Adobe opening up Flash

Open Screen Project seeks unified runtime platform for multiple system types

Adobe Systems is opening up access Thursday 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.

One analyst viewed the move as partially a competitive measure against Microsoft's new Silverlight browser plug-in, which could provide a formidable rival to Flash. But Adobe's Dave McAllister, director of stands and open source, emphasized that Flash is the largest single environment for content delivery and said it is natural to expand its reach to other.

Companies partnering with Adobe on Open Screen Project include ARM, Intel, Motorola, NBC, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, MTV, Qualcomm and Sony Ericsson.

Adobe will remove license 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. "Anyone can now read this and make use of this in any way they like," said McAllister. "Adobe is no longer going to get in the way," he added. For example, developers can now use the specification to embed Flash playback capabilities in other applications. Adobe will publish documentation on how to enable the porting of the existing Flash Player onto other devices or applications.

While Adobe is not aware if anyone actually will build a player to rival its own, third parties want access to specification to have more control over their systems that use Flash. "I expect people will build a Flash Player, but I don't expect that they will challenge the ubiquity of the Adobe Flash Player," McAllister said.

Gartner analyst Ray Valdes sees Adobe's move as both a reaction to Silverlight and part of a greater Adobe strategy. "It is partly a tactical, competitive response to the Silverlight challenge in advance of Silverlight's release," he said, but it also represents a strategic vision of greater interoperability among different types of screen devices.

Different devices, ranging from laptops, TVs, and game consoles, are becoming more alike, Valdes said. "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 said Valdes.

"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 said. Desktop systems and phones also are factored into the Open Screen Project.

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.

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. But the "heart" of the Flash Player, the ActionScript virtual machine, already is available via open source, said McAllister.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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