JAN
10
2006

SWF

Lets talk SWF. A lot of people seem to be mentioning Gnash today. Some seem to think it's a giant step for FSF. I think it's really funny. It's really funny (or sad - it depends how you look at it) how a giant win for FSF is taking a wonderful Public Domain project and basically just releasing it under GNU GPL.

So Christian, GNU Flash and Gnash at least were technically two different projects. GNU Flash is (was?) technically GPLFLash2 which is LGPL licensed (how confusing can you get, eh?), while Gnash is using a relicensed Public Domain SWF decoding library making the whole thing GPL. gameswf has been put in the Public Domain so assigning copyrights to FSF and relicensing everything without making any substantial changes is completely legal. In my opinion morally it's not the most wonderful thing one could do though.

Ariya mentions that we could be Arthuring Gnash. Unfortunately, no we really couldn't. Most of the greatness of gameswf, which Gnash is using, is that it implements its own rendering model on top of OpenGL. That rendering model is rather tightly coupled with gameswf (as it's the core of it) so abstracting it would involve refactoring most of the code.

As to whether having SWF support in KDE would be beneficial let me just mention that of course we have it. I did it about two months ago and I have been contemplating putting it along QtSvg but decided that it's pointless (a little bit about reasons later). SWF is very different from SVG though. Yes, they both are technically vector graphics formats, but their usage is completely different. SWF is used to create complete applications. How many applications written in SVG is there?
There's hundreds of different custom installers for SWF files which turn them into .exe files and allow companies to easily deploy those files as standalone apps.

Not having an open library fully implementing SWF is not a problem. FSF created a flawed problem definition. Gnash, in my opinion, is a flawed solution to a self-created problem.

Format is not a problem. People don't care about formats at all. How many people use hex editors to create SWF files? Right, zero. The reason people use SWF is because the creator for them is simply really good. It's very simple and allows them to create compelling GUI's in no time with very little, if at all, programming knowledge. The fact that we don't have an answer to that is the problem. The fact that we don't have anything that could compete with it is exactly the problem. Use of SWF across the web is just a symptom.

And by no means am I implying that creating a SWF editor (e.g. Flash4Linux) would be a solution. It would be a very neat project (like Flash4Linux is) but it is not a solution. The reason is following: when you're competing with a product you have to give people a compelling arguments to switch. Therefore having exactly the same functionality as the application you are competing against is not enough. Why would people switch if they already have everything you provide? Why would they switch if you're implementing just a little more? If you're trying to compete with a product by trying to copy its functionality - you already lost. Furthermore by consistently following vision of another project, you lose your own and you willingly part with the only thing that could make you competitive which is originality.

The way to compete is by going back and asking yourself what was the scope of the problem the original project was trying to solve? What did they manage to solve? What are the main complains of people who are using it? What are people using it for? What are the main features people love about it? If you have those you are well on your way. Next year it's not Macromedia Flash and SWF anymore but Microsoft Expression and XAML, the year after it could be something else. We need to provide a product that stands on its own merits and presents a better solution to the problem of quick and easy creation of easily deployable applications (well, that and stupid little animations ;) ). Qt Designer or Glade are not enough because they allow very limited artistic freedom and in comparison to what you can do in Flash or Expression apps created in Designer/Glade just look ugly.

I guess now it's obvious why Trolltech will be working on scene graph for the graphical basis of the toolkit.

Comments

I'm not quite sure what you're up to with a competing product. Ignoring the status quo is possible, but people seem to want Flash, available for the platform they like and open source, instead being bound to Adobe's will and binary. This is what free Flash alternatives try to deliver. Nothing wrong in itself, even though a competing product is always healthy.


By carlo at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 00:03

You're completely missing the point. It's just like saying that the solution to problem of the DOC format is creating an open source viewer for DOC documents. In fact that would be even more legitimate because unlike Microsoft, Macromedia is proving a flash player for gnu/linux (only for i86 but still). Viewer doesn't solve the problem at all, which is exactly what I'm talking about. The only way of fixing the issue is by giving people application that solves the same problems, but better in an open and standard way so that no one creates SWF's anymore.


