Kevin Lynch at Apple

Kevin Lynch just left Adobe and joined Apple.

I worked for Adobe for 6 years, from 2006 to 2012, so I was there when Kevin joined through the Macromedia acquisition. I was always very impressed with Kevin; he’s a smart guy, and a good speaker.

Unfortunately, Kevin was the public face of Flash for a long time, and now that’s coming back to haunt him as he moves to a company that obviously doesn’t like Flash.

There are a couple of angles from which one could look at this, and I’m a bit conflicted about whether he will ultimately be a good fit for Apple or not.

The Flash player is a pretty incredible thing. It gets a lot of razzing these days, but there were years where Flash was the only way to do some great things on the web. YouTube wouldn’t have existed or grown as quickly as it did without Flash. I think people have forgotten what a mess web video was back in the early 2000s. Flash ran ahead of the browsers and supported things that the browsers didn’t, and motivated the browser vendors to come up with standard ways of doing the things that Flash did.

Just after I started with Adobe, I went to the AdobeMAX conference where Adobe first talked about the new AVM2 virtual machine in the Flash player, and about the improvements to ActionScript to make it into a solid language. It was good stuff. For what was ultimately a web media player, it was a very advanced runtime and you could do some amazing things with it.

But it was ultimately a web media player. The problem that Kevin ran into at Adobe, and I don’t know how much of this was Kevin’s doing or how much was pressure from above, but Adobe tried to push Flash way beyond that. Adobe moved Flash in all kinds of directions that it was never designed to go.

AIR, for example. It was convenient being able to take a Flash game and turn it into a native desktop app or an Android or iOS app, but that’s about as far as this should have gone. Flash is inherently a single-threaded runtime that takes a lowest common denominator approach to the platform. It does use threads itself to get work done internally, but it provides no way for a developer to execute their own code on a background thread. (This may be true now, I haven’t checked in a couple of years, but it wasn’t back when I left Adobe).

Adobe was pushing AIR as a solution for building enterprise applications, and while the Flex language was actually quite nice to work with, the runtime just wasn’t up to the task. It was a poor architecture use as the base for a platform that Adobe was trying to build so much of the company’s future on.

I don’t know how much of this is Kevin’s fault, or if he could have stopped it. He was the CTO, so he probably should have.

Sometimes you have to play the cards you’re given. Could Flash have evolved into a modern, mature runtime suitable for building general purpose desktop and mobile applications? Probably, with time. It’s hard to say.

But, Adobe’s also done some great stuff under Kevin’s CTO leadership.

Adobe Revel is a photo sharing app that really is great. It scales: You can upload tens of thousands of photos, and then browse them on any device.

When I was at Adobe and working remotely I spent a lot of time using the Adobe Connect conferencing service. It worked so much better than the things I’ve been using since (Skype and GoToMeeting).

The Creative Cloud subscription, where you’re paying $49/month for access to all of Adobe’s best applications, streamed to your desktop via an application manager that takes care of downloading and updating them, is a great service that in my experience has worked very well. Creative Cloud’s file sharing is basically DropBox. Adobe’s cloud offerings, in my opinion, work a lot better than what Apple’s been offering.

So, ultimately what do I think of Kevin’s move to Apple? I’m cautiously optimistic. Apple’s got a very solid foundation everywhere but with iCloud, and that’s the area that I think Kevin’s shown the most strength with. We’ll have to wait and see what role Kevin takes on at Apple.

I do think he’s a smart guy, with a real love of technology. I wish him well