Tag Archive for 'adobe'

Thoughts from the Seattle Adobe AIR stop

Here are some thought from Adobe’s AIR Bus Tour in Seattle yesterday.

First, is that Adobe is laying out some serious money to promote AIR – they got a (literally) rock star bus, complete with beds, loads of electronics, and tour paint scheme. The event yesterday was at a nice restaurant which they rented for the day, and Adobe was very generous with food and drink, which was of a higher than average quality for a conference.

On the whole, the sessions were informative, although I wished that there had been a little more detail presented. There’s already been lots written about Flex and AIR/Apollo, so I’m not going to rehash any of that. Here are some of the more interesting tidbits that I picked up.

  • Kevin Lynch mentioned that when they opened the native code portion of shockwave, they only got extensions for Windows. It was pretty clear that they want to reach platforms besides Windows.
  • Mike Chambers reemphasized that point when he said that the amenability of WebKit to mobile (ported to Series 60 by Nokia, and now, of course, on iPhone) was one of the big reasons for their choice.
  • There’s some of sample code based on hacks that involve the GPS sensors, cameras, and other gadgets on the bus
  • Aptana is supporting AIR developement in their Eclipse plugin.

I also learned a new term from Lee Brimelow of Frog Design: a “deviner”, a person who has training as both a designer and programmer. I had never heard the term before, but it’s relevant to the content of the talk that Mimi Yin and I are giving at OSCON in a few weeks.

Ryan Stewart persuaded me to do a talk for the Ignite the Web sessions in the evening. I thought it fitting to give a presentation on “Openness and the Web”, based on the content of that string of blog posts that started my dialogue with the Adobe folks. The Ignite format (5 minutes, 20 slides switched at exactly 15 second intervals) is pretty demanding of speakers. I’d consider myself an experienced public speaker, but doing the Ignite talk had me pretty nervous. The delivery went well – I only had one gap where I got out of sync with the slides. Afterwards, John Dowdell, and Ted Patrick, as well as a few others, came to talk about the content of the talk. John and I traded thoughts and clarifications sporadically during the rest of the evening, and he told me that it definitely helped to have heard more from me in person. On the whole, it seemed worthwhile. The only downside is that now Ryan is trying to get me to sign up for the next Ignite Seattle.

Seattle AIR Bus Tour

Tomorrow I’ll be over in Seattle attending Adobe’s AIR Bus tour. As part of that, I’ll be giving an Ignite talk on “Openness and the Web”. If you are attending, stop by and say hi…

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.

Following up on “The Microsoft of the Web”

My post “Adobe wants to be the Microsoft of the Web” attracted enough feedback that I think it’s worth a follow up.

I’m going to begin by trying to clarify two aspects of what I said in the post, and then try to treat blog posts and comments in light of those clarifications.

What do I mean by the Microsoft of the Web?

When I say this, I mean that a single company determines the direction of a technology. Input from other parties might be considered but the company has the final say. I don’t mean this to be a comment on avariciousness of the company, or about the use of monopolistic business practices. It is a statement about having a huge degree of control over an important technology area, not the manner in which control was obtained.

The Flex/Flash stack has many things going for it. Very broad distribution. Users who are somewhat accustomed to upgrading the Flash plugin. Excellent development tools. This gives the stack a powerful position in the market and a good launching point to gain an even stronger position in the new RIA space. There actually is an RIA space, and the problems of incompatible multi-vendor technology in the HTML/CSS/Javascript stack are real and bigger than the problems of plugin version detection and upgrade. OpenLazslo is the only other competitor on my radar, and they have a very good technology, but businesswise they are at a disadvantage when stacked up against Adobe name recognition, tooling, marketing etc. Because the Flex tools story is so compelling to so many developers, they are going to choose Flex. So unless something else happens, when the web is RIAs (which I think is the direction) Flex will be the web, and thus Adobe will be in a Microsoft like dominant position.

What are the properties of a sufficiently open technology?

I don’t think that all software must be free or open source. I don’t begrudge companies who want to charge money for software. I do think that the many properties of the “open source” model result in big benefits to certain classes of technologies, and things like RIA foundations for the web fall into that category. My thinking on this has been shaped by my participation in the Apache Software Foundation, and by books like Democratizing Innovation, The Future of Work, The Success of Open Source, and Benkler’s paper “Coase’s Penguin” (I want to include “The Wealth of Networks” here, but I’m stuck at page 272). In short, Democratizing Innovation is the goal.

