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Games, technology, music, silliness. Oh and ninjas. Lots of ninjas.

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I am Andreas. Day time programmer and technical consultant. Night time musician and game developer.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Macromedia shoots itself in the footsie

A lot has been said on this issue before, but i can't help but rant a little. 'Tis my blog after all.

A central problem Flash developers have been struggling with since the beginning of all things Flash and the Flash player's inception as a low impact alternative to the Shockwave technology is the format's stigma of garbage content delivery.

To begin with, Flash was intended to be a tool for delivering low size vector graphics and animations to enhance the www experience, noble enough in its own way. However, the format naturally gravitated toward the industry most in need of such a technology; advertising. Within a fairly short time websites were saturated with meaningless Flash. Flash for flash's sake in other words. Developers paid no heed to the limitations of the format, and more and more sites showed up incorporating sound, primitive video streams and all kinds of crazy mumbo jumbo sure to aggrevate anyone after a cohesive and navigable online experience.

There was in short no wonder why Flash became loathed among "serious" developers as a product capable of wreaking great havoc on the orderly fabric of the www by allowing developers to refrain from interface standards and take websites in unexpected and non-uniform directions; a very real problem for users who aren't used to dealing with a vast array of information structures, such as say my parents or any sporadic user of the 'net.

This early generation of Flash, driven by advertising, led Macromedia to create even more advanced versions of the format, adding a proprietary scripting language, new features etc, until we arrive today at Flash player 7, incorporating Actionscript 2; a fully object oriented scripting language with more in common with Java than Javascript.

At this point in time the developer community responsible for pushing the development of the format into application development rather than simple games and presentations are looking forward to the next generation of Flash player, FP8, which will incorporate a form of hardware acceleration that will let us create even better content with less end user hardware impact. We've been drooling and hopping around like giddy kids on christmas eve.

We are almost there.

What have we accomplished? I can only truly speak for myself and my work situation, but i can feel the temperature of things well enough to believe i'm a healthy representative:

- Flash is being taken seriously as a development platform. There are still terrible flash banners all over the net to blemish our reputation, but for every dozen pieces of crap there is an incredible application of the format that drops jaws left and right. Finally Flash developers can proclaim their work title with something resembling pride.

- Flash diffusion is better than ever. The efficiency of the format, the low size and easy install has removed all but the hardest of detractors. Major clients (by major i mean MAJOR household names) are accepting Flash as a viable delivery platform. The software's credibility is at an all time high.

- Flash applications are getting better and better. What started out as a low cost alternative to shockwave is now threatening shockwave's place on the throne. The tech improves, but developers improve tenfold. The current development community is incredibly strong.

So here's my question.
Why, in the name of all that is holy, has Macromedia seen it fit to cut a deal with Yahoo! and bundle the Yahoo! Toolbar with the flash player installer for Windows Internet Explorer. Who in gods name thought that was a good idea? At first when this popped up on the flashcoders list, i was laughing. It is in all seriousness akin to Microsoft bundling Bonzi buddy with Outlook. I couldn't believe this was actually true, i thought people were kidding around. Then a quick look at macromedia.com broke my heart.

Warning: Corporate Bullshit Alert

"What is the Yahoo! Toolbar?
Yahoo! Toolbar is a free search and utility tool that enables you to personalize your browser toolbar so you can search from anywhere online, save your bookmarks, and quickly access Yahoo! features, such as Games, News, and Mail. Yahoo! and Macromedia are working together with the combined goal of providing great user experiences to our customers. This includes projects such as enabling customers to take advantage of the Yahoo! Toolbar and promoting the development of great, compelling content with the wide range of Macromedia products. "

So there you have it. In one fell stroke, what has macromedia accomplished? Here's a little repetition of some of the points that have been flung around the flashcoders list much like fecal matter in the monkey pen:

*1 - Alienating developers
We have worked hard as hell to increase the credibility of the format and break down misconceptions. Now Macromedia has stabbed us in the back by proving we were wrong.

*2 - Alienating customers
Lets say your client is Google? Lets say your client is Verizon? Would your client want to use a technology that is bundled with software developed by a direct competitor? Selling flash to major clients just became a *lot* harder

*3 - Confusing end users
Let's say this once and for all: My mom, given the choice between wether to install or not install the Yahoo! Toolbar, would not know wether to do so or not. Either way, she would probably trust MM (seeing it as i wouldve been the one to tell her to install the flash player in the first place, knowing Flash is my job), and wham, she'd have one steaming piece of crap installed on her computer. Macromedia is winning Toolbar installs on the fact that end users just don't know what they're installing, in much the same way any other spyware or trojan is installed. As someone pointed out: Illegal? No. Forced? No. Sleazy? You bet.

