Why Flash is Doomed: Warnock is Afraid to Call Jobs

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jan 31, 2010 in Tech |

Flash is Doomed

So I started to think: What would it take to get Flash on the iPad? Seeing that it’s a political situation the clear answer is that the CEO of Adobe needs to make nice with Steve. And then it hit me: Who the hell is the CEO of Adobe? Back in the day THE guy at Adobe was Warnock but that was eons ago — so who is running Adobe today? And much to my shock after doing a Google search I came across the page below and it tells you everything that’s wrong with this picture: There is no strong CEO at Adobe — the company is still in the shadow of Warnock.

The Adobe management team...

In 1982 Dr. John E. Warnock co-founded Adobe with Dr. Charles Geschke and made it big with PostScript which powered the desktop publishing revolution which helped Apple a great deal. The problem was that it helped Apple after Steve Jobs had left the company. Now my guess is that Jobs had a decent relationship with Adobe because NeXT used a PostScript display mechanism and Adobe Illustrator was one of the first apps on the platform (which is now the heart of OS X).

The NeXTcube

Shown above is the NeXT cube which used a PostScript display from Adobe, this cost Jobs quite a bit and may be one of the reasons he likes to own his own core technologies. Below is a photo of Steve Jobs and John Warnock in the 80s.

Steve Jobs and John Warnock in the 80s

Getting back to organizational chart you can see that Warnock is still involved in the company so Shantanu Narayen who is CEO is in the unenviable position of running the company but he still has the two co-founders looking over his shoulders (with all of their history). The result is that not only doesn’t Narayen have a free hand to play with Apple, but he also has the pride of Warnock which becomes a key factor. So why doesn’t Warnock make a move? Well I came across this interview with him, and it looks like he’s vexed about even calling up Steve Jobs:

Knowledge@Wharton: Another company that you have interacted with a long time is Apple. That relationship seems to have ebbed and flowed over the years. They were originally a very close partner — one of your first OEMs [original equipment manufacturers].

Warnock: Yes.

Knowledge@Wharton: But now there is a lot of contention around getting Flash on the iPhone.

Warnock: Oh, yes.

Knowledge@Wharton: Have you talked to Steve Jobs about that?

Warnock: No, I haven’t.

Knowledge@Wharton: Have you thought about calling him?

Warnock: I’ve thought about calling him and saying, “Steve, you know, at this point you want might to engage the partnership again.” Because I think otherwise he is going to get some competitive pressures from outside that he is not going to like.

He has never been great at hitting that middle ground [between] openness and proprietary [products]. He has always seemed to lean to the proprietary side, to want to own everything. I think this is one case where he probably would do better if he didn’t do that.

So essentially you have Warnock throwing in the towel before he’s even made a phone call. The other problem is that Adobe is Warnock’s baby so he’d never even think of trying to sell the company to Apple in a million years — although that might save Flash. Of course to be fair to Warnock in the past Apple hasn’t acquired large companies.

In a way Adobe reminds me a great deal of Yahoo! and Sun — it’s a company from a previous era where it was the star but it hasn’t aged well. In the same way that Microsoft Office is under a disruptive threat from Google Docs you can see that all the key Adobe products could be next in line to be killed by the cloud and other disruptive forces that are changing the tech landscape.

Is this the immediate end of Flash? No. However it’s the begging of the end as other parties like Google and Microsoft have no interest in supporting Flash.

Followup: From recent leaks it seems that Jobs doesn’t think much of Adobe according to this article:

“About Adobe: They are lazy, Jobs says. They have all this potential to do interesting things but they just refuse to do it. They don’t do anything with the approaches that Apple is taking, like Carbon. Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy, he says. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash, he says. The world is moving to HTML5.”

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