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Adobe Opens Up Flash Framework

Adobe's Flash is a closed-source technology and is likely to stay that way, but that doesn't mean that technologies surrounding and supporting Flash can't be open.

Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) today is announcing the open sourcing of two technologies related to the Flash platform -- one for its media player, the other for font presentation. The moves aim to encourage open source innovation around Flash, and are in step with Adobe's strategy of being open, though not always open source.

"The Open Source Media Framework, also known as Strobe, lets people build their own media player based on the Flash platform," Dave McAllister, director of standards and open source at Adobe, told InternetNews.com. "So the ability to wrap things around it, create a unique experience that a media content provider may want and add plug-ins. So while it's not directly about open sourcing all of Flash, which we can't do because of the codecs, this will allow people to be innovative around the Flash player."

The Flash player's core SWF (Shockwave Flash) specification is published and is accessible. The virtual machine that powers Flash Player, Tamarin, is an open source project and the language that drives the Flash Player and the Flex framework for Flash applications, is also open.

But Flash uses a number of proprietary codecs that Adobe is unable to open source. Because of those, McAllister stated in March that Flash was as open as Adobe could make it.

Yet with OSMF, Adobe is adding another rung to its open source technology suite that surrounds the proprietary bits of Flash. While the OSMF can be used to create a Flash media player interface, those players will still rely on the underlying proprietary Flash technology in order to actually play and stream media.

McAllister noted that, for example, OSMF could not be used to create a Flash Player that would play the open source Ogg Theora video codec instead of the proprietary codecs that Adobe uses.

"OSMF is still based on the Flash platform," McAllister said. "We are investigating ways for making it easier for people to add the codecs, but it's non-trivial when you get into the video place."

Audio is another story. McAllister noted that Adobe has the ability with Ogg Vorbis -- which is an open source audio codec -- to tie it directly into the Flash Player.

"You do lose some performance, but it's there," McAllister said. "Again, you're not getting inside the Flash player with OSMF. You're wrapping around the Flash player."

As a result of its flexibility, OSMF might enable new abilities to interact with media, Adobe said.

"Imagine taking the current Flash player in a gaming environment and being able to extend it so you can also tap into other info and put it all together," McAllister said. "So it's no longer a single environment but it also bringing in the ability to manipulate that media environment in ways that might not be apparent today."

Advanced typography

In addition to OSMF, Adobe is open sourcing its Text Layout Framework (TLF), which is intended to enable advance typography control for Web applications.

McAllister explained that TLF requires the Flash player, but it enables better typography control for text than CSS provides. According to McAllister, TLF enables developers to show fonts in any way they want with full font control.

Overall with both TLF and OSMF, Adobe is open sourcing the technologies in order to get help from the open source community to push the technologies further.

"What we're hoping is that we'll see the community pick up and get to the innovation aspects that open source can bring to the world," McAllister said. "We're not going to think of everything there is and even if we could, we wouldn't be able to write it all. The really cool ideas these days are coming from the people that can take code and play 'what if' games."