No Flash Today, No Java Tomorrow

The new MacBook Air doesn’t ship with Flash installed. The next version of MacOS (10.7 Lion) apparently won’t come with a JVM from Apple. I’ve seen people reading all kinds of things into these moves, but with no real basis in fact and only guesses. I’ve seen anything from “meh” to “Apple is trying to control the universe!” responses. Are these a big deal?

Not having Flash pre-installed is not a big deal. I’ve bought many Windows machines from IBM, Lenovo, HP and Dell, and none of them ever came with Flash. They also didn’t come with QuickTime, Shockwave, Acrobat, or Adobe Reader. I know that when I set up a new machine (Windows, MacOS or Linux), I have some work to do. And as Steve Jobs is rumoured to have said, it also means I get the latest version of all of these technologies. Is it inconvenient? Certainly, particularly for non-technical people. But is it the end of the world? Is it really a big problem? Not really. I honestly don’t see this causing a drop in Mac sales.

But what about the removal of Java from future versions of MacOS? Is this a big deal? It depends on what Oracle does. If Oracle does indeed bring out a MacOS version of Java, then I’d say this isn’t a problem, and personally I’d rather have an update-to-date JVM from Oracle than an older, a-few-releases-behind JVM from Apple. It’s not like this situation would make MacOS unique. The version of Java that normally comes with Windows is generally substandard, and anyone who ships Java-based software either recommends the user install an update-to-date JVM, or ships one as part of their product. People who use Java regularly will get the most up-to-date JVM themselves. Again, this is annoying, but not fatal. I can’t count on the JVM that ships with Windows or most Linux distros, so why would I expect it to be any different on the Mac? But to reiterate, this is only the case if Oracle starts to ship their own MacOS version of Java.

The real risk is that Oracle decides not to release the latest JVM and JDK for MacOS. This makes Apple’s decision problematic, particularly on the server OS, since a lot of server-based software depends on Java. Not having it on the desktop is a barrier for developers, and for anyone who depends on Java-based desktop software (not that there is necessarily an enormous amount of that in the current Mac user community). Perhaps some 3rd party organization will step up and maintain a JVM for MacOS if Oracle doesn’t, but who knows if that is a viable solution. If I were to guess, I would expect to see a MacOS version of Java from Oracle, simply because the Mac has started to capture a respectable (albeit still small) share of the PC marketplace. If Apple were to allow Java on iOS, then I would be very confident that Oracle would step up. The odds of Java on iOS don’t look good, since it does contravene the developer’s agreement, but who knows: Apple said that Safari would be the only browser on iOS, and now it isn’t.

The lack of pre-installed Flash is a non-event in my mind. It’s inconvenient but not fatal, since Flash does still run. The slight disappointment is that it makes setup of a Mac start to look more like setup of a Windows PC. It isn’t the end of the world, just a minor annoyance for most people.

If Java doesn’t make it past Snow Leopard, I will be very disappointed. Apple has been on a roll with the Mac, as it continues to capture a larger and larger share of the PC market. But you don’t continue to grow by limiting your options for your customer base. Growth comes by expanding options and opportunities. Let’s hope that Oracle steps up and agrees to fill this approaching void.

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