Adobe will continue to sell the candles, give the matches away for free

The Adobe Flex open source announcement comes as little surprise to me. That’s not to say I’m not excited about it, because I am. Or that I don’t think it’s great news, because I do. It seems a very logical and competitive move.

Web 2.0 was fueled by so many developers working with (and getting extremely creative with) technologies that are open and freely available. Take WordPress, for example. One of the world’s most popular BLOG technologies is really nothing more than a content management system. The concept of CMS is nothing new, and if you were in possession of a small fortune back in the late 90’s, you may have been developing a CMS with Vignette or ColdFusion. The average web developer just wasn’t down with that, and so a blog platform built on the free and open technologies of today,¬†PHP and Html/JavaScript/AJAX, spread like wild fire.

Open source to most people means more than just inexpensive. It seems to come with it a larger, more active development community capable and WILLING to support each other through code examples and tutorials. It means that a developer can choose from a wider and cheaper offering of development tools. Most importantly it means that companies can invest in the technology knowing that the community-driven source should never stray too far off, avoiding the maturation of a technology that’s too fast and could leave a hugely invested project in the dust.

Adobe’s decision to open source Flex, to me, is explained with this analogy: “Adobe will continue to sell the candles, give the matches away for free”. The candle is the player. The Flash player, the engine for both Flex and Flash (the output being one in the same) is not being opened up. I support this and there are many reasons why I want Adobe to keep this locked down (that’s a whole other post). And while Adobe isn’t actually selling the candle (the player), they will continue to own that exclusively as their ‘special sauce’.

The matches in this case, that which is available for free, includes the Flex SDK and the ActionScript 3.0 compiler, as well as the source code for ‘most’ of the components for Flash, Flex and Apollo. This is a considerable amount of openness, and aligning with my metaphor of a candle-lighting match, should light a fire well beyond the existing development community.

This is Adobe’s ultimate goal. While Flex adoption has grown incredibly this year, the potential was seen as so much more. Going open source is a strategy that while probably not immediately profitable will likely payoff in a major way just a little bit down the road. There are a lot of projects out there that should have been chosen for Flex, but the close source aspect was a big turn off. I think several companies, and some very big and very well known, will now start to consider Flex as a much more appealing solution. The more projects in Flex, the more use and need for tools like FlexBuilder and Flash IDE. The more projects in Flex, the greater need for a company to tap the already sparse Flex developer base, thus reaching further into the costly and lucrative Flex consulting market, including Adobe’s own consulting arm.

The move will payoff for Adobe. It will pay off for the Flex developers. And as for any competition building against Flex and the Flash Player… Are you sure you want to get into a candle measuring contest?