Adobe's Flex and a Curious Definition of Open for RIA Platforms

by chromatic

Mike Shaver has a deconstruction of false statements from Adobe about Flex's openness. In particular:

[Adobe evangelist James Ward] has the nerve to call them “the community” and indicate that their work is a remedy for Adobe simply not being willing to remove the field-of-use restrictions on their existing documentation.

... and:

... they don’t want people to think too hard about the fact that writing to Flash is committing yourself to proprietary platform...

Maybe Monopolight will save the free software/free data/free community communities. (Why Monopolight? There's a single vendor for licensed Silverlight codecs, Moonlight doesn't provide the Silverlight codecs, and they're x86 binary blobs only. Gee. Thanks.)


12 Comments

Miguel de Icaza
2007-12-12 16:57:50
You are incorrect about the Silverlight codecs.


Today Moonlight uses ffmpeg to implement its codec support, but its use is covered by patents that belong to the MPEGLA (a consortium that holds the patents to VC1, MPEG2, MPEG4, some H.2xx) and Thompson (for MP3). This means that we are unable to redistribute ffmpeg without getting in trouble with the owner of a lot of the media patents and still remain compatible.


In the United States and Europe if you want to redistributed this media software (and avoid getting sued) you must have a patent license with MPEGLA/Thompson. In the case of Moonlight, Microsoft has agreed to pay the fees related to distributing the codecs for Linux and taking care of the patent fees. It also happens to come in the form of giving us their tuned code for video decoding, as opposed to using the reference VC-1 implementation (which is known to be quite slow, but is available for download to MPEGLA licensees).


Moonlight today also supports Ogg, so if you want to limit yourself to using Ogg, just make sure your ffmpeg is compiled without any patent encumbered codecs, and off you go.


In addition, you do not have to use the MS codecs, you can use a third party one, but as far as Novell goes, we are planning on redistributing a full stack that is fully licensed with the owners of the various media patents that are required for Silverlight.


Finally, for our final product, the installation of the codecs is a separate stage, so a Moonlight without WMV/VC1/WMA/MP3 support will be your default. Only when you need to access media that requires the patented codecs you will have to download the media codecs from Microsoft.


Miguel

chromatic
2007-12-12 22:12:46
You are incorrect about the Silverlight codecs.... Only when you need to access media that requires the patented codecs you will have to download the media codecs from Microsoft.


I do believe that you'll make sure that Moonlight can play media in unrestricted formats. Realistically speaking, how many organizations that choose Silverlight (a Microsoft-controlled stack) will use only Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis as their codecs? 2%? 1%? My guess is that percentage will be somewhat closer to zero.


The free software world continually wades through the excrement from Adobe who means "32-bit x86 binary blobs only" when it says "Linux support", and somehow that's good enough that everyone who doesn't use proprietary software or 32-bit x86 or Linux somehow doesn't count on the web anymore, because Flash is somehow magically cross-platform now.


You can write whatever software you want, of course. I remain unconvinced that helping spread the reach of a very proprietary attempt to close off the web is also going to help the goal of spreading free software. If that's not your goal, that's fine too -- but it is mine.

Simon Hibbs
2007-12-13 06:18:23
@Chromatic: The fact that free software, patent-unencumbered codecs aren't widely used isn't the fault of the Moonlight team, they are not responsible for this. Even if there was a completely from-scratch FOSS rich-meida browser plugin, maybe based on Parrot, it would still have the problem of what to do about codecs. And even then, who knows what patent infringement FUD Balmer would spread about it anyway?


Other than promote free codecs by fully supporting them in the base version (which I believe they do), I can't see what more you expect the Moonlight team to do.

Sharkey
2007-12-13 11:45:41
Not too put words in chromatic's blog, but I imagine the concern is that popularizing non-Free technologies like Silverlight, even using Free software, has a hidden risk to freedom.


