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Kevin Lynch at Apple

John Gruber has a series of posts questioning Apple’s judgement in hiring Kevin Lynch. This one best sums it up:

“I get that the guy worked for Adobe and had to play for the home team, but as CTO he backed a dying technology for years too long. In 2007 when the iPhone shipped Flash-free, that was one thing. But for Adobe to still be backing the Flash horse in 2010 when the iPad came out — they just looked silly.”

All of that is true. But instead of reflecting poor judgement, I think Kevin Lynch joining Apple could be good news in what it says about Apple. They didn’t hire him blindly. Apple knows what Kevin has been working on, knows what he’s said in public, and at this moment probably knows much better than we do what it was like to be at Adobe those last few years. For all we know Apple cares more about his work on Creative Cloud than Flash.

Kevin also has a rich history that is closely tied with the Mac. He worked as a developer on FrameMaker. He worked at General Magic alongside old-school Apple engineers. He worked at Macromedia when they started building web tools.

I heard him speak much later at SXSW in 2002, for a joint presentation he gave with Jeffrey Veen. At the time I disagreed with Kevin’s vision for Flash and the web, but the SXSW talk was interesting enough that I referenced it afterwards and again later. Kevin was so good that he somehow demonstrated he got the web even as he pitched a product that was increasingly at odds with it.

Was he wrong about Flash? Yes. But I choose to view his move to Apple as an indication that he was at the wrong company more than that he was completely wrong-headed. Maybe it was time for something new, a course correction back to the earlier part of his career. Skepticism about this hire is fine, but to treat him as an outsider is to forget the other great things he’s worked on. Once you’ve built Mac software, no matter how long ago, you’ll always be one of us.

I hope Apple sees it that way too. Because if Apple is confident of anything, it’s that they can’t get stuck in one old way of thinking, can’t discount good people because of one unforgivable bad idea. That Apple is able to brush aside the Flash debate as yesterday’s news — even accept as a VP someone who was at the heart of that debate, and on the wrong side — shows to me that they’re only looking forward.