Don’t Be A Dick: Compiled Flash and You.

Appeal to Authority

I post here infrequently. My intent with each post has been to show some “clever” abuse of Cocoa or the Objective-C runtime APIs. I don’t want to portray what is presented here as the canonical or “best” way to approach problems – my goal has been to offer readers who are amply qualified to disagree with what’s written something that I feel is worth their time to think about. I hold the Cocoa developer community, and particularly those I associate closely with, in high regard. Coming up with novel ideas and finding the time to adequately document them is, by virtue of the caliber of the audience I hope to address, a difficult task which doesn’t fit into a regular publishing schedule. If you’d like to read something smart at least once a week please consider reading my friend mikeash. Don’t bother clicking that because if you’re here and not already reading everything Mike has to say then there’s something wrong with you that one hyperlink will never solve.

With that preamble out of the way I’d like to assert that I am an avowed fan of the Cocoa frameworks and a believer in the language middle-ground that is Objective-C. The argument that follows is a novel addition to this infrequent spamming of ideas I call a Web-Log in that it is not a tightly focused technical piece. Rather, it is an opinion piece – an appeal to authority.

And to whose authority do I appeal? Mine. Because I know what the fuck I’m talking about.

Non-Native Toolchains vs iPhone OS

May the best man win.

Beyond the well known issues with Flash letting arbitrary interpreted code run on the iPhone is problematic. Primarily it precludes Apple from vetting the code executed on the device after they’ve approved the product for sale on the AppStore. One could argue, and it’s a decent argument, that they should not exert this level of control over the apps that run on the device they sell you but, given that they’ve decided to do so, permitting interpreted code to be executed would be a loophole in this policy. What Adobe announced today, however, is not a Flash runtime – it is a compiler for Flash code that produces first class iPhone (ARM specifically) native code.

Jeff LaMarche has examined the Adobe generated .ipa files and you can learn a little more by reading his Tweets starting here. In full disclosure Jeff has bought me more beers at WWDC than I feel I deserve but I trust his analysis of these files nonetheless. Jeff is a smart fellow and uncovers a few clever things in his dissection of these Flash based iPhone apps.

My take is this: if you produce a binary that honours the iPhone Developer contract (uses only public APIs, is not a Flash interpreter, applies the appropriate code signing, etc) then you have exactly as much right to be on the AppStore as I do. If you compiled some Flash code or even used Mono (.NET) to write your app then so be it. If the final product is playing by the same rules I am then that’s good. Perhaps your tool is better for the job you selected it for.

“Be Thou Not Afraid”

(During my favourite x-files episode an “alien” says, “Be thou not afraid, Rocky”. I tried finding a link to that but this link came up first. Dig the horizontally scrolling text and take time to read the poem too. It won’t hurt, even though it does mention God. And the MIDI. I just noticed the MIDI. Click that link just for the time warp effect).

Let’s be frank here – fuck the tools. If you’re as deep a fan of the Cocoa tool-chain as I am then you likely came to them as I did – after years of dealing with the drastically inferior. Do I believe Cocoa is still the best tool? Yes, I do. But let’s not pretend that it’s the only tool. Some crazy people may prefer other tools, and we may well think they’re insane for doing so. The proof, however, is in the pudding. And it’s the pudding that our customers buy. I’m in love with my oven and at this point I doubt I’ll ever change it but I have no illusions that fashion won’t pass me by. If Adobe, or anyone else, can produce tools that provide a more compelling application on the iPhone then good for them.

Ridiculing their or others efforts is ultimately self defeating. If you love software as I love software you should think twice about being so dismissive of alternative approaches.

Do I think the “Ahead Of Time” compiled Adobe Flash will take over the AppStore? No, I don’t. And I know that because I can write better software than that.

But one day I’ll be wrong. And if there’s one thing I hate more than being wrong it is having dismissed as trivial that which has defeated me.

“I’ve Been Wrong Before”

($0.99. Go buy Dusty Springfield’s I’ve Been Wrong Before. And if you don’t after having heard the 30 second demo then quit bitching about Alyssa. She is carrying my child after all…)

I like to believe I’m a clever fella and here’s my secret to being clever – I am always wrong. Always.

Programming is an exercise in overcoming how wrong you’ve been in the past. At first you’ll overcome the syntax errors, then you’ll overcome the structural errors, and then you’ll come to align your code with the standards of a greater community and you’ll feel safe and like you’ve made it. You haven’t – you’re still wrong because you’re always wrong. You are playing a game you cannot win. And let’s face it – if it was a game you could win you’d not be playing at all.

If you’ve written code then you’ve looked back at your work and known it could have been done better. Think bigger. Think beyond the micro improvements that could be made within the domain we understand best and consider the scope of our experience. If you’ve been around this clock as I have then you’ll recognize a good idea comes every five minutes and one that sticks every fifteen. Let’s not pretend that we know what time it is because we know what we saw last time we checked our watches.

At the top I claimed to be an authority and that I knew what the fuck I was talking about. That’s still very true – If you think you’re an authority you’re wrong. Take it from me, I’m the authority on authority and if you think you know better then eventually you’ll be in for a really big shock.

Be wrong as often as possible – It’s the only way you’ll ever be right.

Love, Guy