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Talking Open with Adobe's Dave McAllister

Being "the guy" in charge of open source and standards at a company more known for its closed source products is a job I don't envy. Adobe's Dave McAllister, however, is a man that loves that kind of challenge and that's exactly the role he plays.

Dave's involvement in Open Source pre-dates the creation of the term itself. As a key member of the Silicon Graphics team in the early 1990s, he was involved in key OSS projects like OpenGL. McAllister also co-founded Cassatt and helped develop pioneering cloud computing solutions based on 37 open source projects.

When he was hired on by Adobe in 2006, McAllister went right to work, sitting down for a meeting with his new CTO and asking "When can I Open Source the Flash player?"

That hasn't been fully possible yet, due in no small part to the presence of technologies within Flash that Adobe must license from other vendors - like the h.264 codec. Flash player's foundations - things like the SWF, FLV, RTMP, AMF, and FlashCast specifications - are all published.

The Flex SDK, Blaze DS, and ActionScript virtual machine are also fully open source, and Adobe grants full patent use on all these things, which allows developers to go wild and produce cool things like the Pushbutton Game Engine. "If we can't open source the code," Dave told me, "we will open how it was built."

Apart from their own products, Adobe contributes to a number of better-known open source efforts. They're involved with foundations like Linux, Eclipse, and Mozilla, and projects including Webkit, which Adobe utilizes in Air to render HTML and Javascript. "We recently provided about a million lines of code to Eclipse to assist with localization efforts," said McAllister.

To Dave and Adobe, open also applies to dialog and experience. They're making strides to get the community more involved with things like Developer Connection, which now receives more than 1.2 million visits per month. There's also the Flex Cookbook, where 70% of the 800+ entries are fully open source.

On the experience front, Adobe has been hard at work on the Open Screen project. The initiative aims to provide a common user experience across different screens - destop, mobile, and home theater, for example. In addition to Adobe, major technology vendors like Palm, Motorla, RIM, Intel, Nokia, and LG, as well as big media players like BBC, NBC, MTV, and Comcast are all part of the effort.

Adobe's role in Open Screen makes a lot of sense. With Flash now on Facebook - and just about everywhere except the iPod Touch and iPhone, of course - and Webkit powering both Safari and Google Chrome, Adobe is a key component in providing a device-independent web experience.

I asked Dave about Apple notable absence from the project. "We've never turned anyone away from Open Screen," he replied tactfully.

One more note: if you run into Dave somewhere, please, don't ask him where your 64-bit Flash Player for Linux is. It's been available on Adobe Labs for months, yet he told me it's the number one question he gets asked.

You can also follow Dave on twitter, he's @dwmcallister

Tags: adobe, open-screen, open-source