keep an open mind

Earlier today Ryan Stewart wrote about taking a somewhat softened stance in the debate around open sourcing the Adobe Flash Player. Given some of his previous comments on the issue it was nice to see Ryan taking a second look. Especially so given the fact that Ryan makes no bones about being firmly in the Adobe Flex camp when it comes to RIA platforms. He took a bit of grief from some for that post but honestly, having someone in Ryan’s position riff on the subject can only be healthy in the long run. It’s easy for the somewhat insular Flash community to dismiss a “zealot” but when someone like Ryan asks “why not?” it forces defenders of the status quo to actually articulate their position.

I’ve always been surprised at how the Flash Player tends to be seen as a a sacred cow by Flash developers while a number of open source tools used to target the platform have gained a well deserved legitimacy. The argument could be made that OSFlash was a big driver in transitioning Flash from an “animation tool” to the application platform it is today. In the period following ActionScript 2 and prior to Flex it really was the open source community that picked up where the Flash IDE left off. Before Flex Builder, Flash RIA development was all about FAME.

Based on that history alone the Flash development community should have a better-than-most sense of the potential for open source in the Flash platform.

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verisign, peer-to-peer and the flash player?

While Robert Scoble’s headline for this post follows the tired old “technology x is a technology y killer” formula you have to hand it to him for putting a finger on the significance of last Monday’s CES announcement from Adobe and Verisign.

There are two things that I think we can take away from the press release. Scoble skipped the first one, (probably because it’s pretty ho-hum), which is that Verisign will be using Flash Media Server to stream video on it’s CDN. No big news there – Verisign is trying to put together a network to deliver high-quality, full-length movies over the web and struck a deal to do so with the hottest web video player going. Makes sense.

What the press release is pretty vague about however, (aside: is it just me or was that a CES and Macworld trend this year?), is the possibility of integrating Verisign’s peer-to-peer technology in the Flash Player. This is an interesting play on Adobe’s part and has the potential to be a pretty serious move. As Scoble mentioned there are a few P2P video networks spinning up right now and they all face a couple of similar challenges – one of which is getting software onto user’s machines.

As we all know, with the Flash Player Adobe holds an ace card when it comes to distributing software. It is widely installed and Adobe have a proven capacity to get updates distributed in fairly short periods of time. Even if the penetration stats published by Adobe are optimistic I’m willing to bet the vast majority of pcs without the latest Flash Player are within enterprises – not machines you’d need to worry much about when trying to set up a movie distribution network. The question Adobe have to be asking themselves is whether to play that ace in the brewing web video gold rush.

Adobe, and Macromedia before them, have made serious efforts to transform Flash into an application platform and right now that has alot of momentum. The plan is that Apollo will build on the momentum and become the platform for building a new breed of web connected desktop applications. A big part of what made that effort as successful as it is today has been Adobe’s concentration on building the platform upon which applications are built. As the legend goes the “tin can” project was a plan to add a small video codec to the Flash Player. It was the YouTubes and Brightcoves who drove the Flash video revolution by taking that platform functionality and building upon it. By adding a piece of peer-to-peer type technology on which content delivery networks could be built Adobe may feel they can cement the Flash Platform as the technology for delivering high quality feature length films over the web.

Of course there are risks in such a move. Peer-to-peer technology still has a bit of a nefarious reputation. I’m not sure how receptive enterprise IT managers will be to allowing a Flash Player with P2P capabilities to be installed on their networks. As it stands now IT policies in many corporations keep the Flash Player a version or more behind Adobe’s releases. The risk for Adobe would be in undoing alot of the work they’ve done to make Flash a viable platform for enterprise software applications.

The other problem for peer-to-peer in general is with ISPs and bandwidth caps for their customers. If the perception among users becomes that a Flash Player with P2P capabilities is causing them extra bandwidth bills it could lead to a backlash. As Flash developers will tell you, the ancient perception of Flash as a bandwidth hog and being slow to load is a bit of a sore spot. After years spent battling against that argument we can be a little sensitive to anything that could rekindle that debate.

