The beachball is a spinning circle of multiple hues, and for me, it’s Apple’s way of getting around its famous claim that its computers don’t crash. Instead, the beachball just spins … and spins … and spins…
Turns out Apple boss Steve Jobs knows where to point the finger: right at one of the most popular things on the web, Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash.
The blog is quite upfront in noting its information is second-hand, but it jibes with other accounts, which all have Jobs making one knock after another against Flash. One of the more generous comments? Jobs called Flash “buggy.”
The comments did not seem at all surprising, though, because anyone with an iPhone or a related product knows one thing for sure: it won’t support Flash.
Many of you might be wondering at this point, well, so what? Why should I care?
The thing is, Flash really is a remarkable thing. YouTube wouldn’t be able to work without it. A bazillion online games depend on its simple way of handling online animation. I doubt it’s possible to count the websites that have, in one way or another, incorporated Flash somehow in what you see.
The other thing is, Flash is really showing its teeth. It dates back the better part of 15 years, and even its ardent admirers would have to admit that Flash was not designed to do what is now being asked of it.
Yes, Flash has been an earnest, tough, hard-working soldier, but in the beginning, no one expected that a Flash product would (for instance) be used to handle full-motion, high-quality video.
Flash’s shortcomings are most noticeable right now in the mobile world, and not just because iPhones have built a moat around it. Simply put, Flash products don’t work on the fly.
That’s expected to change, though, and you have to give some credit to owner Adobe for not giving in without a fight. Later this year, some smartphones (notably Androids and Palm’s Pre) will have a Flash player called 10.1, which will allow users to enjoy Flash products as if they were at a PC. Adobe says 19 out of the top 20 smartphone manufacturers have stepped up to support the product. (If you spotted Apple as the holdout, you’re right.)
But a new version doesn’t guarantee Flash is good for the future. Many of the web cognoscenti are more enthusiastic about HTML5, which its creators hope will open the gates for all kinds of products, and free users from proprietary systems … like Adobe’s Flash (and, for that matter, Microsoft’s competing Silverlight).
Sure, Apple has given it its blessings, but for me the more interesting early adopter is none other than YouTube, which has been trying HTML5 out for some time … and probably for loads of reasons other than the fact competing video purveyors have already been flocking to the language, which is far from even being completed.
If you have a smartphone, you may be used to the little blocks or spaces that pop up when you ought to be seeing, say, an animation or a video. Soon, those hiccups will be history.
The question, as the world shifts toward a web that flows through mobile devices, is whether Flash will still be in the pan.John Gushue is a writer in St. John's, and works with CBC News. John is on Twitter right here.