CXO

Apple vs. Adobe on antitrust: Should regulators dictate what's in an SDK?

The Feds are reportedly poking around on Apple's requirement that software developers only use its---or neutral---programming tools. Is an antitrust suit looming?

This is a guest post from Larry Dignan, Editor in Chief of ZDNet, TechRepublic's sister site. You can follow Larry on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines (or subscribe to the RSS feed).

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The Feds are reportedly poking around on Apple's requirement that software developers only use its-or neutral-programming tools.

The New York Post reports that the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are pondering an antitrust inquiry into Apple's Section 3.3.1 in its iPhone 4.0 software developer kit license agreement.

Here's the section, which is largely viewed as the no Adobe Flash allowed part:

3.3.1 - Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Now the Feds may just poke around on the section and decide not to pursue an antitrust complaint. These inquiries are started to find out if there needs to be an antitrust suit. However, it's possible that either the DOJ or FTC will pursue something.

Although the Post's track record isn't exactly perfect-the paper is citing on unnamed source-an antitrust move does add up. Ever since Apple CEO Steve Jobs penned his Thoughts on Flash missive, which panned Adobe's software, noted a bevy of problems like stability and security and outlined why the iPhone and iPad don't support Flash, there has been a nagging question in my mind. That question can be summed up in one word: Why?

Why would Jobs post his Flash thoughts? Were developers whining about section 3.3.1? Was Adobe winning a PR offensive by saying Apple wasn't open? Could Adobe show damages? Why does Jobs have to make the case against Flash now?

Assuming the Post is correct, then Jobs' Flash rant makes a lot more sense. Jobs' blog post about Flash was really geared to regulators. His Flash rant outlines the reason Adobe's software is limited-a few of those points are hard to argue-and lays out Apple's rationale for section 3.3.1. In other words, Jobs is laying out the case for the Feds.

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