FUD about open source Flash

16:55 Wed 07 Mar 2007. Updated: 21:18 08 Mar 2007
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Steve recently tried to rile me up by sending me a link to this article by a Flash developer about why he does’t think open source Flash is necessary. And it worked. A state of riledom indeed ensued.

Primarily because of the incredibly foolish second paragraph, which I will quote most of here:

[A]s a Flash developer, I don’t think open sourcing the Flash player is the way to go. I like knowing that everyone’s version of Flash player is exactly the same. I don’t want to have to start hacking applications to make them work in the 2-3 most popular versions of the Flash Player. For me, that’s the single biggest reason why open sourcing the Flash Player would be a bad thing.
—Ryan Stewart, http://blogs.zdnet.com/Stewart/?p=298

Yeah, exactly, because, like, as a Web developer I spend tons of time worrying about how all the different versions of Firefox are going to render the pages/applications I’m devel… oh wait. I don’t, and Ryan is talking out of his ass.

Seriously, how can you talk about “Rich Internet Applications” and open source and make the assertion that open source leads to instant crazy splinter versions without even mentioning Firefox?

I’m going to assume that Ryan’s just being foolish and/or igorant, because tha alternative is that he’s being dishonest, and ignoring Firefox because it’s an example that torpedoes his argument.

Of course, many other examples do the same thing. Going back to HTML, yes, developers spend time dealing with the different vendors’ different implementations, and that’s very annoying—but the answer to that is, of course, standards. The answer is not to wish that Microsoft had utterly destroyed all other browsers and that we were still stuck with IE and only IE. Standards-compliant clients are obviously the solution here.

How about another example closer to home… PDF. PDF is an open standard (there’s that word again), and you can use a variety of different clients to write it or read it. Some of them might have rendering quirks, but because there’s a standard, it’s easy to see where those should be fixed, and PDFs are written to the standard (just as HTML pages should be).

The concept that opening Flash would produce immediate unstandardized chaos is ludicrous. The demand for a standard would be very strong even if Adobe for some reason didn’t write one themselves. But Ryan appears to believe that without Daddy Adobe’s guiding hand, the kids will make a mess so bad that Ryan won’t want to touch it.

He doesn’t substantiate this with anything, either. He just implies that open sourcing the Flash player would lead to forkage borkage, and backs that up with… nothing.

It’s a shoddy, poorly-researched, and unsupported claim. The sad thing is, there seem to be a lot of people out there who will swallow this kind of FUD about open source/software libre.

The only benefit to not open sourcing Flash is Adobe’s financial benefit. Which is fine; they bought it, after all. But that’s the only benefit, and claiming that we’re all better off if they don’t open the source is completely backwards.

4 Responses to “FUD about open source Flash”

  1. Niall O'Higgins Says:

    Related are the long-standing arguments used by Sun and their various apologists as to why Java should not be open sourced. Of course, this ignores the many very successful existing Open Source programming languages such as Perl, Python, Ruby and PHP to name just a few. Have any of these languages suffered from forking? No.

    And now Sun are (supposedly, at least) making Java open source. So much for that argument.

  2. kevintel Says:

    I’m not going to defend that article, which may have been ill-informed or badly written. But what’s the fuss about Open-Sourcing Flash? One of the reasons developers took up Flash is because it was (and still is) a well maintained, commercial piece of software, with a single well-known client. It’s predictable and solid, and certainly when I worked with it, Macromedia had a very close connection to the developer community. Being closed has served it well as a technology (Let us not forget that Flash’s penetration has in part been due to strong branding managed by a commercial single entity. It is Flash or it is not, which has always had a strong appeal.).

    How about Open Lazlo, or maybe even an Open-Source competitor to Flash?

    Niall: PHP is good, but in terms of development it appears to be a huge, disorganised mess, partly due to it being so open. And knowing what features are supported by any given server… Ahhk. I taste bile just by thinking about it.

  3. Tadhg Says:

    Kev: are you actually making an argument here? I ask because it doesn’t look like it. Your comments imply that maybe you think it might be better if Adobe kept Flash closed, but you never come out and say so.

    Predictability and solidity are not really related to closed or open source. There are predictable and solid open source applications/frameworks, and there are unpredictable and flaky closed-source equivalents. This should be pretty clear, but what’s not clear is whether you’re claiming there is a negative correlation there or not, or merely that you may suspect there possibly could be as you go about not defending the original article but implicitly supporting its conclusions.

    Flash’s penetration is in part due to its branding, but it’s also due from the fact that it did well a lot of stuff that people wanted to do. There’s actually no evidence that being closed has served it well as a technology, because we don’t have anything to compare it to.

    As for open competitors to Flash, they’re of course hamstrung by the fact that Adobe can blow them away by all kinds of tricks using their market dominance and control of the underlying technology. If Flash were an open standard, that would at least be some protection. But why would Adobe want that? They don’t, which is fine for them.

    On the other hand, the developer community should want it, because it would create competition (which appears to push techologies along) and brings all the advantages of openness. Some of them do want that, clearly. And if some think it’s not worth Adobe spending energy on instead of developing new features, that’s fine… but to claim (or not claim but persistently imply) that it would be an overall bad thing for everyone is pretty ridiculous.

  4. Niall O'Higgins Says:

    Niall: PHP is good, but in terms of development it appears to be a huge, disorganised mess, partly due to it being so open. And knowing what features are supported by any given server… Ahhk. I taste bile just by thinking about it.

    I’d go much further and say PHP is complete crap. However, not because there are all these different forked versions of it. The different features problem it suffers from is the same thing as a particular Java application server lacking a particular image library, or using some other database API, or whatever. Every modern language has this problem, not just PHP.

    There are not 3 different forks of PHP, only a number of different versions. Agreed, PHP is very poorly managed, but its managed by a single group.

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