Adobe's Shantanu Narayen on His Flash Point

"In the Mobile Internet era there is no room for walled gardens like Apple keeping Flash out"

Published: Aug 27, 2010
Adobe's Shantanu Narayen on His Flash Point
Image: Mallikarjun Katakol for Forbes India
Shantanu Narayen,CEO, Adobe Systems

Shantanu Narayen
Age: 46 years
Title: CEO, Adobe Systems
Career: Started his career with Apple Computers. Moved to Silicon Graphics before founding a photo sharing site Pictra. Joined Adobe in 1998 and became CEO in 2007.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in engineering from Osmania University; master’s degree in computer science from Bowling Green State University; master’s in business administration from the Haas School of Business.
Interests: Tennis and sailing.

Many experts now believe the Mobile Internet is the future. How is Adobe monetising it?
As billions of new devices connect to the Internet our strategy is to not monetise the runtime [the “viewer” application on consumer PCs, for example Flash] on mobile devices but through authoring [software that lets developers create rich media, for example Flash graphics].

A year-and-a-half ago we announced the “Open Screen Project” [a group of technology companies working towards having Flash run on all kinds of devices]. We are super-excited with the progress we’ve made on the Open Screen Project with virtually every large OEM [original equipment manufacturer] in the world committed to shipping Flash 10.1 when it comes out later this year.

Apple does not support Flash on either its iPhone or the iPad. Apple thinks Flash is “buggy”. That opinion is shared by many others. How are you addressing these concerns?

These perceptions are a myth. When you look at the download capabilities of Flash today they are actually lower than any other technology that is used to render video on the Web. I challenge you to find any other technology that renders video with the same capability that Flash has today.

Your rivalry with Apple has been around for a long time. You started your career at Apple and have seen both organisations from inside. What is the reason for this continuing rivalry?
The reality in business today is that with a number of companies you compete in certain areas and you partner in other areas. Even with Apple we partner, because the Mac customer base is a very important one for Adobe in terms of our Creative Suite usage. Microsoft and Apple are certainly competition, but there is also co-operation.

The conflicts don’t bother you?

No, it’s one of the realities.

You’ve said that Apple banning Flash was more a business model decision than a technology one. Why is that?
Some are trying to erect walled gardens that would limit mobile consumers to content only available through a single app store and viewable only on particular devices. We are at the beginning of an amazing revolution, with exciting new devices coming out that are once again changing the way we experience the Web. Adobe believes that, in the new generation as in the past, there should be no impediments to this innovation — keep the market open and let the market decide what it wants.

Many people are saying a better option to the proprietary and paid Flash is HTML 5. Big Internet companies, like Google which owns YouTube and already has an HTML 5-based video player, have said that they would like to move to an open format. Is HTML 5 the biggest threat to Flash?
First the misconception that Flash is proprietary is something that I need to address. Because we have published the Flash specification, we have also provided protocols that are now openly available. Myths continue to perpetuate in that industry but Flash is not proprietary.

Both Flash and HTML 5 are going to co-exist. They play different roles. I think of HTML 5 as the natural evolution of the Web. There are still some significant challenges that it will need to overcome relative to browser fragmentation [users split across a large number of browsers or browser versions]. The value proposition that Flash has always delivered is to make sure we have this consistent fidelity across platforms.

Google has been a tremendous supporter of Adobe and Flash as it relates to everything that we’re doing on Android as well as YouTube itself. We’re working with them to provide high definition.

(This story appears in the 10 September, 2010 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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