Adobe: friend or enemy of open source, open standards?

I’m sitting in a session at Adobe Max Europe listening to Senior Product Manager Laurel Reitman talking about what a great open platform Adobe is creating. She refers to the open sourcing of the Flex SDK; the open bug database for Flex; the ISO standardization programme for PDF; the donation of source code to Tamarin, the Mozilla Foundation ECMAScript 4.0 runtime project, and the use of open source projects such as SQLite and Webkit within AIR, the Adobe Integrated Runtime which lets you run Flash applications on the desktop, and the fact that AIR will run in due course on Linux, though the initial release will be Mac and Windows only.

So is Adobe the friend of open source and open standards? It’s not so simple. Adobe is more successful than any other company in promoting proprietary standards on the Internet. It ceased development of the open SVG standard for vector graphics, in favour of the proprietary Flash SWF. Adobe’s efforts may well stymie the efforts of John Resig and others at Mozilla to foster open source equivalents to Flash and AIR. View the slides of his recent talk, which include video support integrated into the browser, a canvas for 3D drawing, HTML applications which run from the desktop without browser furniture, and web applications which work offline. Why is there not more excitement about these developments? Simply, because Adobe is there first with its proprietary solutions.

Adobe is arguably more a consumer than a contributor with respect to open source. It is using the open-source Eclipse for Flexbuilder and Thermo, but as far as I can tell not doing much with existing open source projects within Eclipse, preferring to provide its own implementations for things like graphics and visual application development. It is using SQLite and Webkit, and will no doubt feedback bugs and improvements to these projects, but they would flourish with or without Adobe’s input. Tamarin is perhaps its biggest open-source contribution, but read the FAQ: Adobe is contributing source code, but not quite open-sourcing its ActionScript virtual machine. The Flash Player itself remains closed-source, as do its binary compilers.

Like other big internet players, Adobe is treading a fine line. It wants the world to accept its runtimes and formats as standards, while preserving its commercial advantage in controlling them.

My prediction: if Adobe succeeds in its platform ambitions, the company will come under pressure to cede more of its control over those platform standards to the wider community, just as Sun has experienced with Java.

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3 comments to Adobe: friend or enemy of open source, open standards?

  • hi there,

    all the points you make are quite right. I was unable to make my mind up if you were in favour of Adobes possition or not. I must admit that I am. As as developer of internet & desktop applications I’m more interested in the market share & quality of the platforms I’m developing onto. I have to say, I can’t really fault Adobe from that stand point. Being able to write AS3 applications and know they’ll run on (quess)90% of systems is so much better than having to battle cross browser issues. I’m a fan.

    cheers
    glenn

  • Tim

    I was unable to make my mind up if you were in favour of Adobes possition or not.

    That’s how I like it :-)

    Tim

  • amnon

    thought this would be a good place to mention http://jnext.org – a related technology which is as open source as it can get