To win in an open world Flash is becoming even more open – the result will be applications that reach every platform

By Ross Dawson on May 1, 2008 | Permalink

Adobe has just announced the Open Screen Project, a broad-based initiative to push Flash’s reach across all digital platforms, including mobile and television. Supporters include BBC, Cisco, Motorola, MTV, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and a host of other consumer technology, content, and mobile companies.
When Living Networks was launched in 2002, I wrote about how Macromedia (which has since been acquired by Adobe) used an open strategy to make Flash a standard in rich media on the web:

Whenever you go to a website and are presented with a snazzy animated introduction, you are seeing Macromedia Flash at work. The free Flash Player software that enables people to view these animations is now running on around 97% of PCs that are connected to the Internet. At the outset, Macromedia had a clear-cut challenge. Web surfers would only download Flash Player if there were interesting websites using Flash, while website designers would only use Flash if a sufficient proportion of their target audience had installed the software. Macromedia makes its money by selling the software for developers to create Flash files, but to make it a viable market it had to give away the Flash Player software.

Along the way, Macromedia made a bold decision. It published the specifications for the SWF files used by the Flash Player software, and committed to keeping these open. This meant that any other company could take advantage of the large installed base of Flash Player software, and sell software to compete directly with Macromedia’s Flash software, which was its only source of revenue from the exercise. Indeed, arch-rival Adobe rushed to market with a directly competitive product, based on the specifications made available by Macromedia. The reason Macromedia made Flash open is that it provided an immense impetus to make it a de facto standard for Internet multimedia. If it hadn’t released it, others would have come out with competitive formats, and Flash may never have broken through to become dominant. Macromedia may not have all the market for Internet multimedia design software, but having established the standard format clearly gives it a big headstart on all its competitors, and it has guaranteed a total market size almost as big as the Internet.

[Free download of Chapter 2 of Living Networks, where this is excerpted from.]
While an open approach was fundamental to Flash’s success, a substantial further degree of openness is required to take Flash’s success beyond the PC desktop to other Internet-enabled devices.
As VentureBeat writes, referring to Adobe’s Dave McAllister:

For Flash, the real frontier isn’t the web, but mobile and other devices. Sure, the company says Flash and its mobile version Flash Lite have been installed on 500 million devices, and that number will increase to 1 billion sometime next year, but McAllister adds, “In terms of all devices that could connect into Internet, that’s not very big.”

McAllister is particularly referring to mobile devices. However television and set-top boxes for TV are also key targets here.
Adobe’s recently launched AIR product can be thought of both as a multi-platform application and the next interface beyond the browser. Similarly, the Open Screen Project is perhaps more than anything a play for developers to be able to develop once, and provide their application across multiple platforms.
What this has required is opening up the SWF and FLV standards even further than I described in Living Networks. Now anyone can create derivative and competing applications based on these standards. In addition, as noted by Techcrunch, Adobe is forgoing $52 million in revenues by removing licensing fees for Flash on mobile. Also there are now no costs or restrictions on porting Flash to new devices.
In short, Macromedia’s (at the time) openness helped to establish Flash as a standard on the desktop. Today, as the trend to openness has gone further, greater openness is required to help Flash predominate across the multiple platforms of the connected world of today.
The final result of this is that developers are likely to be able to develop in one platform, and reach all web-enabled devices. As with many of these initiaitives, the winner is the consumer. More development of great tools, more potential to use them, more applications that link everything that is connected to the web.