Runtime wars (1): Does Apple have an answer to Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX?

Adobe’s got Flash, Microsoft Silverlight and Sun JavaFX. What does Apple have in this multimedia runtime war of information and entertainment delivery?

On the surface, nothing. Some might argue that QuickTime is already the answer; Flash and Silverlight are finally catching up. Further, if Apple can convince Google’s YouTube to re-encode their video inventory in QuickTime’s primary codec H.264/AVC and if the new Flash player will also feature the industry standard H.264, why bother with anything else?

Because more than just video is at stake here. Surely, both Silverlight and the latest Flash offer high-resolution video, but they also deliver (rich media) applications.

Adobe Flash

Yahoo Maps done in Flash/Flex

Adobe, for example, can deliver the core of a reasonably non-trivial application targeting Flash runtime intact across platforms to web browsers (Flex), desktop (AIR) and even mobile devices (Flash Lite). Ditto, eventually, for Silverlight and JavaFX.

Microsoft Silverlight

Click to enlarge

Microsoft’s Silverlight can not only play HD 720p video but also includes CoreCLR, the .NET Common Language Runtime, so that applications can be written in any .NET language and run on Windows, Mac OS X and soon Linux. While Silverlight can be seen as an extension of Windows Presentation Foundation, a .NET 3.0 layer, it also supports fast compiled/just-in-time JavaScript and Ruby, Python and VBx.

Sun JavaFX

Click to go to Sun JavaFX site

Not to be outdone by Adobe and Microsoft, Sun recently introduced JavaFX, JavaFX Script, JavaFX Mobile. Based on Java, these technologies cover nearly the same domain as Flash and Silverlight.

Powerful runtimes

This new breed of network-aware platforms are capable of interacting with remote application servers and databases, parsing and emitting XML, crunching client-side scripts, rendering complex multimedia layouts, running animations, displaying vector graphics and overlaid videos, using sophisticated interface controls and pretty much anything desktop applications are able to do.

It is said that Adobe bought Macromedia to acquire Flash, whose runtime is likely the most ubiquitous plugin on the web. Fairly effortless to upgrade, the Flash runtime is a tremendous asset for Adobe and Flash/Flex/AIR developers to distribute their rich media applications.

Indeed the absence of Flash on the iPhone has been one of its most talked about shortcomings. Everyone expects Flash to arrive soon. Walt Mossberg at All Things Digital had said in July that the iPhone Flash plugin was imminent:

Apple says it plans to add that plug-in through an early software update, which I am guessing will occur within the next couple of months.

Yet four months and a couple of updates later, there’s no Flash support. Nor any support for Silverlight or JavaFX on any of Apple’s post-PC devices: AppleTV, iPhone and iPod touch. Is there more than the current absence of an SDK involved here? Mere Apple secrecy? NIMBY? Is Apple satisfied by merely having them on Mac OS X and not worried about its post-PC devices? Or does Apple have something up its corporate sleeve to counter this tsunami of powerful cross-platform runtimes?

The answer is in “Runtime wars (2): Apple’s answer to Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX,” here tomorrow.


A longer discussion on Core Animation and its significance is in:
What’s in Leopard for Designers (1): Core Animation

11 thoughts on “Runtime wars (1): Does Apple have an answer to Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX?

  1. how ironic.

    apple cancelled Kaleida (a joint venture with IBM) in the mid-90’s cuz the suits cod not imagine a marketspace for online interactivity.

    like so much of the other intellectual property at apple hat has been squandered by Steve Jobs when he returned in ’97 (also cancelling the ground-breaking Newton pda, then reversing himself by trying to buy the Palm PDA, then being forced to play defensive catch-up by slapping together the iPhone) … apple could have had a ten year lead in multimedia if Steve Jobs had not so hastily squandered the kaleida investment in a nex-gen object-oriented media platform!

    indeed Jobs even spiked a consolidatation (albeit scaled-back version) of it’s existing media/interactive assets (QuickTime + hypercard) literally just months before it’s scheduled roll-out! In doing so, Jobs also eliminated apple’s chance to just keep up with advances (kaleida would have been the leap-frogging game-changer).

    apple has simply been lucky/fortunate that it’s competitors have always been so dumb & slow that apple can afford to sit out of a market for a decade and not be decimated along the way!

    kaleida RIP.

    ps: kaleida was by no means perfect – eg the insanely stupid choices of building it’s own object model that missed two key points: a) it was redundent reinvention of the wheel because its own in-house objects-in-c duplicated what objectiveC could have delivered off-the-shelf, with 10 years of production-quality experience at nextstep under it’s belt; and b) the total lack of planning for integration with SOMobjects, the far superior runtime from IBM that was at the heart apple’s own opendoc component model.

    these and many other management flaws created obstacles for kaleida’s success – but instead of recognizing the chance to seize strategic advantage by fixing them, Jobs simply allowed apple’s media technogy to drift/coast for a decade.

  2. Pingback: Runtime wars (2): Apple’s answer to Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX « counternotions

  3. A few observations:

    1) from the USER perspective, it would be great if Flash could just disappear into a black hole. 99% of Flash (excluding YouTube) seems to be devoted to increasingly annoying and intrusive ads.

    2) YouTube seems to be heading towards H.264. H.264 (and to a lesser extent, its bastard cousin, DiVX) are magnificent codecs.

    3) You can do a whole heck of a lot via AJAX; javascript, CSS, HTML. Look at Flickr– they use no Flash, but have an incredibly rich, cross-platform Web 2.0 community.

    4) Scripting languages are a security risj

    5) Silverlight is a a non-starter; web development is done on Macintoshes and there is no SDK for Silverlight on the Mac. MSFT can be phenomenally stupid sometimes. Did I say “sometimes”? Furthermore, it has no advantages over Flash. Redmond cultists will, no doubt, tell you that version 3 will bake cookies for you and will bring about the Second Coming of Zoroaster, but let’s be serious. Sometimes a headstart– like we see with Flash gives you an advantage. During the MS-Netscape wars, MSFT tried adding all sorts of c**p to HTML. Almost nothing “stuck”. In fact, IE doesn’t even recognize decent CSS support even to this day– MSFt got in over their heads.

    6)Did I mention H.264 was a REALLY good codec? And a recognized standard?

  4. At WWDC QuickTime/JavaScript was presented as the rich interactive content framework for the web.

    I haven’t seen any follow-up about it after that, but I expect it will be coming.

  5. Well, they seem to be advancing HTML and CSS as the way to animate and perform several (but obviously not all) functions that Flash and Silverlight perform.

    See for examples of what Apple are doing.

  6. Peter, QuickTime has been reduced to a playback platform, its animation, interactive and vector capabilities long de-emphasized. QT is absolutely no match for Flash or Silverlight.

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