A call for clarity: the Adobe Flash issue

December 1, 2009 by Dave Haynes


When I was selling software, one of the things that came up and that I was coached to use as a selling tool was the whole issue around what is OK and not OK about using Adobe Flash.

There were a few schools of thought or lines of attack, depending on how you looked at the world.

1 – the Flash End User License Agreement (EULA) expressly forbade the use of the Flash player for digital signage, and software companies needed to buy/license the developer libraries to be legit

2 – the EULA did not apply to PCs and therefore it didn’t matter

3 – it was unclear, and Adobe wasn’t helping add any clarity

4 – Flash for digital signage sucks, and is such a buggy, memory-leaking, CPU-intensive pig you’d be crazy to use it anyway

I hovered somewhere between 1 and 2, knew 3 was true, and figured 4 was pretty much true, but there were too many good capabilities in Flash and too much of it out there to just go away. Flash is installed on 98 per cent of PCs, after all.

wrote a piece on this years ago and the post still comes up high in searches when I look up digital signage and Flash, but I am not, at all, certain, my assertions in that post still hold. I have been revisiting the question recently with industry contacts, and been dismayed to learn the whole issue remains clear as mud.

One contact told me the new Adobe media player, not the Flash player, makes the issue go away. Another said the Open Screen Project removed any restrictions. Another said the EULA does not apply with the latest version of the Flash player. Another said nothing has changed. Sheesh. These are all smart people and they are all operating on different points of view.

Here’s what it says:

3.1  Adobe Runtime Restrictions. You may not Use any Adobe Runtime on any non-PC device or with any embedded or device version of any operating system. For the avoidance of doubt, and by example only, you may not use a Adobe Runtime on any (a) mobile devices, set top boxes (STB), handhelds, phones, web pad, tablets and Tablet PC (other than with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and its successors), game console, TV, DVD player, media center (other than with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and its successors), electronic billboard or other digital signage, Internet appliance or other internet-connected device, PDA, medical device, ATM, telematic device, gaming machine, home automation system, kiosk, remote control device, or any other consumer electronics device, (b) operator-based mobile, cable, satellite, or television systems or (c) other closed system devices. 

That suggests OK for Windows-based PCs, but maybe not Linux. Who knows on Apple OS. Or does it??? Does it mean you may not use it on any digital signage device???

Oh, bother. 

So I sent a note and left messages at Adobe. And got no love back. 

Digital signage is all-encompassing when you live this stuff, but to Adobe’s people, I assume it remains a little side project they keep hearing will be big, but doesn’t merit much attention yet.

The Open Screen Project, which is intended to make Flash available with a consistent runtime across multiple platforms, SEEMS to suggest licensing issues will disappear:

From the FAQ: What motivated Adobe to remove the licensing restrictions from the specifications?

The SWF specification has been published since 1998. Until now, the specification had a license agreement associated with it, which said that developers could write software to output SWF but could not make software that would “play” SWF files. These license terms were initially included to prevent fragmentation, which most client technologies have experienced. These terms have worked well for Flash Player over the past decade as it now reaches over 98% of personal computers on the web with a consistent runtime, enabling things such as the video revolution we see today across the web. With this announcement, Adobe is removing this restriction from the SWF specification, as we have established a consistent runtime and we want to ensure the industry can confidently continue to support the SWF format. This will permit the development of applications that play SWF files. Adobe will, of course, remain focused on making the best, most reliable, and most consistently distributed implementation across desktops and devices. 

SO … I am doing a little manual crowd-sourcing here. I want to develop and release V1 of the definitive point of view on working with the Adobe Flash/Media Player. I want to be able to knock something out that puts to rest all the head-scratching and “I’m not sure” stuff, and clearly tells industry people, these are the rules … if there are indeed rules.

A side project would be best practices (or is it practises? … never nailed that one) on working with Flash and how to stop the leaks and keep systems happy.

I am hoping people will:

a – comment, usefully, below …

b – send me their thoughts or insights …

c – or point me to the person at Adobe, or the definitive letter or document, that says what’s OK and what’s off-base.

d – or Adobe sends a note that we can all use, so we can move on … please. 

Private note? dave.haynes at presetgroup.com 


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