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Adobe moves to broaden Flash reach

The company announces the Open Screen Project, an industry partnership intended to broaden the appeal of Flash for mobile device applications.

No doubt, Adobe System's Flash is popular: it's installed on 99 percent of all PCs, according to the company.

But when it comes to mobile devices and other non-PC platforms, Flash is an also-ran. One reason for that situation, according to Adobe, is the lack of good development tools and the company's own restrictive licensing.

A new program, announced by Adobe on Thursday, is intended to remedy that problem. The program, called the Open Screen Project, is an industry alliance, of sorts, initiated by Adobe that includes prominent device manufacturers, content developers, and telecommunications carriers.

Open Screen is being spearheaded by Adobe. But the company is working with Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Qualcomm, Chunghwa Telecom, Samsung, Motorola, NTT Docomo, Toshiba, Verizon Wireless, ARM, Intel, Marvell, NBC, MTV, and the BBC. It's "a who's who in the industry," said David Wadhwani, general manager and vice president of the Platform Business Unit at Adobe.

"It's time for the industry to provide a consistent platform for development across PCs, mobile devices, set-top boxes, and other platforms," said Wadhwani. "There are five times the number of connected devices than PCs in the world. The consumer market is demanding video and rich content across all of these screens," he said.

"There are five times the number of connected devices than PCs in the world. The consumer market is demanding video and rich content across all of these screens."
--David Wadhwani, VP of Adobe's Platform Business Unit

Adobe's answer to the problem--no surprise--is Flash, and later Adobe's AIR software. The company's goal is to establish Flash as the common runtime software on a variety of devices and to rapidly gain market share. What about Java, Sun Microsystems' "write once, run anywhere" software, you ask? Wadhwani dismisses Java's viability. "Java does happen to be running on these devices. But not necessarily write once, run anywhere."

Eric Klein, vice president of Java marketing at Sun, responded by noting that "Java is the most widely adopted runtime in the world, powering compelling content and rich consumer experiences today across billions of devices--more than 2 billion phones, 800 million desktops, 3.5 billion JavaCard devices and 20 million TV devices."

Wadhwani said the Open Screen project has five basic elements. Adobe will remove license restriction on the .swf file format. "It is published already, but in order to view it you have to say you will not create a competing player," said Wadhwani. "We're lifting that restriction. People have been worried about vendor lock-in. This will remove that obstacle, and concern."

Adobe will also remove licensing fees for embedding Flash Player on devices. The software has always been a free download for PC users. But Adobe has charged for embedding on devices. Those charges will disappear with the next release of the software.

Adobe will also publish a variety of APIs and protocols related to Flash.

Clearly, some big names will likely not be participating in Adobe's plans. Sun and Microsoft, for starters. Sun has Java; Microsoft has a variety of Windows technology for mobile devices and has developed its own Flash-like software called Silverlight.

Apple and Google are also not involved in the project. Wadhwani said that Adobe will be actively recruiting additional partners, however.