Adobe Systems is throwing open its Flash and AIR file formats to speed delivery of Rich Internet Applications to billions of mobile devices with its tools and players.
The company is expected to announce that - as of today - all restrictions on SWF for multi-media and vector graphics and FLV/F4V, for video on Flash, have been removed. Adobe is also publishing the device porting layer APIs for its Flash Player, the Flash Cast protocol and AMF protocol for the exchange data between a Flash application and database.
In addition, Adobe has pledged to eliminate all licensing fees for the next major releases of Flash Player and Adobe Integrated Runtime, which are due later this year.
Underlining its focus on mobile, Adobe has formed an alliance of 14 leading handset manufacturers, parts providers, and media companies behind the Open Screen Alliance that it said would "address potential fragmentation" and provide "seamless updates" for the software. Members include AMD, Intel, Motorola, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, the BBC, MTV Networks and NBC Universal.
Don't go get too excited, though. Dave McAllister, Adobe's director of standards and open source, stressed Adobe is not open sourcing SWF and the rest. Adobe is making it easier to read the code and build applications - you just can't alter the code.
Adobe's Berlin Wall is coming down just as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems prepare to entice developers, OEMs and content provides with their own players and languages - Silverlight and JavaFX. Sun will next week demonstrate JavaFX for mobile devices at JavaOne in San Francisco.
Sun, though, is already behind in this game: JavaFX has been baking for 12 months but is still not ready. Neither does Sun enjoy public backing from any handset or service providers. Microsoft, meanwhile, has promised "big" deals with manufacturers porting Silverlight to their platforms and distributing Silverlight with Windows and non-Windows mobile devices.
That said, JavaFX and Silverlight do threaten the uptake of Flash and AIR on mobile devices. Nokia, for example, is already dabbling with Silverlight.
Cell phones and handsets are virgin territory that Adobe could not hope to seed on its own, as Microsoft and Sun begin to roll out their rival RIA and media technologies.
Adobe claims Flash is present on 98 per cent of desktops with an estimated one billion PCs worldwide, but it took 12 years and flying under the radar to get there. That compares to more than five billion mobile devices with Flash on 500 million of them. Adobe estimates it would be able to plant Flash on another 500 million devices this year under the existing set up, which would still represent just a dent in the mobile device market.
Adobe explained the big-name mobile support in terms of companies backing the "largest unified [media] environment on mobile phones" compared favorably against new or fragmented technologies, like Silverlight or JavaFX.
It is not clear what role mobile companies will play in preventing fragmentation and providing updates.
The alliance and changes are likely more important to Adobe as developers can now build Flash players without seeking Adobe's permission, and also view Flash-based and AIR content on mobile devices more easily. Mobile backing should help demonstrate to those building applications and content that Adobe has a future as OEMs and services providers - too - have committed to Flash and AIR on mobile.
Adobe's licensing had acted as a bottleneck, as you were allowed to read the specifications and able to build using SWF but prohibited from building software for SWF file playback. Or, as McAllister put it, you: "Couldn't build anything that looked or smelled like a Flash player - only Adobe could do it."
As of May 1, though, you can build your own Flash player and embed Flash into an application, which is particularly handy because it means you no longer need to rely on Flash running in the browser, with resulting performance and network availability issues.
The change also means open-source projects building Flash-like players, such as the Free Software Foundation's Gnash, can now read the latest specifications meaning they can be built quicker. They still can't call it Flash, though, as that's a trademark.
Clearly, Adobe has seen the spin-off benefits of projects like Moonlight - the open-source implementation of Silverlight for Linux - are having in terms of raising awareness of the "official" product, and getting its player onto platforms it lacked the resources to support.®