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Open source is not a binary decision at Adobe

Adobe open sources technology selectively and intelligently, as dictated by its shareholders and its community members.

I was fortunate to speak Wednesday on a panel at the Adobe Max conference. The topic? "Why Open Source, and What Makes the Cut?"

We spent a lot of time talking about open-source strategy, generally, but it was when we discussed how open source applies to Adobe that things became particularly interesting.

Adobe actually does a lot of work around open source, though it generally gets (and takes) little credit for that work. But so does every big company, with few exceptions. No, the real question is in what Adobe chooses not to open source, and why.

It turns out that just as there are a myriad of good reasons for open sourcing technology, there are equally good reasons for not open sourcing technology. Adobe has good reasons on both sides, but also clearly recognizes that open source is not a binary decision.

That is, it's not a question of whether Flash Player should be 100 percent open source. It's a question of which portions can and should be open sourced. Ditto for Adobe's other technologies. Open sourcing some technology could seriously benefit Adobe and the larger open-source community. Open sourcing other technology would not.

So Adobe and other companies, from Microsoft to Openbravo, selectively decide what to open source, and how. It's not a binary decision. Today open sourcing Creative Suite 4 as a whole is almost certainly not on the cards at Adobe, but contributing to complementary projects like WebKit is in play.

Is it enough to satisfy free software activist Richard Stallman? No. But it's a prudent approach to managing one's business and one's community. Pressure from both should lead to the right, non-binary decision most of the time.