I’ve recently learned that Adobe has opened the Flash spec. Which, from an open source user’s point of view is really cool. But then I put on my competitor hat and started thinking of making a Flash editor.

I won’t bore you with the technical details, of which there are lots (and no it’s not likely I will actually go ahead with the project). These words are better spent on something else – the business case for opening the spec.

The swf_file_format_spec_v9.pdf file from Adobe’s site is a very detailed description of the file format, including things such as illustrations, notes and warnings, and version history (going waaay back). And the answer to my riddle is in the file name – see if you can spot it?

It’s absolutely brilliant.

No? Ok, I’ll tell you – it’s the v9. You see – 9 is the version of the player currently in use. It’s been released some 2 years ago. And 10 is coming out this summer I am led to believe.

What do you think Adobe has been doing to Flash for the last two years? You can be damn sure they didn’t put it on the shelf, and they’ve been developing it heavily. And I’m also sure SWF is not the kind of spec that’s developed before the implementation. Most likely in the last two years Adobe has been implementig as many features as they could, and this summer they will brand the result Flash 10, document it, and release the documentation.

Now think about it from a competitor’s point of view. Assuming you can’t develop software much faster than Adobe (which is very likely), and even though you don’t have to spend any time on research and other things related to developing a new spec: you will not be able to release a product that can be competitive with Flash for at least one year after a new version of Flash is released.

So considering that the release cycle is 2 years, you will have an inferior product 50% of the time, even if you do your very best.

This isn’t intended to be a rant against Adobe. Like I said at the start of the post – them opening the spec is great for users, and it’s great for open source developers (who can live happily with a 1 year feature lag).

It’s just that having thought of ways to be open yet stay competitive for a long time, I know how hard/impossible it is. I am very impressed with what Adobe’s doing. Good job!