Ludicrous Software

Open Screen Project Announced

The big news of the day - which you’ve probably already read about elsewhere - is the announcement from Adobe of the Open Screen Project. The goal of the project is, among other things, to provide a consistent Flash runtime, regardless of the physical device on which Flash content is being used. The highlights of this initiative are:

  • Removing restrictions on use of the SWF and FLV/F4V specifications
  • Publishing the device porting layer APIs for Adobe Flash Player
  • Publishing the Adobe Flash® Cast™ protocol and the AMF protocol for robust data services
  • Removing licensing fees - making next major releases of Adobe Flash Player and Adobe AIR for devices free

I think the biggest implications of this for the mobile world are two-fold: rather than having to rely on the player being pre-installed on target devices, it looks like the next version of the player can be bundled with Flash content. Also, by removing the restrictions on the SWF specs, third parties can create a version of the Flash player for specific devices (such as the Blackberry or the iPhone), which will increase the market for Flash content.

This is great news, a definite step in the right direction. Given the fact that this announcement was just made today, take these comments with a grain of salt:

Flash Lite has always been up against a moving target in the desktop Flash Player - a frequent refrain from desktop developers is that they don’t want to develop for mobile because they don’t want to return to coding in previous versions of ActionScript. The gap has been closing of late, with Flash Lite 3 able to play Flash 8 SWFs, albeit with some limitations. But even as Flash Lite makes some gains in one area, the desktop player pulls away in others (e.g. the demo at MAX last year of 3D capabilities in the next version of the Flash Player). Hopefully that gap keeps closing, but I’m not sure that the mobile technology is improving that rapidly. In other words, there will probably always be a number of developers who don’t want to develop for mobile because the devices are under-powered relative to the PC.

How effectively will this deal with device fragmentation? Fragmentation is a multi-headed beast - the problem is not just with the fact that there are multiple, un-updateable versions of Flash Lite on devices. The deeper problem is with the variety of operating systems on all those devices. A FL2 SWF will run on any device that has FL2 or later installed, but installing that SWF is a major stumbling block right now. A SIS file for S60 devices is useless if you have a Series 40 device, or a Windows Mobile device, or a BREW-enabled device, or … you get the idea. The beauty of AIR on the desktop is that an AIR installable file will fetch and install the AIR runtime if your desktop computer doesn’t have it already. That’s a lot easier to do when you’re dealing with just a few operating systems (Windows, OS X, Linux in the future) than with the large number of operating systems in the mobile world. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out whenever we start seeing AIR for mobiles, but I’ll be curious to see how it’s handled.

Speaking of which, one question I have about the initial list of business partners: where’s Symbian? or Microsoft? Solving the problem of fragmentation at the device level seems like it would require the involvement of not just the hardware manufacturers but also the companies involved in the software side of things. I mean, Nokia and Sony-Ericsson have been heavily committed to Flash Lite for a few years now, but that hasn’t resolved the fragmentation issue. It’s still early, and hopefully we’ll see Symbian, Microsoft, and other similar companies come on board in the near future.

Ultimately, given how early it is, I’m confident that these concerns will be addressed. Now we just need to wait for some news about the timeline involved in all of this!