Adobe announced two open-source initiatives Tuesday, both of which are intended to make it easier for web publishers to create rich media web experiences based in Flash.
The Open Source Media Framework (formerly code-named Strobe) is a set of components released under the Mozilla Public License that let developers build applications based around Flash video. The other code release, the Text Layout Framework, is a set of ActionScript tools for using a wider array of fonts and producing better-looking text content in Flash and AIR apps.
Though these development will likely present new opportunities for publishers who want to get video and rich text layouts online with minimal hassle and a lower up-front cost, it’s difficult to see Adobe’s move as anything but a defenses against open video initiatives like Ogg Theora.
One of the great promises of HTML 5 is an open video experience on the web — the ability for people to watch videos play back in the web browser natively, without having to download a plug-in like Flash or Silverlight to see it. Though still in draft, HTML 5 has provisions in place to allow for embedding of audio and video on web pages through the use of tags, with the playback codecs bundled in the browser. Of course, the web standards crowd prefers to recommend browsers use codecs believed to be free of patent restrictions, such as Ogg Theora and Dirac.
The technology is already being used in the wild — both YouTube and DailyMotion are experimenting with Flash-free video playback with Ogg Theora, and Google Chrome, Opera and Firefox 3.5 offer support for such features.
At the end of June, however, the HTML 5 working group removed the codec requirement from the draft specification after the various browser makers couldn’t come to a consensus over which codec to support.
This left the door open for Flash to hold on to developers who would have otherwise jumped ship for free software alternatives. Tuesday’s OSMF code release extends that hand even further — by freeing up the tools under an open-source license, Adobe is only strengthening its position among developers building rich internet apps.
It’s important to note that the tools needed to create video-playing Flash apps, Flash CS 4 and Flash Builder, are only available commercially, and that the playback technology is patented — Adobe must license it from the patent holders.
The timing of the Text Framework Layout release is no less curious. Just last month, a new project calledTypekit was launched with the goal of allowing developers to license and use more complex fonts in their web designs. Once Typekit gets off the ground, licensed fonts will be downloaded by users in a protected environment and laid out on a page using open web standards.
Right now, this is exactly the kind of thing designers use Flash for. With technologies like sIFR, designers can go beyond the handful of fonts supported by the current web browsers, creating more complex type displays.
But newer, emerging standards like CSS3 allow for many of the same layout options as Flash, so if a service like Typekit can free up more typefaces for designers to use, the threat against Flash is obvious.
Adobe’s code releases are more than just insurance policies against losing developers to Flash-free technologies. They are also reminders that, while HTML 5 looks promising, there’s already a technology here and in abundant use that can solve many of the same problems HTML 5 hopes to. And after Tuesday’s release, it’s more attractive to the fence-sitters.