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Open Source and the Flash Platform: What Should Adobe Do Next?

Does open source enable the growth of the Flash Platform?

Red5 is currently in version .2, a prototype release. The Red5 team anticipates a 1.0 release by the second quarter of 2006. Currently, Red5 can stream video to the Flash client and has also been used to push a live stream.

RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol) is a proprietary messaging protocol developed by Macromedia. RTMP is employed in Flash Media Server, and will also be used for messaging services in Flex Enterprise Services 2. In order to make Red5 work, the Red5 team had to reverse-engineer the RTMP protocol, a process which is explained in detail on the Red5 website.

One thing that's not completely clear to the Red5 team is the legality of creating such a product. Project manager John Grden commented: "As far as legalities of protecting the actual protocol, we don't have an answer. We've been told that if we're using a protocol for interoperability then we are fine within US law. However, we've been told by Macromedia that they have a right to protect what they've invested in, which would include FMS and RTMP. That doesn't mean that they're threatening us; I think that they're trying to decide what they're going to do. I think one thing that's clear is that they're unprepared for open source, and Red5 has caught them a little bit off guard."

Grden stressed that Red5 was not a "replacement" for Flash Media Server: "FMS has edge and origin servers and tools for enterprise deployments. We have plans for that, but that's beyond 1.0. Right now we're just trying to come out with a server that does the basic things that FMS does."

Frameworks: ARP and Cairngorm
ARP and Cairngorm are two examples of pattern based frameworks for Flash development.

ARP, developed by OSFlash coordinator Aral Balkan, is appropriate for Flash or Flex development. Like Cairngorm and other frameworks, ARP provides a core set of lightweight classes to aid in design pattern based development.

Cairngorm is a framework for Flex application development, and has some commonalities with ARP. Cairngorm was developed by iteration::two (recently acquired by Macromedia). Alistair McLeod, RIA Practice Director (EMEA) at Macromedia and Cairngorm developer, noted that one key benefit of Cairngorm is the employment of accepted patterns. Cairngorm may be especially useful for Java developers who are transitioning to Flex.

"Cairngorm is based upon the design patterns used by Java enterprise developers and this makes it much easier for Java developers to reach across the divide into the Flash platform. We have already seen substantial evidence from clients that this framework has made it much easier for their enterprise Java developers to start working with Flex," said McLeod.

Balkan and McLeod both agree that the choice between ARP and Cairngorm depends on the project and the developers involved, and that in some cases a framework may not be appropriate at all.

ActionStep Component Framework
ActionStep is a project worth watching. Although not currently in a final release, the ActionStep team has made some interesting accomplishments in creating an open source component framework for Flash.

ActionStep is based on the OpenStep API specification created by NeXT which was later purchased by Apple. Developers familiar with Cocoa or GNUstep will have an easy time picking up ActionStep and diving into Flash development.

ActionStep promises some very exciting features, including layout components, a declarative layout language called ASML (a la MXML, XUL, or XAML), and simplified skinning. The ActionStep team, comprising Scott Hyndman, Richard Kilmer and Ray Chuan, anticipates that a beta release of ActionStep will be available for the New Year.

Screenweaver: Open Source Flash on the Desktop
Screenweaver started as a commercial project, but was later released as an open source project. Currently, Screenweaver 3 can be used to create Windows applications with SWF content.

An interesting development is the Screenweaver 4 project. Screenweaver 4 represents a shift away from the typical "SWF2EXE" approach and instead attempts to provide a toolkit for developers looking to create desktop applications that use Flash for the presentation tier.

On the difference between Screenweaver 3 and Screenweaver 4, developer Edwin van Rijkom comments: "SW3 is aimed at Flash developers who want to create Windows desktop applications using Flash. It does so by bringing Windows operating system functionality to ActionScript. Using this model, all application logic is contained in Flash and written by the Flash developer. At a high level, the SW3 GUI tool also offers several wizards for quickly putting together relatively simple projects like screen savers or small desktop widgets. SW4 is a platform for traditional desktop application programmers who wish to deploy Flash as a GUI for their application. As a result SW4 consists of a set of libraries these developers can link to. Additionally, the SW4 platform offers tools that manage the workflow between the traditional coder, and the Flash designer/developer that will be responsible for creating the GUI."

Screenweaver 4 is currently in Alpha release.

AFLAX: Flash, Sans ActionScript
Developer Paul Colton recently released a toolkit which supports a technology he calls AFLAX. The AFLAX project provides a small "bootstrap" SWF file which can be interacted with through JavaScript. The project is presumably aimed at AJAX developers who wish to use Flash for the drawing and video without adopting ActionScript into their workflow.

Using the AFLAX toolkit, a developer can instantiate ActionScript objects and create graphical assets using pure JavaScript on the client side. The Aflax.org website provides some compelling examples (most of which are ported from ActionScript examples) that are based completely in JavaScript.

But Wait, There's More
As with any platform, the role of the developer community is essential to the success of the Flash Platform. When we look at the open source community surrounding Flash, we see a dedicated group of developers working incredibly hard to create tools to shape the future of the Flash Platform.

It just isn't possible, in the ambits of a single MXDJ article, to cover all of the great projects that are going on in the open source Flash community right now. For a comprehensive list of these projects, or to get involved, visit the OSFlash.org website.

More Stories By Jim Phelan

Jim Phelan, a member of the Editorial Board of Web developer's & Designer's Journal, is VP of Development and Chief Architect for Stream57, a New York City based firm specializing in communication solution development for the enterprise. Jim's expertise in creating solutions for consolidation and collateralization of business communications has allowed his team to create applications for the management and delivery of live and on demand rich media content. He is a strong proponent of the Adobe Flash Platform.

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Most Recent Comments
aardvark 09/15/06 05:05:55 PM EDT

Adobe reserves the right to close the file format when they feel ready. They have NO reason whatsoever to be concerned about whether or not the open-source community might create a better set of tools that make for a better workflow. I'd say it is a great strategy to "stay the course" till they've built a larger developer base and then slam the friggin door on the file format. They'll loose some die-hard open-source hippies, but man will they have a flock of desparate developers with no alternatives banging down the door to keep products afloat and updated. Want to avoid that problem? AJAX it. Use flash to create your pretty animations, use industry, open, standards to develop your web-based applications.

Paco Hernández 04/03/06 05:57:06 AM EDT

I would like just to leave a link to a little step by step document I have written that explains how to stream video with OpenLaszlo and Red5. I think should be interesting for the people currently using OpenLaszlo.

The link is http://www.openlaszlo123.org/?p=4

Best regards,
Paco.

Das CIO Weblog 01/12/06 06:35:32 AM EST

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