  • Interested parties willing to make actual contributions an empowered seat in determining the future of the technology. Let’s break this down. “Interested parties” — anybody who is interested. Corporations or Individuals. “Willing to make actual contributions” – People hanging out throwing rocks but not providing proposals and/or code don’t count. “Empowered seat” – being at the table means having a vote, and not having to pony up money to participate, unlike, say, the W3C. Votes not being overridable at the whim of a single person, unlike, say, JCP 2.6. “determining the future of the technology” – this should be self evident. I am not saying this will be easy. Sun has yet to define the governance model for OpenJDK, and how they handle the governance issue will be of huge importance.
  • Compatibility is important – a significant part of the value (to me) of the Flash/Flex stack is portability/compatibility. It is self defeating to allow compatibility to go out the window. Properly handled, I think that compatibility suites of some kind coupled with trademark usage could go a long way here. Also, distribution of the Flash plugin has a huge impact on compatibility. While people can and do download plugin upgrades, it is also the case that the plugin that gets included in the browsers has a significant advantage, in the same way as the browser that is bundled in the operating system. Adobe already has that relationship with the browser folks. If they were to steward an opened Flash/Flex responsibly, I would think that relationship would be secure.
  • Availability of source code enables parties working on an open technology to collaborate whenever possible, including bugfixes and enhancements. It allows an interested party to show up with a working prototype for a new feature rather than just a paper design, for example. Because of the way that open source and free software have been defined, people think that it’s all about the licensing and availability of source. But all that stuff is just a facilitator for the collaboration. But more on that in a forthcoming post.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere

Ryan Stewart doesn’t want an open source Flash because he is concerned about compatibility. Just because Flash opens up doesn’t not guarantee that it will fragment into a billion versions, or even 5 (existing versions notwithstanding). The value of Flash is in the cross platform compatibility. If people are stupid enough to try gratuitous forking, they are not going to get adopted. This is what Sun has always been afraid of with Java, and I am happy to see that they finally got over it. When the value of your technology is portability/compatibility, the will be very strong pressure to remain compatible. Not only that, there is the distribution issue that I mentioned above.

Andrew Shebanow had several issues:

  • He took issue with the “sensationalistic title” — the title came as a direct quote of something I said in the Twitter backchannel, and I hope the paragraphs above on the meaning of “The Microsoft of the Web” expose more of the reasoning behind the statement.
  • He invokes “the web will route around ‘bad’ players” as an argument for why this will not happen. Perhaps the web will route around. Then again, people could have routed around Windows by buying Macintoshes. It’s a lot harder to route around when your business critical application has already been built.
  • He makes an emotional argument about the ethicality of Adobe, which I wouldn’t presume to dispute. Yet, corporations must answer to their shareholders demands for profits, and I think that the path I outlined about doesn’t require Adobe to be avaricious or have monopolistic tendencies. The only thing stopping it is whether the Flex adoption curve hits an inflection point. Which it hasn’t yet – otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered to post.

Jay Pullor, one of the founders of Pramati, posted about Dekoh, ther Java based RIA technology. I have to confess to a large degree of skepticism regarding Java based RIA technology, mostly due to the Java plugin distribution problem. Yes, I know there is Java Web Start, but my personal experience with Web Start based apps has been hit or miss and disappointing. There’s also the process/governance issues, which his post didn’t address.

The comments

Via the comments I found James Ward’s piece “How I overcame my fear of flash” from a few weeks ago. He basically admits that he is hoping Adobe will do the right thing on the openness front. I’m pointing out that hoping may just be that, due to all the forces in play around the technology and in the market. This is too important to me to leave to hope.

David Temkin from LazsloSystems weighed in on some of my comments about OpenLazslo. He pointed out that:

  • OpenLazslo does have an open public process for defining things like APIs, and that the process is open to non Laszlo contributors
  • Lazslo Systems has hired a community manager to accelerate the development of a community around OpenLazslo
  • He agreed that their community is at a very early stage, which means that there hasn’t been a lot of testing of the public process

(Disclosure: David is an old friend, and I have been a fan of the OpenLazslo technology for some time. I would really like to see them get a chance to compete in the marketplace of ideas for the RIA space.)

