Thursday, April 29, 2010

Look who's whining now?

Steve Jobs posted on Apple's web site today an unprecedented diatribe on Adobe's Flash technology. I know a lot of folks like to revel in the Flash bashing, and worship the flip flops Steve walks in. But I think it's way over the top when you are in a strong market position and yet feel the need to rip into another company and denigrate their technology. It's particularly true when the remarks are mostly wrong. What this really is is politics: one party labeling and name calling to make the other party look bad and deflect attention.

Jobs states that Adobe has been late to port their apps to Cocoa. It so happens that's also true of many of Apple's own software products. Finder only finally shipped on Cocoa in late 2009, and iTunes hasn't made the switch yet?!? That's just how development cycles go. Why try to spin this as if Adobe is somehow not being a good citizen towards Apple?

He claims that development environments that abstract the OS don't take full advantage of the OS. Well many apps don't need to (there are some pretty horrific apps on the app store). Take iTunes, as an example, which is off the same code base and runs on both Mac and Windows. Actually maybe it's iTunes performance on Windows that makes Steve make this generalized assumption?

He says that Flash isn't for multi-touch (or touch). Why not? Why didn't Apple work with Adobe on that one? In fact Adobe is working on touch, and you've already seen demos of this, and you'll see it in releases later this year. Regardless, there aren't really any web sites that have touch capability, and that is where Flash is used, and yet the iPad is for browsing the web, so why single Flash out here? [Read more about Flash and touch]

Jobs says a lot of content is going to h.264 so you don't need Flash, then says that a lot of Flash content isn't h.264 and burns compute cycles. Which is it Steve? Why not work this from a different angle? Work with Adobe to improve the performance of on2 and Sorenson. Then work to encourage hi def content to use h.264 (it could be that most of the on2 and Sorenson is probably older low def anyway).  Or just work with Adobe to disable these video formats. In summary, why don't you work well with others, Steve? What is ever so clear in all of this is that Apple had no intentions ever of working with Adobe on this, so what chance did Adobe have? And so don't blame Adobe on this!

He says that Flash is not open. iPhone OS is open? Do you license them to anyone? Oh, it's only "the web" that is meant to be open. And your web only includes h.264 video. I see. Perhaps this is more about forcing people to develop Apple-specific apps because they can't build rich enough apps in HTML5. And regaining control over video delivery, something that you lost when Flash first introduced video and put the Quicktime, Real Player, Windows Media Player wars behind us.

He whines about Flash crashing. When do most of those crashes occur, Steve? Right after a Mac OS update? Could it be that you are changing code under the hood that ripples up to Flash? Flash tries to use the OS as much as possible. That's why it is able to be as light weight as it is for being a plug-in, but it also makes it susceptible to OS dependencies that can cause it to crash. My personal experience is that Flash does not crash very often, and the crashes do tend to occur more often when the OS is updated.

Steve says that Flash is not secure. Heavens to Betsy, Flash has been on the forefront of both innovative, security-minded features and vulnerability response for years, and is pretty good about getting updates out there. They are popular and so they are a big target. They are not perfect, but then no one is, as apparently QuickTime vulnerabilities account for most of the attacks that are being launched against Apple software. The point is that I am not sure Flash is intrinsically less secure then any other software out there, and Jobs is short an argument.

This is not to say that there aren't things to complain about when it comes to Adobe, and Flash. Or that Jobs doesn't have a business position on excluding Flash. But my post is a response to Jobs' letter and his tactics, and not anything else. It's one thing to exclude Flash on business grounds, it's another to fabricate a story that is harmful in order to justify your position.

Spin things how you like Steve. You're a good politician and adept at deflecting blame. You'll probably succeed for the same reasons that politicians do, and that is that they cater to people who like to take sides. Or maybe people will see through this latest move and start seeing you for the who you are.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Help me understand Facebook and Privacy?

Help me out here. I'm trying to understand how Facebook's new move to share my information with other sites is okay (Hint: I'm not a teenager, so aim your explanation accordingly). Take as an example. I've never explicitly trusted this site with any information. Yet they know the names of my friends, and yet all I did was visit this site? Visit = type URL, click return.

Granted, giving out the names of my friends is not the same as giving out my credit card numbers, but it is still valuable information, right? And is it not just valuable to me, but maybe valuable to my friends as well? Shouldn't they get a say in whether their names can be mined by these sites? Rather, shouldn't I get a say in whether my name gets mined by a site that my friends visit? Is that a stupid question? And yes, I know that Facebook has previously said that my list of friends is public. But I was waiting for the first exploit, not expecting it to come from Facebook itself.

I feel so stupid right now. All those silly ideas I was working on relating to Identity 2.0 and consent to release of information (which never included friends information) were apparently wrong, apparently old fashioned and apparently ideas that belong to people over 45, as one investor pointed out last week at an event I attended.

Apparently there is great goodness that can come from these features. I can now discover the musical tastes of my friends, via services such as Pandora, and so the benefits far outweigh the concerns of the post 45 crowd. The old fashioned idea of asking my friends about their musical tastes just went poof!

Facebook does provide tools to change your privacy settings, but this whole system is opt-in by default. If you look on Facebook's site the privacy settings are explained in words that I suspect most people would not bother to read (including my teenage daughter):

Note the highlighted text. In my settings (shown below), which I get to by clicking the link above, I (don't think I) am not sharing any information with "Everyone".

In addition there is the following setting - not referenced in the above instructions - which should be unchecked:

I confirmed all of the settings above, and yet still knew the names of my friends. Now this I find hard to believe, so I actually think my Dopamine levels are affecting my ability to process these instructions. Otherwise, it almost seems like the privacy controls are broken?

It seems to be that there are several problems here:
  1. Visiting any random site may now expose you to having your information read by that site. Do you generally trust every site to guard your information adequately? I don't. And I don't trust Facebook to make the assessment of which sites to trust.
  2. These sites have access to my information even if my friends visit them?!? Really, I'm struggling with believing this to be an okay scenario.
  3. Default opt-in is not right. How do we protect our children? My daughter thinks it's okay to accept any friend invite (700 and growing) and that she doesn't need to backup her Mac.
  4. The Facebook user interface to opt out of sharing your information is not clean.
  5. I am not even sure that opting out works (as demonstrated by my screenshots above).
  6. You can never opt out of sharing your list of friends
  7. Facebook privacy seems to be eroding
Back to my opening sentence. Help me understand this? I actually do think I am missing something either technical, philosophical, or perhaps being born before Atari and Apple is leaving me at a mental disadvantage.

Update #1:
Check out this good summary of the Facebook changes at

Update #2:
I found yet another Facebook page to change privacy settings. I also started the steps of deactivating my account, and discovered that the user interface that tries to convince you to not deactivate your account is quite a bit better then the privacy settings pages.