Opening Up on Open Source

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2008-09-25 Print this article Print

Q: What's next on the open-source agenda for Adobe?

A: We've got a very active open-source effort right now. What we've been doing is open-sourcing Tamarin. We have published a bug database for Flash Player, so the development process is very open around these technologies. And with Flex, we've open-sourced Flex already, which also has an open bug database. And we're getting to the point now where we can start taking contributions to the code for Flex. So we're learning. It's something that's a transformation for us. And we're working to embrace that as a great way to build software.

Q: What's the plan for Flash going forward? Is there any thought of open-sourcing it?

A: We already open source the core of Flash, the virtual machine, Tamarin. Ten years ago we published the format that Flash uses called SWF. And for a while that format had a license agreement around it where we asked that people not make their own Flash players. And the goal of that was to maintain consistency of the runtime. We saw other runtimes out there like Java and others that came out and got fragmented. So with Flash over the last decade we've achieved consistent distribution around the Web. That is a pretty unique achievement around the Web. So we actually removed the license restriction this year from the SWF format. So anyone can go create anything they want around that format, including a player if they want to. We're doing that to increase confidence in relying on Flash around the Web, especially as we're moving to mobile devices. But our hope is that there won't actually be a proliferation of many Flash players because that will really make it difficult for people to rely on the consistency that we've brought. So we're going to keep focusing on making an incredible Flash player and innovate on that.

But we need to balance openness and consistency. So we're very open about what goes into Flash Player, the bugs in Flash Player, the code and scripting engine in Flash, the format with Flash, the protocols with Flash. There is incredible openness around Flash. There's a vibrant open-source community where there are dozens of open-source projects that are alive and active. You can go to and you can see a lot of those there. So I think open source and Flash is very much a part of the agenda here and a part of the success of Flash today.

Now whether we would publish the entire Flash Player as open source is something that first of all would be somewhat challenging in that there are some codices in Flash that we don't have the rights to all the source to. That's one challenge with that. The other is that I think in terms of what's best here for consistency of Flash on the Web, having multiple implementations and having forking and splintering of that code would be a big loss for the Web in terms of that consistency. So we're really working to be a good steward of Flash and making sure that it runs across operating systems on the Web. And we really want to make sure that we don't end up in a situation where it's fragmented and loses the value that it has brought to the Web so far. That's really what we're working to do is to maintain the consistency, but we're very inclusive of open source and involved in open source to enable that innovation of the open-source community to be part of the success story with Flash.

Q: Do you view Google's Chrome browser as a potential threat to Adobe AIR because of Chrome's nascent ability to run Web applications as desktop applications?

A: Chrome is a Web browser and I'm excited to see more innovation in the Web browser space. We see that as a great thing at Adobe. And the more browsers there are in the world the better it is for us. We make tools that work across browsers and we can solve some of the cross-browser compatibility stuff with tooling. So that helps us with making more interesting features. And also with technologies like Flash, we can make that work consistently across all these different things. So browser innovation is great.

Now the ability to run an application in Chrome and save a shortcut to the desktop, right now what that means is basically it's an icon that launches you to a Web page and then you're interacting with that application again. That's not the same approach that we're taking with AIR, where you can actually install a Web application on your computer and it runs whether you're online or offline and you can access information you couldn't with a Web application -- so being able to access your local documents and edit them in a word-processing application or a rich editing application. That's not possible inside the Web model with the sandbox. Doing things like notification on the screen and being able to drag and drop information between applications, these are things that AIR is enabling you to do on the computer that the Web browser doesn't do.

And the other thing is that if someone wants to use a Web application installed on their computer then they really have to change Web browsers. If you like using Firefox or you like using Opera or Internet Explorer and you want to install a Web app on your computer you have to change browsers. And my view is you shouldn't have to change browsers, you should be able to do that without having to make that switch. But I like that Chrome is out there and we're working with the Chrome team to make sure Flash and PDF work really great.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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