On stupid mascots and closed source browser plugins

Everyone's been harping on Google this week with the release of Chrome, so I thought I would be different -- today I'm going to give Adobe some love. Because I bet they feel left out.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer on

Everyone's been harping on Google this week with the release of Chrome, so I thought I would be different -- today I'm going to give Adobe some love. Because I bet they feel left out.

Adobe's Flash and Acrobat Reader plugins are some of the most key components to the end-user Internet browsing experience. It's pretty hard to imagine rich  multimedia sites without Flash, although Microsoft is trying very hard to displace it with their .NET and Silverlight technology.

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While Flash is the most essential browser plugin, it has barely scratched the surface of being completely ubiquitous as a software development platform for everything, including embedded devices and set-tops.  The Adobe Integrated Runtime, or AIR is being heavily promoted by the company as a portable development environment that could potentially compete with Java (and .NET) for writing rich multimedia standalone apps in Flash and its associated technologies, such as FLEX. But so far, only the FLEX SDK itself is Open Source, under the MPL. The Flash Player and AIR are still closed and binary-only releases.

Why should Flash and its associated technologies be Open Sourced? Well, for starters, it would allow it to be rapidly integrated into and optimized for every single Linux distribution, and facilitate its porting to other architectures. A lot of current Flash criticism stems from a lack of a 64-bit version for both Windows and Linux -- if the code was Open Source, a huge army of community developers could be leveraged to make the plugin work on the newer architecture. Mobile phones and set top boxes, among other consumer electronics devices, are also increasingly using Linux as the embedded OS -- most of which run on processor architectures other than x86 -- they use anything from different flavors of ARM to PowerPC and MIPS-based CPUs. Want to build an open DVR platform that uses Linux using a Flash-based interface? Well, right now, you can't, unless it uses  an x86 chip running 32-bit Linux, and that's not exactly a green or ideal embedded CE platform. Sure, you can build a  Chumby and have Adobe specially license you a version for some architecture that they may have to custom build for you at a really exhorbitant cost (in Chumby's case, it uses an ARM derivative) but Chumbys are few and far between. Or maybe you want to design one of those video picture frames with a Flash or AIR UI? No can do. Flash-based cell phone? Fuggedaboudit. You see my point.

Adobe can continue to make its content development tools for Flash closed source, commercial products while at the same time Open Source the runtime engines that drive the apps.  This goes for Acrobat as well -- an Open Source Acrobat Reader would allow PDA/Cell Phones that are based on Open Source OSes (and there's going to be a lot of them soon, if Google's Android and Symbian start cracking the market) to have perfect PDF support. Sure, we have OSS PDF readers, but it would be so much better to have the real thing.

Oh and the mascot? Ditch the stupid MAX robot please. I mean, like how unoriginal can you get. How about a PDF character, that sort of looks like a twisted version of the "Bill" on Schoolhouse Rock  or Towelie from South Park? Or perhaps something along the lines of the "Adobe Flasher" -- I'm envisioning a high-tech pervert wearing dark sunglasses that opens up his trenchcoat to reveal the Flash logo to scare Silverlight fanbois. Or if Adobe is feeling tamer, a Flashdancer, in homage to the 1980's movie.

Should Flash, AIR and Acrobat be Open Sourced? Talk Back and let me know.

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