Monthly Archive for April, 2007

Adobe open sources Flex

Last week while I was in San Francisco, I sat down for an hour with David Wadhwani, the VP of product development for Flex and Ely Greenfield, one of the Flex architects. After I wrote my original post about open sourcing Flash, I got a note from David asking if I would be willing to spend some time to help him understand the issues that I raised in that post and its follow ons. This afternoon David called to tell me that Adobe was announcing that it was open sourcing Flex v3. I was especially happy when he said that my posts and our conversation had an impact on his thinking about open source and Flex. There is a press release with the announcement as well as a FAQ on the basics.

The Basics
The basics of the announcement are that Adobe will open source Flex v3, due later this year, under the Mozilla Public License (MPL), which is sensible given that they have already open sourced their Tamarin Javascript engine via Mozilla. Before that happens, Adobe will make daily builds of Flex available (the source is already available, but daily builds gives better visibility). Also, they will open their bug tracker to the public in preparation for the open source version of Flex.

Adobe is taking a slow approach on governance. Unsurprisingly, the initial set of committers will be folks from Adobe, and the governance model is underspecified. Right now, the FAQ says that the schedule and roadmap for Flex will continue to be defined by Adobe. There are stated plans to create a subproject process and subprojects could be managed by people outside Adobe, and incorporated into the Flex tree. The full governance model is not yet determined, and will be influenced by feedback and what actually happens between now and the end of 2007, which is the target for the transition to being a full open source project.

I think that there are likely to be some concerns around use of the Flex trademark. Unlike Java, where (in theory anyway) an open source Java could pass a compatibility test suite and gain access to the trademark, the open source version of Flex cannot be called Flex. It remains to be seen whether this will actually impact participation in the project.

Flex, but Not Flash
This is a good first step for Adobe, but it’s just the first step. The Flash player is not being open sourced at this time, but when I talked with David he told me that that Adobe had been telegraphing the fact that they were going to open source Flex for about 20 months, since the opening of Adobe Labs. When I asked him about the Flash player, he said that open sourcing Flex should be viewed as a telegraphing of Adobe’s intentions. Of course, there’s a big difference between intentions and actual followthrough, so we’ll have to wait and see how the Flex project ends up working out.

Bottom Line
Adobe is moving pretty quickly. When I met with David a week and a half ago, I got the impression that he and Ely had decided that they wanted to open source Flex, but hadn’t cleared it with his management chain. A week and a half later, they are making an announcement. As I’ve mentioned, this is just a first step for Adobe, and there are plenty of opportunities for things to go sideways. Nonetheless, I think that Adobe has understood the importance of openness and is taking some initial exploratory steps to do what’s necessary.

If you think that an open source Flex is important, then you should go to the new discussion forum that Adobe is setting up for open source Flex. There are a lot of things which are intentionally unspecified, and there is still lots of time to give Adobe feedback on this move. I know that I’m going to keep giving them feedback for as long as they continue to solicit it.

Update:
Scoble has a video interview that lets you hear some of what I’ve heard from David and Ely.

Seattle One Light Workshop

Yesterday I took a day off from work and attended Zack AriasOne Light Workshop. The One Light covers how to use a single off camera light to enhance your photographs. I found out about it when some pictures from the One Light Workshop Alumni Pool showed up in the Strobist Flickr Pool. Since I had participated in David Hobby’s Strobist Boot Camp last year, I had some idea about many of the concepts that Zack taught during the One Light, but it was very valuable to me to see how someone like Zack put those techniques to work, and to be able ask questions and clarify my understanding. One big revelation was how Flash to Subject distance and the Inverse Square Law affect lighting. There are still a few pieces of that which are fuzzy, and I’m going to have to do some more reading to feel comfortable with the theory, but Zack gave some really compelling and practical applications of the theory to real world shooting situations.

One of the best parts of the workshop is that Zack gets a model and we all went on a photoshoot, and watched Zack put the theory into practice. Then we all got to try our hand at it, and get help from Zack while everything was still going on. I’m usually a learn it from a book (or blog) kind of guy, but I definitely found the hands on aspects of the workshop to be the most helpful. We did a number of things that really helped me *see* how light was behaving.

