Is Flash one click away from extinction?

Adobe, the giant producer of content handlers like Acrobat, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, illustrator and Flash CS3, has kept its digital technology close to the chest, guarding its intellectual properties with fervour and conviction.This is, of course, understandable, as one can only imagine the enormous investment involved in the development and marketing of premium products like Photoshop, for example. Photoshop doesn’t come cheap. The product’s extended CS3 version retails at over $USD 1000. What was always less acceptable was Adobe’s refusal to allow developers access to its Flash technology.

Powerful and effective, Flash code sits behind many websites – powering menus, animating banners, allowing dynamic interaction through editors and ‘smart’ forms and so on. Flash remains a tool of choice for web designers who use it to help some of their clients who demand bells-and-whistles websites. Adobe’s policy of Flash technology exclusivity means, for example, that search engines were unable to index flash-based websites. This was one of the payoffs in using Flash – you may have a gorgeous site but expect your search engines exposure to be limited.

Some may still remember that, initially, search engines were also unable to access and index PDF files, leaving out a huge chunk of documents created in this format. Happily, this is no longer the case. PDF files can now be indexed and searched like any other document format. Flash technology, however, remained untouchable, at least until Adobe’s July 1st announcement that it will now share its flash technology with Google and Yahoo.

In its press release, Adobe announced that it is “teaming up with search industry leaders to dramatically improve search results of dynamic Web content and rich Internet applications (RIAs). Adobe is providing optimized Adobe Flash Player technology to Google and Yahoo! to enhance search engine indexing of the Flash file format (SWF) and uncover information that is currently undiscoverable by search engines.”

Before we celebrate Adobe’s ascension from run-of-the-mill hardcorp to digital sainthood, we need to look at their action in the context of fast changing realities in the content-driving technology industry.  In a recent posting I looked at Nokia’s brave gambit in buying out fellow shareholders of the Symbian Operating System (OS) and announcing that it intends offering the ubiquitous OS for free. I argued that, far from being charitable, Nokia seeks to entrench its market leading position while it is still ahead of primary rivals like Apple, Google and Microsoft and (so far) distant rivals like Ubuntu. It “donates” its OS in the hope that people who use Symbian already will simply keep using it for free, while handset manufacturers will opt for it in order to save a few millions they pay in OS royalties each year.

The same goes for Adobe – they are as ‘open’ to outside influence as pre-Olympics China. Adobe’s reasons for allowing search engines access is that, unless they make Flash-created websites and content accessible to search engines, site builders will eventually drop Flash (well selling sexy advertisement banners notwithstanding) because un-indexed Flash sites face existence in obscurity, one click away from extinction.

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