It’s not necessarily surprising that during the week of O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention (aka OSCON), companies release open source code — just as they often release flashy consumer products during tradeshows to garner the most buzz from contingent news cycles.
So it goes with Adobe’s announcement today that they’re releasing two new open source projects, one for rendering text on the web and the other — the Open Source Media Framework — for playing back video and streaming content.
It may have been upstaged by Microsoft but Adobe’s strategy with its Open Source Media Framework looks very similar.
That strategy is to co-opt the term open source, make it corporate, and maintain dominance of the future.
Microsoft is supporting Linux tools so Linux can live in a Windows world, and Adobe is delivering an open source project so that open source, as a concept, can live in its world of corporate media.
At stake in this case is the standard for video in HTML 5.0. The World Wide Web consortium has a bias in favor of royalty-free, open source standards. While the H.264 codec had market dominance, it had no open source street cred.
The corporate nature of the Adobe effort is emphasized on this page, where it lists “plug-in partners” from the worlds of advertising, publishing, and analytics. Its goal is to drive the Adobe Flash platform. That means Adobe’s Open Video Player, code-named Strobe
It has already achieved big success since HTML 5 stopped specifying Ogg Theora in June, meaning no codec is currently specified. Don’t say no is a big step on the way to saying yes to H.264.
In the standards war open source is a necessary coating. We will now see whether open source is just that, a cloak on corporate ambition, or a true bottom-up phenomenon driven by communities like Ogg Theora.
Dana covers much of the concerns that I have about this announcement — so I’ll simply let his analysis stand.
What I want to highlight here, as I’ve done before, is the point that he makes about
[co-opting] the term open source, [making] it corporate, and [maintaining] dominance of the future.
A year ago I wrote about parsing the “open” in Facebook’s then-called “fbOpen” platform, taking them to task for licensing their code under the Common Public Attribution License and offering up only a portion of their platform — which came handicapped with all kinds of redistribution restrictions.
A year on and the results of Facebook’s approach are evident: no external Facebook community has developed; no alternative open source Facebook Platform implementations have been attempted. Facebook is still roundly in charge of the platform and get to use the term “open” as though it means something.
Adobe and Microsoft are now engaged in similar forms of open-washing, applying the tastes-great, less-filling label, while doing everything they can to maintain their control and dominance in a given area — further cementing the historic distinction between “free” and “open”.
Adobe is clearly concerned about the progress of the HTML5 video tag and is coming out aggressively against it, shielding themselves in the cloth of “open” in an attempt to staunch criticism and dissent. One needs only to examine the language of the Open Video Player project or consider the “partners” involved to realize that nothing about the “Open Video Player” project has anything to do with open and everything to do with inhibiting a free and open media web from emerging.
In my estimation, the hallmark of empty “open” rhetoric is incomplete or conflicting legal guidance and documentation — since this is the information that determines how you may be able to modify, redistribute or contribute to a project. Specifically, Adobe has released the OSMF under v1.1 of the Mozilla Public License (annotated version), but uses this patent policy: “By releasing OSMF under MPL 1.1, Adobe is granting certain patent rights to this code. Adobe may seek patents for innovations in OSMF to defend its technologies against patent assertions.”
While this kind of language makes perfect business sense, it is anti-community and creates FUD.
For example, if someone wanted to try to take the OSMF and build it into a popular, open source web browser — or otherwise use the OSMF to advance the HTML5 video work (outrageous as that idea may be!) — it is unclear whether such use would be permitted by Adobe under the terms of this policy.
In some respects, this is why the Open Web and Apache Foundations exist: to clarify legal issues like these and make it possible for companies and developers to maintain reasonable expectations about the projects to which they contribute and collaborate on.
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If you want to protect and promote open source and freedom in the cloud, understanding these legal issues are essential to evaluating the claims to “open” that companies like Adobe, Microsoft and Facebook have made and continue to make with announcement like today’s. It’s also critical to remember that there’s much more at stake here than just source code transparency — what happens with video and media on the web and in HTML5 can have a great amount of impact on the potential business opportunities for Silverlight and Flash — and Microsoft and Adobe (and Google and Apple) will do whatever it takes to ensure that their particular version of the future is secure — including co-opting “open” to make it so. Those of us who believe in the essentialness of openness and freedom of choice on the web must continue to remain vigilant about such abuses, distortions and misappropriations of the term “open” — and do what we can to spread awareness of the importance of free and unfettered technology development.