”. Surely, there are tens of millions Microsoft IE 6 and Silverlight users on the web. A “full web” would require support for those as well as myriad other technologies. How come Google is not promoting Microsoft properties in the name of “full web”? Obviously, Adobe/Flash poses little competition to Google, unlike Apple/iPhones and iPads or Microsoft/Bing and Office.
As the most important web company on the planet, Google has been given a unique chance to display leadership: does it really want an “open web” or is it just interested in promoting a momentary “competitive” advantage against Apple? Does Google believe in what its General Manager of Platform Evangelism has been selling developers? Or are we back to “Don’t be evil, as long as it’s profitable”?
Google’s final embrace of Flash will tell.