The other great benefit of the One Light was the chance to meet other photographers in the Seattle area. I got to meet Erin Vey, who has been doing wonderful work on Flickr for quite some time. The Rodriguez brothers, Gabriel and Boone worked hard to put the One Light together and were great hosts in addition to being good photographers. We had a good sized contingent of people from Vancouver B.C., and it sounded like they were going to get their own One Light sometime soon. It was interesting for me to hear the professional photographers talking about their business and to get a glimpse into life in the photography world. Zack had a lot of good information about how he’s built up his photography business

Here are a few of the images that I made during the workshop:

Seattle One Light Workshop

Seattle One Light Workshop

Seattle One Light Workshop

I need to do more with black and white, so here’s a try at that.

Seattle One Light Workshop

Seattle One Light Workshop

I’m particularly happy with this shot. The One Light was held at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and this was taken in their main auditorium, which has a big sound booth right smack in the middle. There’s a SunPak 120j with a 10 degree grid lighting up Theresa’s face, and the ambient light (sound board, and stage in the far background) is getting picked up by a slow shutter. We did this one during our “go shoot something time”, and I came up with the concept for this, so it felt good to go from concept to actual image.

If you have the opportunity to go to a One Light, I would highly recommend it. Zack has the same low budget approach that David Hobby is taking over at Strobist, and Zack is travelling a lot more than David is (David, if you do a workshop in the Pacific Northwest, I am there). Also the One Light is pretty inexpensive compared to most photo workshops and if you have a day job, it happens all in one day (there’s a mixer the night before).

Update: More Images

Bill Cawley

Boone Rodriguez

Erin Vey on Flickr, blog post

Justin Lam

Dave Ryan

Rachel Pick

Is there a better way than the JCP?

[ via Don Park ]:

Elliotte Rusty Harold is asking if there’s a better way than the JCP:

On reviewing this, I think I’m struck by a fundamental flaw in the JCP for the first time. Sun is still mired in a 20th century, waterfall, big bang approach to development. There are at least three, probably more, different things going on in this process that could certainly be separated and developed independently.

Still I wonder if there’s a better way (and perhaps the open sourcing of the JDK might enable it).

It’s good to see people asking the right questions.

The Open Web, the Closed Web and the Live Web

So back in March, Brendan Eich of Mozilla wrote post titled “The Open Web and its Adversaries“. His definition of open seems to rest on this:

a web whose major content formats are not controlled by a single vendor

A goal which I agree with, and the basis for my series of Flex posts, which he also referenced. So far, so good. As he continued, I got confused. He asks us to:

Consider just the open standards that make up the major web content languages: HTML, CSS, DOM, JS. These mix in powerful ways that do not have correspondences in something like a Flash SWF.

I agree with his assessment of the powerful ways in which these technologies combine. But much of what he finds laudable are technical properties — they don’t derive from the fact that these are open standards. It’s just a fortunate (or perhaps, designed) outcome that those are the technologies that are combined in a browser. After all Java, C#, and even C++ have been standardized (well at least if you believe that the JCP is standards body), so being an open standard technology is not a guarantee that you’ll have the properties that make the web “alive” according to Brendan. It seemed like what was really being discussed was the “live web”, not the “open web”.

The place where I really got lost was when he started discussing the future of the open web,

Implicit in my writing is the assumption (conclusion, really) that browsers can adopt the necessary advanced rendering and faster virtual-machine programming language support that the “rich client platforms” boast (or promise in version 2.0). … There’s no technical reason this can’t be interoperably supported by other browsers in the near term.

There’s no technical reason, but there are plenty of political/business reasons. Every browser implements each of the open standards to a varying degree. They implement different versions of the specs. They implement each spec imperfectly. That translates into lots of debugging and testing when building an application atop the open web. I like the improvements that are likely to come in Firefox. The problem is that until many of those improvements appear (if ever) in Safari and IE, it will be hard to justify using those improvements, because it means writing multiple versions of the same code and then qualifying those versions. Contrary to Brendan’s assertion, big companies with armies of developers might have the resources to devote to all that additional work, but small development houses are the least able to tolerate that additional labor. Since Microsoft has an interest in advancing WPF/E, part of the Closed web, it’s hard to imagine that they will be motivated to improve IE quickly enough for innovative Live web features in Firefox and Safari to make a difference to application developers versus something like WPF/E or Flex. The risk to Microsoft is that instead of collecting those developers themselves, they lose them to Adobe.

