With the announcement that Flex was going open source (I was waiting for Cote's take last night), more than a few people wondered what the implication was for Laszlo Systems, a company that helped start the RIA craze and had open sourced it's product last year and become the only open source RIA technology out there. With Adobe Flex now going open source, I wanted to talk to OpenLaszlo to see how they felt about it and what they thought of Microsoft's Silverlight entering the market.
Steve Ciesinski, CEO and Kent Libbey, CMO, both said they felt like open source Flex was coming, so it wasn't really a surprise to them. They said they expected it and it was part of the reason that they worked to get OpenLaszlo 4.0 out the door. With OpenLaszlo 4.0, they offer developers the ability to take LZX code (the OpenLaszlo language) and deploy applications on top of the Flash Player or as an Ajax application. The last one is what they view as being so valuable to the open community. The Ajax deployment is fully open standards and open architecture just like any other Ajax framework. By using Laszlo for Ajax applications, you get flexibility when/if you want to deploy Flash, but also the ability to stay open with Ajax. The kinds of DHTML/Ajax applications that OpenLaszlo 4 creates are also pretty impressive.
The other side of the coin is Laszlo’s new Webtop product. When they open sourced OpenLaszlo, the company moved to more of a services and licensed application revenue model. The latest product of that is the Laszlo Webtop, which Laszlo licenses to other companies. The Webtop product is a lot like some of the products that Richard MacManus has reviewed on Read/WriteWeb, but it's built using OpenLaszlo technology. Companies that adopt Laszlo Webtop can either have developers in-house build it out and customize it, or they can hire Laszlo to do that work. To date, the company has a number of add-ins that they can provide to companies including an email client, an instant messenger, and integrated contacts application.
In some ways, as a smaller company in the space, it's tough for Laszlo to really make up ground. But Steve said their belief all along was that they would much prefer to be a growing part of a big market than most of a non-existent market. With Microsoft entering and helping to grow the RIA space, OpenLaszlo could very well find more and more traction. Adobe or Microsoft are obviously big players, but Laszlo is well-positioned in a solid niche and their multiple-runtime story with Ajax and Flash is compelling, especially for people that have open standards as a requirement but want to branch out and explore what higher generation RIAs are all about.