Adobe fires back at Apple with letter on ‘open markets’


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Who doesn’t love some bickering between multibillion-dollar companies?

Adobe Systems returned fire on Apple on Thursday in an increasingly vociferous battle between the technology giants.


A couple of weeks after Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs published his ‘Thoughts on Flash’ on his company’s website -- a 1,671-word piece lambasting Adobe’s industry-leading Flash interactive Web plug-in -- Adobe’s founders followed suit with ‘Our thoughts on open markets.’

Signed by co-founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock, the eight-paragraph letter doesn’t specifically name Apple until the third-to-last sentence. It says that ‘closed systems’ -- in other words, Apple’s App Store -- will find that ‘their success will come at the expense of the very creativity and innovation that has made the Internet a revolutionary force.’

‘No company -- no matter how big or how creative -- should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the web,’ Geschke and Warnock wrote.

Criticism about a lack of openness in Flash is just one of the many shots Jobs fired at Adobe platform in his letter. ‘Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary,’ he wrote. ‘They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc.’

But the Adobe founders’ letter wasn’t a direct response to Jobs’, according to David Wadhwani, Adobe’s vice president and general manager of its platform business unit.

‘We think it’s really important for the industry to have a discussion about the key question about who controls the Web,’ Wadhwani said Thursday in a phone interview. ‘We believe it’s counter to all of the tenets of the innovation to have a single entity control how content is created.’

Hey, that’s basically what Jobs said about Adobe controlling the Web’s rich-media content with Flash.

Adobe addresses many of Jobs’ criticisms of Flash in a page on its site called ‘The truth about Flash.’ Not unlike Apple’s ‘iPad ready’ page, Adobe starts out by boasting about the prevalence of the plug-in.

Wadhwani was more direct in his comments about Jobs’ letter, calling it ‘misinformation.’

Last month, Apple caused a panic among some developers, including publishing powerhouse Conde Nast. Apple revised its developer agreement when it unveiled the next version of its mobile operating system, requiring apps to be written directly in the system’s native Objective-C language. Those planning to use software that Adobe was building to translate Flash programs to iPhone and iPad applications instantly saw those prospects disappear.

‘Apple has come out with a closed ecosystem where they are telling developers what tools they are allowed to use and not allowed to use to create content,’ Wadhwani said Thursday. ‘They are capricious in the way that they accept content or reject content into their application store.’

While Adobe focused its criticisms on the App Store, Apple remained firm in its stance that technologies on the Web should use open-source standards.

‘We believe in open Web standards too,’ Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said in a phone interview Thursday, ‘like HTML5. Flash is not an open Web standard like HTML.’

Wadhwani pointed out that parts of the source code for the Flash protocol are open, contradicting what he called ‘misinformation [Jobs] spread in his letter.’ Third-party software makers build alternatives to the Flash player and program creation tool.

However, Wadhwani conceded that because Adobe by far leads the pack of Flash software distributors and maintains the Flash browser plug-in, his company generates virtually all the new features. But Adobe does take feedback from other Flash developers into account, he said.

Apple’s Safari Web browser for Mac and Windows supports the Flash plug-in. Google’s Chrome browser distributes an updated version of Flash with its program; no separate download is required. The next version of Google’s Android mobile operating system will support Flash -- unlike the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Adobe’s stock was down slightly on Thursday. Even if things don’t work out for Adobe, Geschke, the co-founder and co-chairman, told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that the success of Flash isn’t crucial to his company’s success.

-- Mark Milian