*4 - Significantly weakening the credibility of the format
I have to this day not seen a single flaw in the flash player that wasnt mendable by developers. You were given a framework and you did what you could do with it, this is fine. End users download a player that does exactly what you expect it to. You don't have to run player support for your clients, because it simply works. Flash was a perfect product. Now, there's a very real reason we will have to do support for people inadvertently installing something they didnt want.
Flash is rather viciously imperfect at the moment i'm afraid: Welcome Macromedia, to the pantheon of fantastic developers of trashware laden applications such as GetRight and Kazaa. I hope you find it mighty comfy, considering all the work you put in to get there.

Suffice to say, developers are distinctly displeased. I really do hope MM reconsiders the implementation of their business relationship with Yahoo. I completely understand the need for financial gain, but there must be a better way to get meat to sell than to chop your own leg off.
A simple and sound measure has been suggested:

Uncheck the "install Yahoo! Toolbar" checkbox in the install process by default
This way users will be immediatly aware of the duality of the install and the fact that Toolbar isn't a segment of the Flash player, which is what they wanted.

A less sound and less simple measure is my suggestion. In fact it's a bit mad:
Force Yahoo to stop making garbage applications that aren't worth a minute's time, time better spent cleaning lint from windowsill corners for instance, or perhaps petting a kitten. Toolbar makes kittens sad! In fact, have Yahoo reconsider every single developer they employ. There is a level of trashiness apparent in their software that reminds me of those wacky Japanese arcade games where the intro shows the car from Batman the movie, but apparently it isnt batman, but some guy in a similar costume with red eyes who breaks through windows in the intro, says a few lines in japanese, and then plays Mah jong with some woman who eventually shoots you and takes your money regardless of your level of success, or games such as "Miss Nude '96" where the intro image shows badly pixellated 80s women with rock hair, and the actual gameplay is sort of like pacman except when you clear a level you see half a 16-colored leotard covering a breast that might as well be a penguin, or a small car.
Yahoo is a terrible, terrible developer to partner up with for "enriching the web experience". This is why everyone is calling your bluff Macromedia; They know Yahoo sucks and that you don't! It's like those revenge of the nerds films where the popular frat guys feign friendship with a nerd: Everyone knows its unnatural and odd except for the nerd, who eventually finds out and proceeds calling down satellite orbital strikes on the frat house and then steals some panties to loud rock music. In short then:
Have Yahoo make a toolbar that is worthy of a flash player bundle.

How low can you sink guys? Why not bundle the flash player with an order form for viagra, or a free 3 day trial to jugfuckers.com? If you're going to plunk your foot in the crapper you might as well do it with gusto, none of this pitifully obvious "we're doing it for the bling mkay".

Macromedia, i love your product. I'm a devoted Flash developer who has put the better part of my life as a young man into learning its nuances and making a career of it. Flash is a beautiful thing of great purity. So please, PLEASE, stop trying to forcibly insert it into an elephant's anus. It simply isn't wise or proper.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Scott Fegette said...

Hey, Andreas-
You've certainly raised some good points- although I did want to note that the Yahoo! Toolbar isn't actually bundled with Flash Player- it's just offered on the Macromedia website in the player download center (and only to Win/IE users who don't already have it- no other browsers/platforms). ActiveX 'background updates' still work the same way too. But again- points taken. The information up on the site hasn't been the best, but there is a brief Flash Player FAQ with a section of interest up which you may have already seen, too.

Curious- are most of your projects pointing directly to the MM website for downloading the Flash Player installers, or are you using the ActiveX technique?

best- Scott/Macromedia

4:50 AM  
Anonymous Scott Fegette said...

Whoops- slightly incorrect URL in the last post. You can find specific FAQ subjects at this URL, sorry for the extra noise.

- sf/mm

4:53 AM  
Blogger Sunjammer said...

Hey scott

Thanks for not taking my rants personally =) I like big words.

As for the player install, it really hasnt been up to me for the most part. My employer and i serve as content developers, how the clients wish to offer player downloads is mostly in their ballpark, and they tend to simply send users to the MM site.

I feel an important and ultimately politically correct method for MM is to make the offer opt-in rather than opt-out. As long as it is opt-out it will be considered an agressive tactic rather than a passive one, which is bound to raise eyebrows.

It probably isn't the last word in this, and MM probably won't change their stand on this matter, but i do hope the reactions serve as a strong reminder on the developer community's view on diluting the strength of the format through thirdparty advertisement tactics.

4:45 PM  

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