In the style of this series of articles on Flash, we now look at alternatives to the applications, this time, starting with the free ones, Flash and AIR, since we are focusing on Flash technologies on this website.. It may seem a bit silly to give alternatives, as there is not cost involved. However, there is the dependency issue. It is an old fairground tactic, where the vendor starts by enticing people to purchase a product by giving away things. This is done to create trust as well as condition them into thinking that they will be getting a bargain. IBM did this years ago by giving out Selectric typewriters to all the schools. The students learned on them, but they had peculiarities, such as the ball containing typefaces, instead of the usual keys actuated directly from the keyboard. The balls were interchangeable, their containing different types faces. In essence, this was the way students learned typing. When businesses hired the typists, about the only way work could be done efficiently without having to re-orient them to standard typewriters was to buy a Selectric. Apple computers did the same thing by getting kids “hooked” on its proprietary operating system, but this effort was short-circuited with the advent of the personal computer (PC), released, ironically, by IBM in August 1981. Yet, despite the high price of Apple products and their relative unavailability except through specialized Apple and its vendors, the computer line has survived, albeit tenuously at some times.
Bound up with seeking alternatives is the view that people should have the freedom to choose software and to uninstall it without the consequence of losing data. Enter the open source movement. Open source software, such as Fedora Core and Open Office are distributed free, with the funds to sustain development efforts coming from the sale of consultations and, literature, and books. People have ready access to the source code generating the applications and can write code modifications subject to the scrutiny of review panels. The Wikipedia effort represents this type of development, but in terms of content. So, back to Adobe, what can a person do to skirt the specific applications of Flash and AIR to do the same or similar things these two applications do? There are commercial programs that are competitive with Adobe products, but one gets into the same problem area of dependency.
Yes, there is are open source alternatives to the Flash Player, such as Ajax Animator and OpenDialect. There also are Gnash, Lighspark, and Swfdec, although this last one is used more to decode the Multimedia (Adobe) applications. User reviews on these are mixed, some saying they don’t render Flash files with 100% accuracy. It is left to the reader to experiment with these applications. While each may not have the full functionality of Flash, there may be enough for certain purposes. However a search on the internet under “alternatives to Flash Player” presents 26,200,000 results, indicating that all is not quiet contentment in the world where people want to see files rendered in the Flash format.
What of Adobe’s AIR, where developers can put Flash applications on the computer desktop? One can start with Appcelerator’s Titanium, which is open source. The philosophy behind the Titanium alternative to AIR is explained quite well in this video. The OSFlash projects page also lists AIR alternatives. New development is progressing one of the latest being FOSDR, with code being released.
Realizing that people are finding out more about open sources alternatives, Adobe started moving to this way of making software development in 2008 by releasing Flex 3.0 and BlazeDS. Adobe also announced the elimination of its Web and desktop division.
This all does not go to say that people should avoid Adobe products, but it is comforting to know that people do not have to be backed into a corner where the only way out of saving data or files is to continue with expensive upgrades. It is no secret that the subscription method to which some developers, such as Adobe and Microsoft are moving could put the user at the mercy of having to pay, as in a magazine or cable subscription, to maintain the application.
Next time, in Adobe’s proprietary line, we will continue reviewing Adobe’s products, along with exploring open source alternatives. The emphasize will be on looking at what the application really does and seeing what else can do it. There may be unique activities that only Adobe can do, but it is not a bad idea to be aware of those before making an expensive commitment, along with the possibility, in the case of subscriptions, of maintaining it.