Flash Business

I have puzzled for many years over Macromedia’s (and now Adobe’s) Flash business model: They allow anyone to compete freely with the Flash authoring tool (which they sell for money), but one must pay for the right to compete with the Flash player (which they give away for free). Hindsight tells us that the model works, because it has helped make Flash the standard for rich Internet applications. But I have always marveled that Adobe makes enough money selling a paltry few authoring tools and that they don’t mind giving away hundreds of millions of copies of the player for free.

Many pundits (most recently Ted Leung and Anne Zelenka) worry that Adobe’s control of the Flash standard is bad for the web. They are hoping Adobe will hand control of the standard over to the open source community. The concern is that so much power should not rest in one company’s hands—the company will be tempted to abuse it.ring.jpeg

The response from Adobe’s evangelists (e.g. Andrew Shebanow, Duane Nickull) is essentially “we’re trustworty Hobbits—the One Ring of Power is not going to corrupt us.”

But companies must act in the best interests of their shareholders. Adobe should do and probably will do whatever will profit them the most. The question of what is best for the web community is only relevant as it affects Adobe’s bottom line.

Adobe’s own annual report says that they intend to “explore monetization opportunities” for the Flash Player and Adobe Reader (p. 21). My opinion: if they even hint at charging money for the player, that standard will be gone…well, in a flash.

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