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Apple omits Flash from new MacBook Airs, deprecates Java

New Apple MacBook Air

Apple has never been bashful about drawing lines in the sand surrounding its tightly-controlled iOS mobile platform, but the company has always been a little more inclusive with its Mac OS X desktop operating system. However, changes are afoot in the world of Mac OS X as well: Apple has officially deprecated Java, the cross-platform runtime environment developed by Sun and now owned by Oracle, and the company has decided not to include Adobe Flash technology on its new super-slim MacBook Air notebook computers. If new MacBook Air customers want to use Adobe Flash in Safari, Firefox, or other browsers, they’ll have to download and install it themselves…and anybody who’s attempted to use Adobe’s Flash installers for Mac OS X knows that’s no fun.

First, as of Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3, Apple has officially deprecated the Java runtime included in the operating system, and warned developers that they should not count on Apple’s Java runtime being present in future versions of Mac OS X—including the forthcoming Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion.” This doesn’t exactly mean that Java has no future on the Macintosh, but rather that Apple isn’t going to be committing its own engineering resources to shipping a runtime with Mac OS X. When Mac OS X was brand-new, Apple wanted the system to be a first-rate Java platform, and the Java runtime built into Mac OS X is developed by Apple and certified by Sun—now Oracle, since Oracle acquired Sun. One result was that Apple’s Java often lagged behind official releases from Sun and Oracle: Java 6 didn’t land in Mac OS X until almost two years after other platforms. Although other developers may produce Java VMs for the Mac—and Oracle may decide to do the work itself—the biggest issue here is uncertainty: programmers working in Java on the Mac now have no clear future on the platform…and perhaps no future at all.

Perhaps of more interest to consumers is that Apple has decided not to include Adobe Flash on its new MacBook Air notebooks. Unlike the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPadk—which simply cannot run Flash at all—the new MacBook Airs are perfectly capable of running Adobe Flash. Customers who want Flash will have to download it themselves from Adobe.

Apple’s strategy here seems two-pronged: first, the company is likely making a point that a considerable amount of online content that “requires” Flash is often available using other technologies, like HTML5 and H.264 video. (In part, this is because content providers want that material to be available to iOS devices.) Second, Apple is probably washing its hands of the stability and security issues that have plagued Adobe’s Flash player recently: Apple suffered a bit of a black eye by shipping an outdated version of Flash player with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and has repeatedly blamed Adobe Flash for stability problems in Mac OS X Web browsers: “Flash is the number one reason Macs crash,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote in an open letter earlier this year.

By omitting Flash from its default software setup, Apple may be hoping to wash its hands of some of Flash’s problems. Unfortunately, by shifting those troubles to consumers, Apple risks being perceived as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Look for Apple to extend it’s Flash-less stance to additional Mac models, and don’t be surprised if Flash doesn’t make it into Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” next year.

(Anyone who has used Adobe’s Flash player installer for Mac OS X knows what a nightmare it is. Quick tip: instead of using Adobe’s installer, open the package contents for the installer, look in the Contents > Resources directory, and run the Apple installer package from there.)