The risk is that once Moonlight makes everyone love Silverlight, Microsoft adds their proprietary extensions to Silverlight, and use their superior market position on the desktop to force everyone into a locked-in, non-Free implementation (ie, theirs).


Whether this scenario keeps you awake at night is based on your own philosophy.

chromatic
2007-12-13 12:02:02
@Sharkey, I agree with the first paragraph, but the second paragraph isn't quite my concern.


Given that Adobe's Flash has been around for several years and is only now usable on free platforms through projects such as Gnash and swfdec, why put energy into spreading and, perhaps albeit indirectly, popularizing yet another proprietary architecture with legal encumbrances?


It doesn't do any good to have the source code available for Moonlight with Microsoft's blessing, or at least respectful disinterest, if using the software requires the use of binary-blob codecs available only from a single source and for a very limited set of all possible platforms.

John Dowdell
2007-12-13 12:13:30
"Given that Adobe's Flash has been around for several years and is only now usable on free platforms...."


If you want certain brands labeled "free", and others not, then that's your prerogative.


Adobe Flash Player has been available on Linux since nearly the start, and the delay for YouTube content has been discussed elsewhere.
http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/alternates/
http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd/archives/2006/08/linux_observati.cfm


jd/adobe

chromatic
2007-12-13 12:27:00
@John,


If you want certain brands labeled "free", and others not, then that's your prerogative.


Adobe Flash Player has been available on Linux since nearly the start....


No, I want honesty from Adobe. I have a laptop in my office. It runs Linux. Adobe Flash Player has never been available for it, no matter how much you dissemble. The only reason Flash is usable on it is thanks to non-Adobe, non-Macromedia people who reverse engineered Flash and SWF.


I think Adobe may be the one redefining words, such that "Linux" means "only 32-bit x86 Linux". To be fair, though, Macromedia did the same.

John Dowdell
2007-12-13 13:11:02
"No, I want honesty from Adobe. "


Wasn't aware I was dishonest.


For "64-bit Linux", you'll have few cross-platform standard plugins at all so far, and should use either a 32-bit browser, or emulation, to see what others can see. More links to general background here:
http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd/archives/2007/01/64-bit_developm.cfm


jd/adobe

chromatic
2007-12-13 13:33:41
@John,


Wasn't aware I was dishonest.


You said "Adobe Flash Player has been available on Linux since nearly the start".


If what you said were true, you or any other Adobe employee should have no trouble installing any version of the official Flash plugins on my PPC laptop, as it runs Linux.


I have no argument with you if you are clear that Adobe supports Flash on "32-bit x86 Linux only". I used that phrase exactly in my first response to Miguel.


It should be obvious that Adobe can support what it chooses to support. However, Adobe should be honest about what it chooses to support, and should not misrepresent that support.

Simon Hibbs
2007-12-14 10:53:15
@Chromatic: "why put energy into spreading and, perhaps albeit indirectly, popularizing yet another proprietary architecture with legal encumbrances?"


The same thing could have been (actualy, were) said about Linux when the project was started. Why build a free implementation of the proprietary *nix standard when projects instead of orriginal projects like HURD. In this respect the Moonlight team are walking the walk. If Microsoft's aspersions against Linux regarding patents are FUD, then criticizing Moonlight on the same grounds is being just as much a FUDDer as Steve Balmer. Cowering from patent trollism is no way for free software advocates to behave.

chromatic
2007-12-14 11:27:40
@Simon,


You make some very fair points. I meant the codec licensing requirements when I mentioned legal encumbrances, but I didn't make that very clear.

Bryan Russell
2008-03-30 18:56:59
If history is any guide at all, I personally believe that this mono project is yet another attempt to isolate and pervert standard code. This was attempted with IE by releasing IE free of price, but not with freedom (access to the source code), and Mozilla acted as our savior by releasing both. Compare the two now. The difference is obvious.


Best Regards to all,


Bryan A. Russell