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Open source is not an easy solution, as Adobe discovers

Open source offers a great way to disrupt established industries, but not everyone wants to be disrupted, requiring a slow and careful hand.

Adobe is under mounting community pressure to open source Flash, but as The Register reports, it's easier to talk about open source than to actually deliver it. I'm guessing that the fact that Microsoft's Silverlight has yet to make any serious inroads against Flash as the biggest reason for Adobe's alleged lack of appetite for open sourcing Flash.

However, that's just one aspect. There's also the fact that open source is easier as a soundbite than it is as a business strategy. In the case of the Flash player, specifically, 65 percent of the code is not owned by Adobe, making open sourcing it a long and laborious project, just as it was with Sun's Java technology.

Adobe's CTO Kevin Lynch recently commented on this to eWeek:

...[W]e need to balance openness and consistency. So we're very open about what goes into Flash Player, the bugs in Flash Player, the code and scripting engine in Flash, the format with Flash, the protocols with Flash. There is incredible openness around Flash. There's a vibrant open-source community where there are dozens of open-source projects that are alive and active. You can go to and you can see a lot of those there. So I think open source and Flash is very much a part of the agenda here and a part of the success of Flash today....

The other [challenge beyond third-party owned proprietary code in Flash] is that I think in terms of what's best here for consistency of Flash on the Web, having multiple implementations and having forking and splintering of that code would be a big loss for the Web in terms of that consistency. So we're really working to be a good steward of Flash and making sure that it runs across operating systems on the Web....That's really what we're working to do is to maintain the consistency, but we're very inclusive of open source and involved in open source to enable that innovation of the open-source community to be part of the success story with Flash.

In other words, open source is not a binary "Yes" or "No" decision. There are lots of good business and technical reasons to take a measured approach to open source. I'm obviously a big fan of open source, and believe it offers an exceptional way to distribute and develop software, but there's not One Way to use open source. In some companies that have established track records with proprietary software, it's going to be a walk before they run sort of process.

In other words, "burn the boats"...but some will ignite one board and one match at a time.