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RIA & Ajax: Article

Adobe Open Sourcing Flex a Sign of Desperation?

Blankenhorn from ZDNet says this is a sign of desperation from Adobe...Is that so?

(April 26, 2007) - Adobe sent out a press release this morning titled "Adobe to Open Source Flex". Is that so? Dana Blankenhorn from ZDNet says this is A sign of desperation from Adobe...Is that so?

After reading the press release a few times, the title "to Open Source Flex" seems to be misleading a little bit. Adobe is NOT open sourcing Flex. Adobe is only open sourcing a part of Flex, only the part that will help Flex adoption without giving away revenue source(side note: nothing wrong with this, but just thought it would be helpful to have it clarified). More in detail:

The part of Flex that is open sourced (this is what was called as "Flex SDK" as part of Flex on Adobe's website):

  1. Java source code for the ActionScript and MXML compilers
  2. the ActionScript command line debugger
  3. the ActionScript libraries that make up the client side Flex components

The part of Flex that is not open source:

  1. Some unspecified portions of the current free Flex 2 SDK (free but binary only)
  2. Flex Data Services (commercial)
  3. Flex Charting (commercial)
  4. Adobe Flex Builder (development environment)

Further,  offerings that are closely related to Flex but not part of Flex - none is open source:

  1. The Flash player (free but binary only)
  2. Apollo (free but binary only)

Ed Burnette  has a fairly good assessment of this annoucement at ZDNet (Adobe keeps Flash, Flex close to the vest) that offers additional infomation:

  • Open sourcing is not now. The actual open source will start with the "Moxie" version (Flex 3), due out later in 2007.
  • The open source license is Mozilla Public License (MPL), which is gives rights to source code and free distribution, however, any modification must be make available on MPL as well (so it is much more restrictive than Apache license).
  • Importantly, In addition to MPL, the Flex SDK will continue to be available under a commercial license. Adobe will retain control of the schedule, roadmap, and all infrastructures to support the Flex project. Initially all committers will be Adobe employees. Anyone wishing to submit contributions will need to sign an agreement (and probably assign copyright to Adobe).

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • This planned open source Flex SDK roughly matches  the functionality of Apache XAP (technically very different), but in  a more much restrictive license, a closed open source model and on an Adobe owned and controlled platform (Flash):

     Apache XAPFlex SDK
    Open source license and managementApache V2 license. XAP is an Apache project (under incubation). MPL, most likely managed and controlled by Adobe
    Runtime platformAjaxFlash
    TechnologyDeclarative Ajax (write code using XML, XAP engine interprets XML directly on the client side. XAP requires no server side compilation that makes it much better for integrating JSP/Servlet/ASP/Ruby.)Declarative Flash (write code using MXML, then use compiler to compile MXML to SWF in order to run in Flash)


    This planned open source Flex SDK also roughly matches the functionality of Laszlo (and technically very similar as well). It almost felt like that Adobe has been following the footsteps of Laszlo. Laszlo started Flash RIA initially, then Macromedia released something very similar called  "Flex" which forced Laszlo to open source its RIA platform. Now Adobe followed Laszlo again to open source Flex SDK, what does this mean to Laszlo? Of course, Laszlo has recently switched to support Ajax that the openness of Ajax gives Laszlo an edge that Adobe Flex doesn't have;
  • On the comment of "closed open source model", what I meant is that Adobe will probably try to manage and control the open source project and open source community associated with it. I hope Adobe will not go for a "closed open source model", instead, go for a true open source model like what Nexaweb did with Apache XAP. Will Adobe open source Flex SDK at Apache Software Foundation, a true open source community, instead of trying to manipulate the community by saying "open source" while retains corporate control?
  • The business model of Adobe Flex seems to be unchanged. Flex SDK has been free already so there is no revenue attached it. Adobe will continue to

    1. charge money for tooling(Flex Builder), key UI functionality(Flex Charting)

    2. charge money for enterprise data/service integration (Flex Data Service). My knowledge heard from the marketplace is that Flex Data Service has not done well so far in the market, and Adobe has quite a long way to go here.

