Adobe opens up Flash, partners with many

Move is a response to Microsoft's Silverlight, analyst says

Adobe Systems has opened up access to its Flash technology via the Open Screen Project, an industry initiative intended to provide a Flash-based unified runtime environment for rich content across all devices.

Ray Valdes, research director at Gartner, views the move as partially a competitive measure against Microsoft's new Silverlight browser plug-in, which could provide a formidable rival to Flash. But Dave McAllister, Adobe's director of stands and open source, emphasises that Flash is the largest single environment for content delivery and says partners are pleased with the new initiative.

"[Otherwise], we wouldn't have every partner saying, 'We want to be involved in this,'" McAllister says. Companies partnering with Adobe on the Open Screen Project include ARM, Intel, Motorola, NBC, Nokia, NTT Dokomo, MTV, Qualcomm, and Sony Ericsson.

Specifically, Adobe will remove licence restrictions from use of the SWF specification, which is the file format for the Flash Player, as well as for FLV/F4V specifications for streaming Flash content.

These restrictions have prevented others from building a Flash player. While Adobe is not aware if anyone actually will build a player to rival its own, third parties want access to specifications to have more control over their systems that use Flash.

"In 10 years, we've been a good enough steward that no one has complained," McAllister says. "I expect people will build a Flash Player, but I don't expect that they will challenge the ubiquity of the Adobe Flash Player."

Adobe's move was seen as both a way to stave off Silverlight and a visionary effort.

Gartner's Valdes says "I think it's two things. It is partly a tactical, competitive response to the Silverlight challenge in advance of Silverlight's release".

It also represents a strategic vision of greater interoperability among different types of screen devices, he says.

Different devices, ranging from laptops, TVs, and game consoles, are becoming more alike, Valdes says. "The idea is that if you could have one display technology foundation for all those screens, then that would put Adobe in a good position" he says.

SWF has been published for a while, but anyone who wanted to read it had to agree to not build their own implementation of the Flash Player. "We're removing all restrictions so anyone can now read this and make use of this in any way they like," says McAllister.

"People can read things they couldn't read before and build things they couldn't build, and Adobe is no longer going to get in the way," he says.

Anyone is free to use the specification to embed Flash playback capabilities in other applications. Port information will be published to enable the porting of the existing Flash Player onto other devices or applications. With the freeing of Adobe's FLV and F4VF specifications, third parties now can build tools to work with these specifications.

"The goal of this is to provide this consistent runtime using Adobe Flash and, in the future, Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) across all these devices," including consumer electronics and mobile Internet devices," McAllister says. Desktop systems and phones also are factored into the Open Screen Project.

"What we're doing is extending the reach of the web, and we are making sure that Adobe technologies don't get in the way of making the web as open as possible," says McAllister.

Adobe Flash Cast and AMF (Action Message Format) protocols also will be published. AMF provides data services.

Also, the next generation of the Flash Player will have no royalty fees. This version is due as part of Open Screen Project in mid-2009. There has been a per-device royalty charged for devices and handsets using the software.

Adobe believes that by opening up its Flash environment, it can sell more developer and design tools to offset any loss of royalties.

The Open Screen Project is not specifically an open source effort because there are certain technologies in Flash, such as audio and video codecs, that are licensed from others. The "heart" of the Flash Player, the ActionScript virtual machine, is already available via open source, says McAllister.

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