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Adobe Opens Freely Available Flex

Adobe Systems is planning on making parts of its freely available Flex rich Internet application (RIA) development environment framework available under an open source license.

By doing so Adobe hopes to improve the attractiveness of Flex to developers, as it competes against AJAX and other RIA technologies.

"It's true we've had a free SDK and anyone can extend and use Flex, but what we haven't been able to do that people want to do is allow them to contribute and make actual changes to the framework," Jeff Whatcott, vice president of product marketing in the enterprise and developer business unit at Adobe, told internetnews.com.

"We haven't had a legal framework and a process framework to accept those changes in an orderly fashion, and open source is a very standard way to solve that problem."

The plan is for certain components of the next version of Flex to be available under a Mozilla Public License later this year. The current Flex version 2.0 will not be open source.

The components of version 3.0 that will be open source include the Java source code for the ActionScript and MXML compilers, the ActionScript debugger, and the ActionScript libraries that make up the core Flex framework. Adobe is not open sourcing Flex Data Services, Flex Charting or its Flex Builder Eclipse-based IDE.

Phil Costa, director of product management of Flex at Adobe, explained that Adobe has been involved in a process of opening up Flex for several years. He said the reason Flex version 2.0 is not going open source has to do with intellectual property issues.

"One of the reasons why we need to delay is there are patented items in there that we have to replace with open source alternatives," Costa said.

The first public builds of open source-licensed Flex components are expected in June, though a public bug database or version-control repository may not necessarily be available at that time. The rollout will continue throughout the rest of summer and through fall. Costa said that the plan is for people to contribute, and external contribution will be allowed and encouraged.

"The goal is to bring the developer community closer into the fold so we can involve them in the evolution of Flex and give them more opportunities to build and extend tools that relate to flex and build the ecosystem."

There are those who argue that Adobe move to open source parts of Flex is actually a reaction to competitive pressures in the marketplace.

"It's hard not to see this move as reactive," 451 Group Analyst Raven Zachary wrote in a blog post. "We've had a string of open source rich Internet application announcements over the past few years from Laszlo Systems to the Dojo Toolkit to Helmi Technologies to ICEsoft to Exadel to Nexaweb. The list goes on.

"Adobe is a late entrant. At this stage, RIA is synonymous with open source and the opportunities for proprietary RIA vendors seem fairly constrained."

Costa, however, does not see the move as being a reaction to any one competitor, but rather as part of a strategy Adobe hatched in 2003. Certainly there are a lot of alternatives and that's a good thing as it helps to validate the opportunity.

By open sourcing components of Flex, Whatcott noted that Adobe is also helping to tear down the wall between Ajax and Flex technologies.

"With open source we take one more brick out of the wall and encourage people who are developing open source AJAX libraries to check out Flex and see how the two might interoperate."