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Why US geeks are like our politicians

I find a lot in common between Indian politicians and Silicon Valley's software icons. While the former play politics with their mother tongue and culture, the latter play politics with software languages and developer culture. Pretty much the same, I tell you.

india Updated: May 16, 2010 22:39 IST
Madhavan

I find a lot in common between Indian politicians and Silicon Valley's software icons. While the former play politics with their mother tongue and culture, the latter play politics with software languages and developer culture. Pretty much the same, I tell you.

Last week, things came to a new head when Adobe Systems, better known for its PDF software, lashed out at Steve Jobs-led Apple Computers in a full-page newspaper ad that effectively criticised Apple for not allowing Adobe's Flash format to be supported on its iPod music video players, the iPhone and the late computer, iPad.

Now, Apple is a bit like the Maharashtra government, which said last week that its ministers must not speak in English to overseas dignitaries, even if they are fluent in English. But why?

Jobs recently explained that Flash is not safe and secure, consumes too much power and above all, is not an open standard.

Adobe's ad says the company — in which Apple was once an investor — loves all devices and platforms and is only against "anybody taking away your freedom to choose what you create, how you create it, and what you experience on the Web."

What does all this mean for you and me?

In simple terms, software companies make money on design and applications, but thanks to the Internet, there is a culture of "open standards" that no-one owns, which enables computers and software to use common formats. This is a bit like English, which is widely spoken and used by travellers and businessmen.

It gets tricky here. The popular YouTube videos are actually based on Adobe's Flash for all practical purposes and it is not easy for iPod and iPad users to access them without Apple supporting them.

But Jobs says most video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods and iPads and that YouTube videos can be viewed through an application bundled on all Apple mobile devices. That's a bit like Maharashtra government paying for interpreters to help its ministers while controlling them.

The crux of the issue lies in the fact that thanks to the popularity of YouTube, Flash appears like an open standard but effectively, Adobe controls the toolkits for Flash much like Apple's operating system controls its devices.

The two firms are like Hindi and Marathi speaking politicians fighting for their respective languages to woo their respective vote banks.

The true open standards, be it the free Linux operating system or the HTML5 video standard, are like the English language, which has more or less become the global communication currency.