By zack rusin at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 00:58

Better than begging Macromedia for a player for amd64 and ppc linux.


By ismail at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 01:43

Not from the FSF perspective... Making closed sourced solutions work on platforms they are not available on is hardly a great goal for Open Source developers. That takes away a very good reason people are not happy with them and willing to entertain the thought of switching to different solutions. By empowering closed formats we ourselves are giving the power to control the creative future in the hands of the companies controlling those formats.


By zack rusin at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 01:52

I got your point. I just don't think it can be the solution to have a competing (even better) product, while users still want to watch these annoying, inaccessible Flash sites. I also don't go over the bridge that no one will use Flash, because of an open and standardized alternative. Speaking of .doc: I'm sure it'll be there for dozens of years, if not forever, despite having a standardized alternative. Influencing the political process with the goal to forbid closed file formats is imho the better way to solve this problem for all future file formats, instead fighting the windmill vanes again and again.


By carlo at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 17:14

You can't forbid closed formats. If a company invents a format and they think it's so brilliant no one else should have access to it, it's completely within the bounds of their rights to close it. And people won't care one bit if it's closed or not as long as the tools which are used with it are solving some fundemental problem.
Computers are tools and 99% of people uses them as such. If a pencil would be made from trees in the rainforrest would you even know? Would you care if it was better than any other pencil out there? Would you care if it was the only pencil you could buy?
So what that there's a free alternative to DOC if none of the tools used to create it are better than Microsoft Word? Let me just repeat that people don't care about formats. "I'm saving my document. In what format? I don't know... Whatver one that allows me to open it back".
And to the argument that people want to view flash. Of course they do, they also want to view wmv files, play directx games, run autocad, photoshop and do a whole bunch of other stuff, hence why those people are running windows. Macromedia was even kind enough to provide player for GNU/Linux. But none of that changes the fact that it's completely silly to say that "a big step" for Free Software Foundation is creating a player for closed format that can only be created using closed source software...


By zack rusin at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 18:07

> You can't forbid closed formats. If a company invents a format and they think it's so brilliant no one else should have access to it, it's completely within the bounds of their rights to close it.

Sure you can. It's a political decision, if companies have to open file formats, to place a product on a market. And I'm sure companies do obey, if the alternative is not to sell their product.


By carlo at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 18:41

I can see it right now.
"You'll open source your format because you're making money on it!"
"Ahm, yeah, that's kinda the point of us keeping it closed"
"Open Source developers have hard time copying what you have done and can't compete so we don't care."
"Oh, yeah, the fact that people can't copy us and take our profits is keeping us at night all the time."
So, yeah, keep fighting the good fight. Once you get governments to follow your idea, email me when you make it illegal to: release any kind of hardware without full open specs, eat meat, do animal testing or create closed source software in general.


By zack rusin at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 18:59

Opening formats, interfaces, specs doesn't mean you can't release a closed source product. And closed source software wouldn't become illegal either. But looking at your last exaggerating sentence, it sounds not like we'd find common ground. :)


By carlo at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 19:36

I guess now it's obvious why Trolltech will be working on scene graph for the graphical basis of the toolkit.

I agree with you, but if Trolltech is serious about creating an animations format to compete with SWF, they should foster a community around their project, just like the FSF is fostering a community around Gnash.

There are plenty of developers eager to contribute to an Open Source alternative to Macromedia Flash, and they are not going to wait around two more years for Trolltech to release a functional product under the GPL. Instead, they are going to help out whichever project has the most traction at the moment (be it Gnash, GPL Flash, etc), even if that project is doomed to constantly play catch-up to the closed-source Flash player and the standards dictated by Adobe.

Trolltech should host a public development site (including website, mailinglist, forum, etc) and require all contributors to assign copyright to Trolltech, just like MySQL does. This will ensure Trolltech's ability to dual-license the animations product under the GPL and a proprietary license.


By vladc at Wed, 01/11/2006 - 05:01

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