John Dowdell and David ? from Adobe also responded in the comments, and I was very pleased that they wanted to engage in conversation around the post. John was trying to suss out what my real requirements were for opennes around the Flash file format. I hope that the second section above provides the insight that he was looking for. (if not, there’s always the comments again). David provided some additional facts about the openness of various parts of Flex and the Flex dev tools. I think his position is that the only part of Flex that isn’t open source is the Flex framework (which sits on top of ECMAScript). The framework ships with source, and apparently, the licensing allows modification and integration. I think that a full story includes both Flash and Flex, since Flash is subsumed into the Flex story. In regard to the Flex framework David said:

Now, all of that said, we haven’t open sourced the Flex framework itself, just the underlying engine it runs on. We haven’t standardized the Flex framework, but we have standardized the language it in (in addition to ECMAScript, we leverage CSS). Given all this, how important is it to you that we open source the framework itself? What would this change for you?

Again, I would point to the second section above, which describes my conception of an appropriately open environment, but which goes beyond some people’s notion’s of open source (although no-one else involved with Apache would be surprised by my list, with the possible exception of the compatibility stuff). What it would change for me is that it would give me the assurance that your “good behavior” regarding Flex wouldn’t suddenly change when there was a management or other change at Adobe. It would demonstrate your trust and regard for a decently sized community of people that feel these issues are important, and who would reward that demonstration of trust with the fruits of their intellects.

There were a few other comments/trackbacks which I plan to address in the comments or in additional posts.

Summation

I see two leading contenders for RIA foundation technologies. OpenLazslo and Flex/Flash/Apollo. OpenLazslo is the underdog, with a really good technology and the basics of a good governance system, but with a fledgling community. Adobe has the advantage as the bigger player, with deeper pockets, more recognition, a better tools story, but no real story on governance/openness. Some components of Flex are source available, but as I mentioned above, source availability is an enabler, not the end goal.

Adobe wants to be the Microsoft of the Web

I suppose this will be the one “technical” post about the whole Adobe Engage thing.

Background
For several years, I worked on Chandler, a cross platform desktop app which uses the open source wxWidgets toolkit to hide platform differences from an application. I am currently managing the Cosmo engineering team, which is developing a web UI for Chandler data which is stored in the Cosmo server. In a previous life, during 2000, I built a rich internet app (RIA) using Flash and Java.

The problem as I see it
I think that a lot (but not all) apps will become RIA’s, and the base platform technology for RIA’s is very important. Too important to be controlled, or designed by any single party. The current vogue toolchain, AJAX, has this property. It also has the property of being a cross platform development nightmare. On the desktop, you commit yourself to a single cross platform library/technology, and then you spend the rest of your time wrestling with it. In AJAX, you have multiple browsers on each platform that you want to support. Not only that, you have multiple versions of each browser. If your use of AJAX is limited to simple animation and so forth, that’s not that big a deal. But when you want to build something that has rich interaction, all those versions are a compatibility nightmare. There are also the performance problems with Javascript. Firefox partisans will be shouting “Tamarin“. Only problem with Tamarin is that it doesn’t help IE or Safari or any other browser. So much for platform independence.

Flash/Flex
Enter Flash/Flex. Flash has a great cross platform story. One runtime, any platform. Penetration of the Flash Player is basically the same as penetration of browsers capable of supporting big AJAX apps. There are nice development tools. This is highly appealing.

What is not appealing is going back to a technology which is single sourced and controlled by a single vendor. If web applications liberated us from the domination of a single company on the desktop, why would we be eager to be dominated by a different company on the web? Yet, this is what Adobe would have us do, as would the many who are (understandably, along some dimensions, anyway) excited about Flex? Read Anne Zelenka’s post on Open Flash if you don’t think that Flash has an openness problem. I’m not eager to go from being beholden to Microsoft to being beholden to Adobe.

What to do?
Unfortunately, there don’t really seem to be many alternatives. There’s OpenLaszlo, but much as I like the Laszlo folks, perusing the mailing lists shows that it’s still pretty much a Laszlo show. So while the licensing is better, the community development part doesn’t seem to be much better. There’s also the possibility of Adobe having a change of heart regarding the openness of Flash and Flex. But it’s hard for me to see why they would do that. I guess we can only hope that Adobe’s experience with Tamarind warms it to the benefits of a more open model for the future of Flash. Sun has finally woken up, so maybe it’s not impossible for Adobe to either.

[Update: see my followup]