Everything is dead, except Apple and the Web

Or so it would seem.

A few weeks back, Dare Obasanjo said “Open Source is Dead“. The crux of his argument:

This is why Open Source is dead, as it will cease to be relevant in a world where most consumers of software actually use services as opposed to installing and maintaining software that is “distributed” to them.

If the only valuable property of open source was as a distribution mechanism/channel, I’d be inclined to agree. But open source is a means of production not only a means of distribution and routing around lock in. And of course, his argument applies to all distributed software, not just open source software. Which would make Microsoft dead as well.

This would no doubt please Paul Graham, who earlier this month wrote that “Microsoft is dead“, repeating the idea that software delivered via the web is in the process of displacing desktop software. Although for him to be announcing this in 2007, ‘to be the first one to call it” seems somewhat late. Also he weakens the case for web vs desktop software by tossing Apple into the mix, and the last time I looked, Apple was a desktop software company.

To complete the trifecta, Jeremey Wagstaff [via Marc Orchant] clarified that ‘It’s Not the “Death” of Microsoft, it’s the “Death” of Software‘. That doesn’t seem right either, since there’s a lot of software running all those web apps that are killing off everybody else. Of the three prognosticators of doom, his comments resonate the most with me:

We somehow demand less and less from our software, so that we can declare a sort of victory. I love a lot of Web 2.0 apps but I’m not going to kid myself: They do one simple thing well — handle my tasks, say — or they are good at collaboration. They also load more quickly than their offline equivalents. But this is because, overall, they do less. When we want our software to do less quicker, they’re good. Otherwise they’re a pale imitation of more powerful, exciting applications in which we do most of our work.

But all this just proves to me that there has been little real innovation in software in the sense of making programs do more. Web 2.0 has excited us because we lowered our expectations so much. Of course web apps will get better, and one day will deliver the functionality we currently get from desktop software. They may even do more than our desktop applications one day. But isn’t it a tad strange that we think this is all a huge leap forward?

Perhaps its a Great Leap Forward

Ryan, Open Source, and Flash

A few weeks back, I had dinner in Seattle with Ryan Stewart and Brian Zug. Over the course of several hours we covered a number of topics, including a crash course in open source software. Yesterday Ryan posted some of what he learned during our conversation, including his conclusions about whether or not open sourcing the Flash Player was a good idea. That post generated a bunch of traffic, so Ryan put up a follow up post on his personal blog.

Unfortunately, many people reading Ryan’s post or one of the aggregated excerpts didn’t have the context which prompted the dinner and the posts. All of this took place in the context of three blog posts which I wrote last month where I took a look at Adobe’s Flex/Apollo technology from the point of view of the openness of the technology. I’m interested in Flash only as a component of Flex. I’m not interested in singing/dancing web pages or in Flash based ads, but much of the reaction to Ryan’s post was centered around traditional uses of Flash in web pages. Many people said “oh, open sourcing it will destroy compatibility”. Yet the context of the discussion included ways of maintaining compatibility.

The most interesting response that I found was from Ted Patrick at Adobe. Ted shed some light on the ways that Adobe/Macromedia have involved customers in the development of previous versions of the Flash Player. This was useful information to have — I think that I was probably more ignorant of these facts than Ryan was, truth be told – and suggests to me that there is some culture of working with people outside of Adobe/Macromedia. Perhaps most encouraging was his acknowledgment that Adobe could be more open. Of course that’s not a commitment to be more open, and indeed, he warns that becoming more open will not happen overnight. I am not expecting something to happen overnight — after all, I’ve waited 9 years for Java, and am still waiting. The wheels do have to start turning sometime, though.

Who said dynamic language performance doesn’t count?

From the desk of Alex Payne:

All of us working on Twitter are big Ruby fans, but I think it’s worth being frank that this isn’t one of those relativistic language issues. Ruby is slow.

