Developer Week in Review: Flash marginalization continues

Flash ditches Linux, a developer faces death, and we get a peek inside Foxconn.

I got a rude reminder of how dependent we’ve grown on ubiquitous telecommunications, as AT&T decided to take a sick day, cell phone service-wise. The outage only lasted an hour or so, but I suddenly found myself on the road with no way to call into a scheduled scrum standup (can it be a standup when you’re sitting in your car?) and no way to email to let them know what was going on.

Total outages have been pretty rare, but it wouldn’t take much from a solar storm perspective to knock everything offline, something I wrote about several years ago. Try to imagine modern society with no power, telecommunications or GPS navigation for a few days, and losing cell service for an hour gets put into its proper perspective.

Now that I’m back at home with a nice reliable fiber connection, I can give you the news of the week.

Tux can only flash people wearing chrome, now

As was reported previously, Adobe is starting to gracefully put Flash out to pasture in favor of HTML5. The deathwatch took another step forward this week, with Adobe announcing that only Chrome will be able to run Flash under Linux in the future.

One could argue that Linux never was much of a market for Flash anyway, but following on the heels of the announcement regarding mobile support, it should be clear that Flash is on the way out. Flash was once considered the last best hope for seamless integration across desktop and mobile platforms, held back only by Apple’s intransigence. Now, all eyes are on HTML5.

Getting laid off doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?

In the “developed world,” software professionals spend a lot of time worried about intellectual property, career viability, privacy issues, and the like — our version of “first world problems.” Once in a while, however, we get harsh reminders of the kind of real problems that can face a software developer in less-friendly circumstances.

Such is the case of Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian-born engineer and Canadian resident, who is currently facing a death sentence in Iran, accused of creating a pornographic network. According to most sources, the only thing that Malekpour actually did was to create a program that could be used to upload photos to websites, and that code had been incorporated into pornographic websites without his knowledge.

Malekpour confessed to running a pornographic network after a year in custody, a time when his supporters claim he was frequently tortured. What is certain is that very soon, if nothing is done, he will be executed, likely by being beheaded.

It’s easy to write this off as a symptom of extremist ideology, but it should also serve as a wake-up call to open source and freelance developers who never plan to venture outside so-called “developed” countries. It is far too easy to imagine some hapless developer being dragged off to an undisclosed location because his or her software was found on the laptop of a jihadist. The problem with writing software is that you never know who may end up using it.

Putting Apple’s labor issues in perspective

I just watched the “Nightline” report on Apple’s production facilities, run by Foxconn in China. I’m sure that there’s lots of righteous outrage afoot about the low wages (starting at $1.80 an hour) and cramped living conditions at the facility. I thought it was worth putting things in perspective, however.

To make it clear at the outset, I’m not in any way an apologist for China’s government or social system. But I suspect you could find lots of people living in the U.S. willing to work for that wage, provided with lodging for $17 a month and a meal that cost about an hour’s wage. As the report pointed out, the suicide rate at Foxconn is actually below the average in China, at 1.7 suicides per 100,000. For comparison, U.S. police officers experience 18 suicides per 100,000. And lest we become too indignant about factory accidents at the Foxconn facilities that killed more than two dozen in the past few years, we should remember that the U.S. doesn’t have a shinning record in this regard either.

The point I’m making is that Apple makes an easy target because of its size and because some people want to make trouble for the company whenever they can. However, if we’re going to attack Apple, let’s do it for the right reasons. By most accounts, Apple is doing a much better job ensuring worker rights and safety than the industry as a whole.

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