Having purchased its competition, Google joins Flash video group

Two months ago, Google announced its intention to purchase On2 Technologies, the producer of the technology behind the Ogg Theora codec that was the prime candidate earlier this year to become the open video solution for HTML 5. Google's engineers had come out in opposition to Ogg Theora, and that fact was cited by the HTML 5 working group as reason for its suspending efforts to incorporate open video for this version.

Whatever Google's reasons may have been for purchasing On2, not everyone in the company appeared to be interested in advancing the format. Today, that sentiment appears to have been made official, with the announcement during Adobe's MAX conference in Los Angeles that Google is joining Adobe's Open Screen Project, established last year.

It was definitely worth noting that while Research in Motion also joined OSP today, RIM and Adobe issued a joint announcement, while Adobe deferred to Google's blog for the requisite excitement from that camp. There, Google SVP Bill Coughran described OSP as "an initiative established a year and a half ago to help developers more easily design content for the Web across multiple screens using the Flash Platform."

While certainly that's one objective of OSP, the others -- as openly stated on the Open Screen Project Web site -- are to present Flash and its AIR functionality platform as the runtime environment for rich applications, as well as to distribute Flash. "To reach these goals, it's expected that Open Screen Project partners will commit to: distributing the next major releases of Adobe Flash Player and AIR on Internet-enabled devices; implementing Flash Player and AIR in a manner that is consistent, updatable, and addressable by third-party developers; [and] publicly supporting the Open Screen Project," the Web site reads.

Certainly Google's YouTube may have done more than any organization outside of Adobe to promote Flash -- by some estimates, YouTube supplies nine out of every ten user-generated streams, thus necessitating the role of Flash in the browser. If the OSP's expectations apply to Google, then to meet Adobe's obligations, it seems likely that the Flash plug-in will become a part of the Chrome Web browser -- perhaps as a plug-in, and perhaps as Chrome's built-in video codec.

Developers responded to today's news with varying levels of support mixed with skepticism, with some calling into question Adobe's somewhat mystified use of the word "Open." Flash isn't exactly free, although access to anyone wanting to become a Flash developer is technically free. Certainly Adobe's Flash and Flex development tools are not free, though the specifications for the platform and its underlying technologies are...freely available, insofar as downloadable SDKs are concerned.

As one commenter on Reddit put it today, "[As far as I know,] the FLA [Flash file] spec isn't open at all. That is one piece of proprietary information. You can build SWFs [Shockwave files] using open source tools, but I don't know of any tools other than the Flash IDE that operate on FLA's. This makes sense since the money maker is the the Flash IDE, the only application capable of creating and consuming FLA's."

That prompted this response: "The spec is open. That doesn't mean the technologies used to implement the spec are open." And another Reddit contributor argued that Adobe's ongoing transition of the FLA file-format to an XML-based schema makes Flash, at least in concept, "completely open" -- exemplified by the capability for someone outside of Adobe to build a competitive IDE for Flash.

Maybe, but the Open Screen Project certainly sticks a brand name on the technology it expects its members, including Google, to both distribute and promote: "Content providers and developers are encouraged to create content and applications targeting multiple devices using the Adobe Flash Platform."

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