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Open Source Flash

Posted on Jun 05 2005

Recently John Dowdell showed up on OSFlash mailing list and asked for comments on GPLFlash announcement and open sourcing Flash in general.

I answered with the following mail :

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Let me state my point of view about current state of OSS and Flash.

Few years ago, Macromedia Flash had two strengths : its Flash Player that was well distributed and installed on a high percentage of computers and its Flash IDE that was popular with Designers. Both where very important and made the success we know.

Now with the whole RIA thing, the developers are starting evaluating platforms not based on the IDE but on programming language features and available tools. Let's see what Macromedia Flash have :

- a loosy typed language (AS2) which cannot compete with Java / C#
- a very slow virtual machine implementation
- a buggy and slow compiler
- an IDE that nobody want to use for coding big applications
- very few dev tools : only a debugger, no profiling, no runtime error checking, ....
- no external (commandline) tools that enable users to reuse their favorite IDE
- a closed source platform

Flash can difficultly compete as a developer platform, so the only big strength left is the Flash Player ubiquity : I'm not sure that's enough to convince more developers to join. MTASC for instance was born from theses frustrations : at Motion-Twin we no longer use AS2 but we have our inhouse programming language for writing games, our own compiler and a good set of tools (swf linker, xml dtd checking, obfuscator...) that made use 10 times more productive than before. If we had platform choice we would have switched for long time !

Macromedia is too slow to adapt to its new public : developers have different needs than designers. In particular, they have already their favorite IDE and want good and flexible technology. Stability and reusability are two important points and full integration is no longer relevant.

What about GPLFlash ? There's been several projects like that in the past. Writing a SWF Player is quite an easy thing to do with current OSS libraries available - and I know what I'm talking about. Macromedia should realize that and hurry up to cooperate with such project. It's more dangerous to let an OSSPlayer out of control than to endorse the project, give away some MM Player sources and technology tips to help the building of a better player that would in-fine be the replacement of official player. Look at Real and
their Helix thing.

But I'm not sure that the marketing/business people in Macromedia that are driving the company will understand all theses quite new concepts such as OSS joint project and believe in it to give it a try. That lack of openness and the long time needed to realize it might eventually kill the Flash Platform idea in the near future.

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