[IAEP] Flash at Sugar Labs

David Farning dfarning at sugarlabs.org
Sun Jan 4 20:38:51 EST 2009

Bryan Berry started a great thread about activity development a few
days ago.  In the initial post he proposed using flash as means of
developing content.  Before taking the thread any farther I though we
should stop and look at what flash actually is.

The term flash is often interchangeably used as:
1. A brand
2. A player
3. A development environment
4. A protocol

Yep, confusing.  As we continue the discussion, I thought we should
look at how 'flash' relates to Sugar and to more generally to OLPC and
Open Source.  I have CCed MaryBeth from Open Media Now and Rob from
Gnash to help clarify the many shortcomings in my explanations.

First, the brand -
Flash is primarily a brand.  It was originally created by MacroMedia
and has been purchased by Adobe.  The brand consists of the player,
IDE, protocol, and the support and marketing provided by Adobe.  As a
brand, Flash is competing head-to-head with Microsoft's Silverlight.

Second, the player -
The most visible part of flash is the player.  The _Adobe_Flash_Player
is a proprietary product which is developed, supported, and
distributed by Adobe.  Currently,  the Adobe Flash Player can only be
distributed with Adobe's permission.  Binary code for the player can
be downloaded for most operating systems and distributions.

Third party redistribution is strictly prohibited without permission.
As such it would not be possible for Sugar Labs to distribute the
Adobe_Flash_Player in its code bundles.  Deployments can, and often
do, add the Player as an available activity.  The Player can be
legally redistributed over an organization's intra-net.

Third, the authoring tools -
Adobe's business model is to give away the player and sell the
authoring tools.  As a result, Adobe sells several very good, yet,
expensive authoring tools.  Adobe's development tool costs
approximately $750 US.

Fourth, the Standards -
Flash deliverables come in two formats .swf and .flv.  Swf and
ActionScript, the development language use to create .swfs have been
open sourced.  I believe that the ActionScript source code is jointly
held by Adobe and Mozilla.  There are possible legal questions about
the patent encumberment status of some of the media codecs used in
swfs and flvs.  We would need clarification from the Software Freedom
Conservancy on these issues.

So, counting backwards how does this affect Sugar Lab?
Fourth, the Standards -
We need to wait for feedback from the SFC and Open Media Now.

Third, the authoring tools -
Adobe has done a very effective job eliminating the competition for
flash authoring tools.  http://osflash.org/ has a number of open
source development tools.  I am not enough of a flash developer to
judge if the authoring products are mature enough to be useful or not.
 Are there any Flash developers out there, can you judge the quality
of some of these products?

Second, the player -
The Free Software Foundation has flash player project called Gnash.
The project is makin slow yet steady progress towards being a fully
capable swf player.  The project suffers from lack of support.  Many
Open Source users either download the Adobe player or forgo using
flash.  The itch factor is pretty low.

As a product, Gnash is approaching, yet is not yet ready for, prime
time.  I spent New Years Day with my sister's kids( ages 11, 7, and 4)
looking at their favorites sites under Ubuntu/Flash, Ubuntu/Gnash,
Xo/Flash, and Xo,Flash.  I bet that was the first time they have ever
heard a adult tell them to, 'come on, play it again, just one more
time, please...' about their favorite games:)

There was a steady decrease in the availability and usability of sites
with Xo and Gnash.  We need to wait for feedback from Gnash about the
product's technical limitations and the project's development

Finally, the brand -
Adobe has recently asked Gnash to call their player a SWF player
rather than a flash player:)

I appreciate your feedback on the technical aspect of Bryan's propose.
 In the next few days, I will try to summarize the (1)
organization/development and (2) the educational/pedagogically issues
of his proposal.


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