In an effort to build a larger community of developers for its Flex environment, Adobe Systems said Thursday it plans to open-source the Flex software development kit (SDK), designed to let developers build multimedia-rich Internet applications, by the end of the year.
The SDK includes the two developer languages used to write Flex applications, MXML and ActionScript 3.0; class libraries; components such as user-interface controls and layout containers; and the code compiler, which is required for developers to write Flex applications. Adobe will release all of these elements under the Mozilla Public License by the end of the year, said Jeff Whatcott, vice president of product marketing.
The move is part of Adobe's makeover to position itself as an ally to open-source developer community, Whatcott said. The company hopes this strategy will help Flex become more widely used, as it is an integral product for Adobe's strategy to maintain and increase its position with developers in the rapidly growing rich Internet applications market.
There are several market forces at work driving this strategy. Traditionally, Adobe has been seen as a more proprietary niche player in the digital document-creation and Web development tools space. For example, Adobe's ubiquitous portable document format (PDF), while available for free, has never been available to the community as a standard. Adobe recently submitted PDF to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to change that as part of its more open style.
Acquiring Macromedia, the original Flex creator, in 2005 helped Adobe seem more developer-friendly because of that company's Java-based software portfolio and popularity with Web developers. But even then Adobe acquired a set of proprietary tools such as Flash -- on which Flex is based -- and Dreamweaver, which have a loyal following but are not specifically aimed at pulling in open-source loyalists.
Adobe needs the open source community for another reason: Microsoft is encroaching on their territory with its forthcoming Expression toolset and recently unveiled Silverlight technology for deploying rich Internet applications from the browser. Opening up Flex could help Adobe earn a critical mass of developers it will need to fend off Microsoft going forward.
Joe Berkovitz, chief architect with Allurent, a company that has built software for rich Internet commerce applications based on Flex, said open-sourcing the Flex SDK will serve both developers and Adobe well.
"[Flex] is a young platform, and because Adobe has had the source exposed for some time, developers that work closely with it will have a lot of insight on how to make [Flex] better," Berkovitz said.
Adobe, too, will gain from differentiating itself from Microsoft through its open-source affiliation, he added.
"It takes the comparison between [Microsoft's competing technologies] WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) and Silverlight and Flash/Flex to a different level," Berkovitz said. "It's not just what features are best ... but what process are each of the platforms following as they evolve. A process based on open source is going to be inherently more powerful and scale better."