So, my overall conclusion is that “Open sourcing Flex” is more a marketing play aimed at gaining buzz/attention, converting more developers and hopefully drives adoption of Flash/MXML over the long turn, and may well be largely in response to Microsoft's Silverlight (Dana Gardner and I chatted about this just a few days ago and thought Adobe may utillize some open source ploy to fight back against Microsoft).

A few interesting comments from the community about why Adobe made this annoucement (not that I entirely agree with these comments, just thought they are interesting): 

  • Bob Buffone said his blog post Where is Duke? is the reason that Adobe made this annoucement;
  • asphaltjesus (978804) commented on Slashdot about Adobe's Flex annoucement:

    Right now their new product is not taking off fast enough and they are trying to head Microsoft off. They've got a more profitable product in Flash and it's their product as opposed to this project they inherited from Macromedia.

    This is the last step before they abandon it. Which they won't do right away. First some exec that came over from Macromedia and forcing the project through will resign. Then a couple of months later the updates will stop.

    As someone who has witnessed their business people in action at a very high level, the riskiest thing they've done lately is to try a new restaurant for lunch;

What? The riskest thing that Adobe business people have done lately is to try a new restaurant for lunch? That's a little harsh and I thought they deserve a lot more credit...

Another user xxxJonBoyxxx (565205)'s comment on Slashdot received "score 4" being rated as "insightful":

There's a sucker born every minute, isn't there.

What Adobe has done by throwing an "open source" SDK bone is made it appear like they're leaning toward open-source Flash without actually giving away any of the crown jewels. Adobe's move is very much like the gigabyes of "open source" code samples Microsoft makes available in its extensive MSDN library: you can use and modify them for free, but you still need Microsoft's core (and proprietary) software to make them work.

"JD" from Adobe says this post is "a collection of the best arguments that someone with self-interest to criticize is able to marshal" - no no, I have no intention to either criticize or praise anyone (if my intention is to criticize, the post would have looked very differently). It is about what "adobe to open source Flex" means:

1. what is to be open sourced;
2. what is not to be open sourced;
3. How does it compare to other open source projects (XAP, Laszlo, etc);

Most of the above are factual (If it is not factual, I hope someone like JD will correct me instead of assuming that my intention is to criticize).

Finally, Is this a sign of desperation from Adobe? I don't think it is that bad though...

More Stories By Coach Wei

Coach Wei is founder and CEO of Yottaa, a web performance optimization company. He is also founder and Chairman of Nexaweb, an enterprise application modernization software company. Coding, running, magic, robot, big data, speed...are among his favorite list of things (not necessarily in that order. His coding capability is really at PowerPoint level right now). Caffeine, doing something entrepreneurial and getting out of sleeping are three reasons that he gets up in the morning and gets really excited.

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Most Recent Comments
AJAX News 06/13/07 03:56:05 PM EDT

Adobe sent out a press release titled 'Adobe to Open Source Flex'. Is that so? Dana Blankenhorn from ZDNet says this is A sign of desperation from Adobe...Is that so? After reading the press release a few times, the title 'to Open Source Flex' seems to be misleading a little bit. Adobe is NOT open sourcing Flex. Adobe is only open sourcing a part of Flex, only the part that will help Flex adoption without giving away revenue source(side note: nothing wrong with this, but just thought it would be helpful to have it clarified).

AJAX News 06/13/07 03:54:54 PM EDT

Adobe sent out a press release titled 'Adobe to Open Source Flex'. Is that so? Dana Blankenhorn from ZDNet says this is A sign of desperation from Adobe...Is that so? After reading the press release a few times, the title 'to Open Source Flex' seems to be misleading a little bit. Adobe is NOT open sourcing Flex. Adobe is only open sourcing a part of Flex, only the part that will help Flex adoption without giving away revenue source(side note: nothing wrong with this, but just thought it would be helpful to have it clarified).