Sunday, May 26, 2024

Adobe and Open Source: a Process

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With technologies like Flash and PDF pervasive across the Web, Adobe has established itself as one of the leading forces in shaping Internet content, applications and development.

But as open source continues to take root, how is the company responding?

While Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) is not a full-fledged open source company today, the company argues that it is making “open” efforts for its Web technology — and it sees active participation in the broader open source ecosystem a key way to spread its offerings. For instance, while neither Flash nor PDF are entirely open source, Adobe said it’s making what it described as “open” efforts in support of those technologies, aimed at furthering adoption and development.

“It’s fairly obvious that while we’ve been active in this space around what we call open, the overall structure has not been clearly communicated,” Dave McAllister, director of standards and open source at Adobe, told

Changing that has become especially important for Adobe, as it tries win over the heart and minds of developers as it continues to scale up its Flash-based AIR effort in competition with Microsoft’s Silverlight media framework.

One key component of Adobe’s efforts centers on working to release its core technology as open source, McAllister said.

Among those projects is the Adobe Flex SDK (define), which Adobe opened up in 2007. Flex is the framework on top of which Rich Internet Application (RIAs) can be built.

In terms of promoting Flex, the move seems to be paying off. McAllister noted that since Flex became open source, the number of downloads doubled each year, and added that its currently seeing 15,000 downloads a month.

That wasn’t the first such open sourcing effort by the company. Adobe also open sourced its Tamarin JavaScript engine back in 2006, in an effort with the Mozilla Foundation.

Going back even further, McAllister added that Adobe released the specs for the PDF format as an Adobe Open Specification in 1993, showing people what PDF was and how they could build on top of it.

“We do believe there is impact in being open and being accessible to developers around the world,” McAllister said. “When we release a product or specification into the open world, we also grant patent rights, so we do not have any blocks.”

Flash Player: Ready to be open?

One of the big questions, though, is when will Adobe open source its Flash Player. While several of its underlying technologies have been released as open source, the completed product, which plays Flash content, hasn’t. And it may not be going fully open source anytime soon.

“The Flash Player is about as open as I can get it at this point in time,” McAllister said.

He said that the Player’s core SWF (Shockwave Flash) specification is published and is completely accessible. The virtual machine that powers Flash Player, Tamarin, is an open source project and the language that drives the Flash Player, Flex, is also open.

But the sticking point is other, non-Adobe elements Flash Player uses — such as codecs — that are outside of the company’s control. It is because of those elements that McAllister argued that the Flash Player cannot be entirely open source.

Still, there are efforts in the community to build an open source Flash Player, like the GNASH player. McAllister commented that Adobe would not do anything to block GNASH development, since it’s just an implementation of open specifications.

Weighing open standards

Adobe also said it’s keen to participate in industry standard efforts to keep the Web an open place. One such standard is HTML 5, which is currently under development. McAllister sees HTML 5 as being important as it will help to get rid of some browser incompatibilities while introducing new standard features.

More importantly for Adobe is making sure that HTML 5 looks at the Web as being about more than just Web browsers. McAllister argued that the specification needs to consider the wider breadth of tools that work on and for the Web, like Adobe’s Flash and its AIR desktop environment.

“The goal of ‘open’ is to make sure that adoption of Adobe technologies are not blocking in [others],” McAllister said. “We think that developers like the ability to work with things that are truly open.”

The value of open source

For Adobe, McAllister said that there real value in being open. He noted that Adobe is able to get technologies into the marketplace faster — and that feedback is faster too.

“We are not an altruistic company we are interested in making money, but we do it by providing support for these technologies,” he said.

He also said that developers are taking Adobe’s products and technologies in direction that Adobe itself wasn’t necessarily going.

“It’s a changing mindset — the company understands the value of releasing specifications and moving to standards,” McAllister said. “We’re beginning to really understand the value in using open source in growing the developer ecosystem. But it’s an ongoing process.”

This article was first published on

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