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Adobe closes Flash-based Flex to outsiders

Difficulty managing contribs blamed

Reducing security risks from open source software

Adobe's open source development process for the Flex SDK – the library and tools for building Flash and AIR applications – has hit a roadblock.

Flex SDK product manager Deepa Subramaniam last week told MAX the public repository will be closed and patches will no longer be accepted from the community. The change applies to the next version of the SDK, code-named Hero, which adds mobile support along with other enhancements. Adobe hopes to restore open development "within the next two Flex releases."

"There has been a change in development with the Hero release. We are unable to develop in as transparent a manner as we did with Flex 4.0," said Subramaniam.

"The Hero SDK is building against the latest and greatest of the runtimes, the in-development Flash player and the in-development AIR runtime, and those runtimes are not open source. They are not developed as transparently as Flex is. We have to respect those teams development process and make sure that we don't check in early in-development builds of Flash player. We can only check in the builds that they deem publicly previewable."

The closure of community patch submissions is a separate issue. Until now, developers have been able to submit patches which fix bugs or improve the framework, which would be reviewed by a team member to assess its quality, conformance to coding guidelines and that it does not break tooling.

"The current way this is working is a very onerous process, burdensome for the patch developer and burdensome for the product team... we decided that we need to hit the pause button," said Subramaniam. "We need to figure out what core infrastructure changes we need to make in order to make the patch process smoother and less stressful. My goal is to re-enable patch contributions by the end of Hero."

Adobe treads a wary path with respect to open source. On the one hand, the company likes to position Flash as a core web standard, arguing that without Flash users (including those on Apple's iOS platform) do not get the complete web.

The Flash specification is published, and the open sourcing of Flex development has been part of its charm offensive. Against that, Adobe does not publish the source to the Flash player runtime itself, and even with the Flex SDK it maintains full control over the direction of the project. The current problem illustrates how keeping the player closed impacts Adobe's ability to embrace open source in related projects.

Adobe has good reasons for closing down the development of the latest Flex SDK, and is emphazizing that it still wants to work closely with Flex developers. That said, these abrupt chances show the difference between true open source projects such as those managed by Apache, and corporate efforts to benefit from the open source community but without ceding control of their key software assets. ®

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