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Adobe exec: Apple's fight against Flash is a 19th century tactic

Kevin Lynch, Adobe's chief technology officer, compared the Web standards war between his company and Apple to the expansion of U.S. railroads in the 1800s, when different railways were incompatible with rival trains.

Speaking at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco Wednesday, Lynch said Apple was engaged in a "legal game" in fighting Flash, suggesting the iPhone maker is more interested in playing politics than improving technology. He said Apple's approach embraces the walled garden, while Adobe wants to see software be written once and run on multiple devices.

"If you look at what's going on now, it's like railroads in the 1800s," Lynch said. "People were using different gauged rails. Your cars would literally not run on those rails."

Lynch said Apple's philosophy is "counter" to the Web, and forces companies to write software for a specific operating system, which results in higher costs for development.

The comments from the Adobe executive were influenced by a letter Apple co-founder Steve Jobs issued last week, in which he blasted Flash as technology unfit for the modern era of mobile computing. Jobs suggested that Flash is old technology better suited for mouse and keyboard PCs.

Jobs also alleged that Flash does not work well, and is responsible for most crashes on Mac OS X systems. On Wednesday, Lynch said he doesn't think Apple's issue with Flash has to do with the software's reliability at all.

"The technology issue I think Apple has with us is not that it does work, but when it does work," he said. "We don't want to play technology games when Apple is playing a legal game. We're focusing on everybody else. There's a huge wave of innovation, there's going to be a wide range of devices."

Lynch went on to mention the Open Screen Project, which he said has more than 70 partners working with Adobe, and he believes great innovation will come from it starting in the second half of this year.

"All the innovation coming from all those companies will dwarf what's coming from the one company that isn't participating," he said.

Lynch also said that Adobe has big plans for HTML5, even though the Web standard and its inclusion of streaming video technology are widely viewed as a competitor to Flash. He said Adobe would create "the best tools in the world" for those looking to make content via HTML5.

"It's not about HTML5 vs. Flash," he said. "They're mutually beneficial. The more important question is the freedom of choice on the Web."

Apple has embraced HTML5 in its mobile devices powered by the iPhone OS, which include the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. The exclusion of Flash from the platform has been a matter of considerable debate, but many major Web sites have turned to HTML5 since the release of the iPad. And last week, following Jobs' public letter, the head of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the most popular browser in the world, declared that HTML5 is "the future of the Web."

While Apple has kept Flash off of its Web browsers, it also recently changed the iPhone developer agreement to ban third-party tools that would allow software to be ported from other formats, like Adobe Flash, to native iPhone OS software. Jobs said such tools would result in substandard applications on the Apple-controlled App Store.

This week it was revealed that Apple's changes to its developer agreement could result in an antitrust inquiry from the U.S. federal government. The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission have reportedly begun looking into the matter after receiving complaints from developers and Adobe.