Yesterday it was announced that The EcmaScript language standards body has killed the draft version, called 4.0 that was the basis of all of Adobe’s Flash related language technologies for the last several years. In the Adobe world, EcmaScript 4.0 was also know by the name ActionScript. And while this certainly does not make any of Adobe’s work any less valuable than it was, it is indeed a strategic black eye for Adobe.
Here’s the background.
Adobe’s Flash platform is all based around a programming language called ActionScript 3. Over the years as Adobe has moved from ActionScript 1, it has taken great pains to move the language forward in a standards compliant way. This strategy was important to mute complaints from some that Flash was attempting to re-implement the web in a proprietary fashion.
And so Adobe released Tamarin, the EcmaScript 4.0/ActionScript 3.0 running virtual machine, and a raft of products based it. These included Flash 8 and 9 and Flex, a bunch of applications written in the new language such as Acrobat Connect their conferencing platform, BuzzWord their word processor, and many others. In fact The Adobe CEO has stated they are moving their entire application suite in the next 10 years to the Flash platform, so this language spec is serious stuff.
Unfortunately, while the technology of EcmaScript 4.0/ActionScript 3.0/Tamarin is compelling, the politics sucked.
Adobe and Microsoft are bitter rivals, and the last thing Microsoft would be willing to accept is wide-spread adoption of a language that is strategically critical to a competitor. If EcmaScript was accepted, Tamarin would have been the gold standard virtual machine. Microsoft would have needed to build their own compatible VM – a long painful process – or they would have had to (insert “gulp” sound) adopt Tamarin. The battles over the standard were nasty, personal, and public. But unfortunately for Adobe, control over Internet Explorer is a much better bargaining chip than control over Flash. And Microsoft was insistent that they would never support EcmaScript 4.0.
And so this meant EcmaScript 4.0 was stillborn. It was dead even before it’s head began to crown, because it was a win that Microsoft could not bequeath upon its bitter rival. While the fighting over the EcmaScript spec has been going on for at least a year, it always seemed clear to me that this would happen. It really could be no other way.
And so the interesting question is what will Adobe do now. The technology they have is no less impressive today than it was a few days ago. But they are now totally on their own, which wasn’t exactly the plan.
This is indeed one hell of a chess game.