Reading through the comments on Scoble’s “Netflix is dead” post alot of people are reacting by arguing against any imminent demise of movie rental stores. What’s interesting however is that most are qualifying that with “downloading movies is the future” flavoured statements. Ironically, the real story here is that Adobe and Verisign appear to be making plans to build the foundation for that future. That was Scoble’s real point; unfortunately he distracted from it with a sensational headline.

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trying to explain apollo to your boss?

Why not let Kevin Lynch do it for you.

Techcrunch’s Mike Arrington has a podcast of a conversation he and Steve Gillmor had with Kevin about the soon to be released to beta Adobe Apollo. It’s a good conversation about the combination of new and existing technology that will make up Apollo. They also do a great job of explaining how Adobe is positioning Apollo as a tool to bring the advantages of web applications to the desktop.

http://www.talkcrunch.com/2006/12/16/here-comes-adobe-apollo/

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public beta, public bug database

When Adobe released the long awaited Flash Player 9 for Linux as a public beta on labs.adobe.com I took it as a nudge to (again) try running a Linux desktop on my home computer. The Linux experiment is going fairly well this time, and the Flash Player seems to be coming together rather well too.

Of course, the Linux Flash Player is beta software (beta 2 was released earlier this week) and that means the odd bug will pop up that hasn’t yet been discovered or fixed. As both a Flash platform developer and user it is in my best interest to report these snags as I come across them. And you’d think that it would be in Adobe’s best interest to make that bug reporting process as efficient and useful as possible. Why then is the only public facing issue tracking a simple web form?

Maybe I’m overlooking some important fact but I really can’t imagine how having the feedback information flow in only one direction is an advantage to anyone. As someone who’s reported a bug or two in my time, (don’t worry – I’ve created more than my fair share too), I’d much rather start the time consuming, and sometimes painful, process of properly reporting an issue by searching a database to see if someone else has already done the leg work for me. From there I can simply tack on any information I feel may be useful and get back to say, fumbling around a “foreign” operating system.

I’d also be curious to know how the quality of the feedback Adobe receives through the web form compares to reports in public bug databases such as Mozilla’s Bugzilla or the Connect system Microsoft used for the IE7 pre-release.

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adobe has abandoned authorware users

There, I’ve said it.

IE7 shipped yesterday and among the many changes is one that has caused Authoware Web Player calls to JavaScript in the embedding HTML to fail. (The bug ticket in Microsoft Connect was here). This is a significant issue as e-learning content delivered in the Authorware Web Player is commonly accessed through SCORM Learning Management Systems (LMS), and SCORM requires that content communicate across a JavaScript API.

There does seem to be a workaround which involves loading the page that embeds the Authorware content as either a frame or iframe element. While tests indicate this is a successful workaround, it is a disconcerting one as I haven’t been able to track down why it works. Depending upon various LMS environments it can also be a difficult, or at the very least, time consuming workaround to implement.

This has been a known issue since the early IE7 beta releases and was reported to both Microsoft and Adobe. After a last ditch campaign by members of the AWARE list and some persistent questioning during the October IE7 Expert’s Chat the significance of the problem was brought to the IE7 team’s attention. As I both suspected and feared, Microsoft seemed to indicate that this was a problem that would need to be resolved by the Authorware Web Player.

Where was Adobe through all of this? Good question. As I mentioned, the bug was communicated through official channels sometime ago (May 2006 to be exact) and was also discussed on mailing lists and in forums (on at least one of those lists members have an expectation of monitoring and participation from Adobe representatives). All has resulted in deafening silence.

As things currently stand I have lost confidence in Adobe’s commitment to the Authorware community. Authorware developers, like developers everywhere, are a resourceful and independent lot and have grown used to “fending for themselves” (perhaps more so that other developers) but now Adobe needs to stand up and support them.

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