What Adobe, Mozilla aren't doing

Sometimes it pays to take a little time before you issue a press release. This morning's release about collaboration between Adobe and Mozilla is a great case in point.


Sometimes it pays to take a little time before you issue a press release. This morning's release about collaboration between Adobe and Mozilla is a great case in point. A quick scan of the news headlines reveals all sorts of confusing results:

"Adobe opens Flash source to Firefox"

"Adobe contributes Flash code to Mozilla"

"Adobe partners with Mozilla and frees Flash player technology"

"Flash and Firefox to unite"

Unfortunately, though all of these headlines might technically be true, all of them are also somewhat misleading. It seems Adobe's announcement could have been a little clearer. Yes, Adobe did contribute some source code to the Mozilla project. And that code did technically come from Flash -- but to imply that Flash is now more open source than it was before the morning would be taking it too far.

What Adobe did contribute is its ActionScript engine, the interpreter that executes the ActionScript code that powers many Flash projects. It's part of Flash -- an interesting part -- but not the whole thing, and not the part that deals with delivering graphics over the Web.

ActionScript is a language that very much resembles JavaScript, plus some Flash-specific extensions. That's because the current implementations of JavaScript and ActionScript are all derived from an open standard called ECMAScript. Still another variant is JScript, a Microsoft implementation. All these languages resemble one another in syntax and capabilities but diverge in other ways.

Mozilla already had its own JavaScript interpreter, which is what is currently found in the Firefox and Seamonkey browsers. It works OK, but it could be better. Consensus seems to be that the proprietary engine that Macromedia wrote for Flash (which recently became an Adobe product, with Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia) is better. So it is in fact great news that Adobe has now donated the source code to that engine to the Mozilla Foundation, as a project called Tamarin.

It doesn't mean the Flash player is now open source. It doesn't mean Flash will now be better integrated with Mozilla Firefox. What it does mean, however, is that future versions of Firefox will probably do a better job of running JavaScript code than the current versions. And, because the Tamarin engine is still open source, the community will be able to examine and improve it, which will benefit Mozilla, Firefox, and Flash, all at the same time.

Other open source projects should also be able to take Tamarin and embed it into their own code. With this announcement, the open source community at large has access to a very high quality engine for executing the ECMAscript family of languages -- and that is, indeed, a good thing.

For all those who were popping champagne corks in toast to open source Flash, however ... in this case, I'm afraid the initial reports should have read the press release a little more closely before they wrote their headlines. It's tempting to go overboard, but come on ... did anyone really expect Adobe to open source the Flash crown jewels?

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