Just in case you think Adobe‘s Flash Player (which powers YouTube and an enormous number of other sites) isn’t ubiquitous enough, Adobe is pushing for even greater adoption from developers and designers. Through an initiative the company is calling the Open Screen Project, Adobe will lift a number of restrictions on Flash in the hopes creating even greater usage, especially on web-enabled devices.
Adobe’s goal, says Standards and Open Source Director Dave McAllister, is to create a consistent runtime environment for applications running on computers, televisions, mobile devices and consumer electronics. Right now, if companies want to build apps that run on multiple devices, they need multiple development teams — one for the regular web version, one for the mobile version and so on. As more and more devices get connected to the web, the situation will just get more complicated. But if Adobe succeeds, developers can just create one app that’s compatible across the board — and, naturally, those applications will run on Flash (or AIR, Adobe’s player for hybrid web-desktop applications).
“This is the first true step into making sure that the extended web of desktops and devices is also an open web,” McAllister says.
One component of the Open Screen Project is financial. Right now, the Flash Player is distributed for free online, but Adobe charges licensing fees for the mobile version. As of the next release of Flash and AIR, those licensing fees will be eliminated. (To be clear, this doesn’t cover Flash Player 10, which is already in private testing mode, but the version of Flash that comes out afterwards.) Of course, that means one of Adobe’s revenue streams will disappear. But if it leads to greater Flash usage, McAllister thinks Adobe can more than make up for that on the developer side by charging for tools.
Adobe will be be making some technical changes too, like removing restrictions on SWF and FLV/F4V, publishing the application programming interface (API) layers for Flash’s porting layer and publishing the Adobe Flash Cast and AMF protocols.
For non-techies, those details may be well-nigh incomprehensible, but here’s the gist: These moves will be to make it easier for developers to create Flash applications, to create more kinds of Flash applications and to release those applications without having to strike a deal with Adobe.
A number of other companies have signed up as partners for this project, including mobile manufacturers like Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, as well as content providers BBC, MTV and NBC Universal. These partners will help Adobe create versions of Flash and AIR that run and update easily on all those devices. (No word yet, however, on when we’ll see Flash on the iPhone …)
Overall, these moves may seem a little unnecessary, since — despite the fact that Microsoft’s competing Silverlight player has landed high-profile deals like broadcasting this summer’s Olympics — Flash is already so dominant. After all, Adobe likes to brag about how Flash reaches 98 percent of Internet-enabled desktops. 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.”