Adobe Makes Bold Foray Into Open Source Territory

Adobe is making an aggressive push into open source with its plans to release the code for its Flex platform.

The Flex SDK (software development kit) and documentation will be available under the Mozilla Public License in the second half of 2007. At the same time, though, Adobe will continue to make the Flex SDK and other Flex products available under existing commercial licenses.

The MPL will provide full access to Flex source code, giving developers free rein to download, extend and contribute to the source code for the Flex compiler, components and application framework.

Coinciding With Moxie

Adobe also plans to prerelease the next version of the Flex product line, code-named “Moxie.” This summer it will post daily software builds of the Flex SDK on a public download site with a public bug database, Adobe said.

Moxie’s debut is scheduled to coincide with the release of open source Flex under the MPL in the latter part of this year.

Enticing more developers to its platform is one driver behind Adobe’s decision to open source Flex, Phil Costa, director of product management for Flex, told LinuxInsider.

“Our goal is to take this core platform and get as many developers to participate as possible,” he said, “and to enable our partners to build tool kits around this framework.”

The company’s goal is to reach a million developers by open sourcing Flex, Costa said.

The move is also part of a larger, multistage strategy. “People who make investments in this platform, or are thinking of doing so, want to know that it will be bigger, eventually, than it currently is,” he explained.

Open source has been pivotal to the rapid growth of Alfresco, according to John Newton, the company’s CTO.

“It’s great to see Adobe take a similar approach to Flex technology,” he stated.

“We’ve been very interested in using the Flex SDK to put a more usable and engaging face on enterprise content management,” Newton remarked, “and this move by Adobe makes that all the more attractive.”

Adobe may have greater plans for Flex — and open source in general — than this one announcement entails, suggested James Governor, founder of RedMonk.

“Personally, I think this is the beginning of an entirely new game for Adobe and open source,” he told LinuxInsider.

Intermittent Steps

Up to now, Adobe has taken just a few intermittent steps in this area. In June 2006, it released the Adobe Flex SDK, which includes the MXML (Multimedia Extensible Markup Language) compiler and the ActionScript 3.0 libraries. These are necessary components of the Flex framework that provide the standards-based language and programming model to create Internet applications for deployment on Flash.

Adobe’s other open source initiatives include its contribution of source code for the ActionScript Virtual Machine to the Mozilla Foundation under the Tamarin project; the use of the open source WebKit engine in the “Apollo” project; and the release of the full PDF 1.7 specification for ISO standardization.

“What is significant about this announcement is that [Flex] is a core, or forward-looking, technology,” Governor said, “and this represents a huge leap in attitude for Adobe.”

Traditionally, software companies have chosen to open source a technology either because it was very old or in response to market demands, he said.

“One might argue that when Oracle open sourced Top Link, it needed to more effectively compete against other technologies. Even Sun’s decision about Solaris was not entirely a free one.”

Flex, by contrast, is core to Adobe’s future, and there are no competitive pressures to open source it, he said.

“The fact that it has open sourced its future rather than its past is very key,” Governor observed.

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