Yep. Dynamic Language performance sure does count… Read the whole thing.

It’s all about the governance

About a month ago, when talking about the prospects for more open RIA technologies, I wrote:

I’d hope that we could do better than both the W3C or the JCP for Flex/Flash or OpenLaszlo.

After yesterday, I think my reasoning ought to be obvious. FAQ link for those new to the issues. Stefano and Ben, as always, find a satisfying way to put it, and Redmonk’s Steven O’Grady has a fair minded analysis.

The details of Java and Apache aside, I would call this whole situation a case study in how not to setup the governance for something open. I have never been a fan of the JCP process because Sun has always had rights that no other participant had. To Sun’s credit, the process has become considerably more open since the JCP was created in 1998. On the other hand, that openness is the result of *years* of hounding by the ASF and other organizations, and now, 9 years later, there are still hiccups. The world is a different place today in 2007 than it was in 1998, and general understanding of openness and community are much greater than when the JCP was founded. I would hope than anyone setting out to build a governance model for some piece of technology would look long and hard at the lessons (good and bad) of the JCP experience.

Macintosh Tips and Tricks revised

My Macintosh Tips and Tricks page is one of the most visited page on my site. However, it was pretty out of date, particularly with respect to Intel Macintoshes. A few weeks ago I started converting the page to a “page” in WordPress. Scoble’s request for Mac tips last week motivated me to push through and finish.

So without further ado, the newest revsion of my Macintosh Tips and Tricks. (The old one redirects to the new one too).

Update: corrected my French/English. Thanks Adriano!

Ignite Seattle 3

Last night I finally made it over to one of the Ignite Seattle events. I’d been wanting to get over for one of them, but part of the rub is getting a ride from the ferry to the actual location. Fortunately, Ryan Stewart was kind enough to give me a lift to and fro.

Ignite has a very interesting format. There’s a MAKE event before the talks get underway. The talk section is grouped into 30 minutes of talks and 30 minutes of mixing, which is repeated for either 2 or 3 talk blocks total. The talks themselves are 5 minutes long and you get 20 slides and 15 seconds per slide — the slides advance automatically, so it really is 15 seconds. If you’re a listener, it means you get a bunch of talks in a short time, and you are guaranteed that you only have to endure a bad or uninteresting talk for 5 minutes. If you are a speaker, it means that you really need to have your act together. It’s a challenging format, and even some experience speakers have trouble making it work for them.

Highlights of the talks:

Karen Anderson‘s Work Place Survival Tips – there was one really good one — I hope she blogs it. I had a camera in my hand, so my attention was divided.

Scott Berkun did what might best be described as a brief history of the decline of Attention.

Shelly Farnham of Waggle Labs talked about social tagging, which is the idea of tagging people with semantics which might be useful. She used the example of tagging people at conferences with tags that would help them connect with each other. That’s a problem that resonates with me, but you can easily imagine other domains where this idea would be helpful. Best of show. I’m looking forward to seeing what Pathable.com turns out to be.

Christopher Johnson‘s talk on names was particular interesting, because we’ve been doing some branding stuff at OSAF, and I found his approach based on sounds interesting. Even more interesting was his analysis of how Apple’s name related to the attriubutes of the Apple brand.

Mark Novak from Microsoft crammed a security analysis of OpenID into 5 minutes by talking really fast. The 5 minute format means that the talks are also a kind of performance art. If you were an expert and familiar with his notation it was possible to follow the talk. If not, the performance was really good.

Eric Nevala of the US Marine Corp talked about his experiences running IT for the Marines in Iraq. Eric received sustained applause and support from the audience.

The Twitter backchannel for Ignite was projected on a wall. It was fun to watch some of that chatter go by, and you can use it to get a feel for what happened. After the whole thing was over, Ryan and I spent some time talking to Monica Guzman of the Seattle PI about the merits (or not) of Twitter.

On the whole I had a great time. I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and the talks and format were good. I like seeing folks tinkering with meeting formats — I hope that there’ll be more of that in general. Between Mind Camp and Ignite, the technology community in Seattle might be bumping it up a notch. Kudos to Brady and Bre!

I did have a camera with me, and the pictures are up on this Flickr set.