Adobe’s Vanishing Linux Air Support: Personal or Strictly Business?

Adobe’s recent decision to pull support away from Air for Linux might be the first in a series of market adjustments designed to throttle its bottom line with Android rather than the traditional Linux platform. But the move could cost the company a bank roll of good will.

Adobe officials do not see their action as hampering relations with the Linux community. Instead, they hope to profit from the newly won favor of Android users. And since Android is still in the Linux family, Adobe’s stance against the Linux desktop may cause only a few hard feelings among other Linux clan members.

Adobe’s decision to drop Air support for Linux is not a matter of the company thumbing its nose at the Linux community. It is more a response to economic drivers.

“They’re going where the money is. And right now the money is in Android,” Jeffrey S. Hammond, principal analyst for research firm Forrester, told LinuxInsider.

News Flash

Specifically, Adobe has scuttled new releases of Air and Air SDK programming support for the Linux desktop platform. Air, which combines Flash and a Web browser, is a cross-platform software building tool. It allows programmers to concoct standalone software on any system running Air underpinnings.

Instead, from Air 2.7 forward, Adobe will not provide a Linux version. So Linux developers will lose their cross-platform ability.

This current situation is a bit ironic for Adobe. Last year Adobe raised a ruckus when Apple banned Air-based apps from iOS devices. Apple gave in later on the use of Air-based apps but held firm on banishing Flash Player.

Adobe explained in its Air blog that its customers were creating applications for smartphones and tablets so it had to realign its investments. The new target audience is the device market.

Rarefied Air

Adobe swears it is not deserting the Linux community. Really. Sort of.

Existing Air applications will continue to work on Linux systems, according to company officials. But Linux developers must target only Air 2.6 or below. Users will still be able to use their existing Air applications. However, users will not be able to install applications or apply application updates and security patches that require newer versions of Air unless an Open Screen Project (OSP) partner develops the release for Linux.

Adobe is playing its partner card heavily to lessen the impact of its Linux dead end. The company is prioritizing a Linux porting kit for Air (including source code). Its OSP kindred can use this porting kit to complete implementations of Air for Linux-based platforms on PCs, mobile devices, TVs and TV-connected devices.

“While we will no longer be releasing our own versions of Adobe Air and the Air SDK for desktop Linux, we expect that one or more of our partners will do so and that we’ll be able to announce this information shortly,” Dave McAllister, director of standards and open source at Adobe, told LinuxInsider.

Community Camaraderie

So far it’s unclear whether a Linux family feud exists. For example, Adobe is both a Linux Foundation member and a friend to Linux, assured Amanda McPherson, vice president of marketing and developer programs for The Linux Foundation.

“Technology markets shift rapidly. Mobile platforms based on Linux, including Android and webOS, are expanding fast and have great prospects for the future. We understand Adobe’s rationale here. Companies must focus their resources. We look forward to the company’s upcoming LinuxCon session focused on Linux desktop penetration,” McPherson told LinuxInsider.

Perhaps it is just a case of mild family freakout over the apparent change in Adobe’s allegiance to the Linux platform. In the thick of the fog of business, friendship and tolerance may blur acceptably.

“In terms of Air support for Linux, it is really an issue of focus and practicality. Platforms have proliferated, thanks to the smartphone and tablet revolutions, and Adobe has been aggressively thinking through its strategic investments, supporting the major ones as it seizes on the opportunity to provide a much needed multi-platform development tool. Given Linux’s share as a front-end device compared to some of the new tablets coming out, I think this is a wise re-allocation of resources,” Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software for research firm IDC, told LinuxInsider.

Practicality Counts

Adobe considers its move a smart business decision. If dropping Air support for the Linux platform angers some relatives in the Linux family, hey, that’s business. Meanwhile, it is all in the family.

“I don’t think it’s based on any animosity towards Linux. I don’t even think it’s necessarily a technical issue. Adobe is continuing to very, very aggressively support Flash and Air on Android. Android is based on Linux kernel 2.6 rev, what it comes down to is demand. The company has traditionally been a very good player with analytics, who is downloading what and how are they using it,” noted Forrester’s Hammond.

He suspects that Adobe is now supporting about five more platforms than it had intended to support maybe two years ago, most of them mobile and tablet based. Adobe is dealing with spiraling engineering costs. And the classic forms of desktop units are getting more short-shrift because of that, he said.

“As to suggestions that Air is not doing well and this is a way for Adobe to bail out on it, I think that is much less the issue. I think it’s more the issue that they are trying to be much more committed to being successful with Air as a mobile platform than targeting classic desktops, Windows as well. It is much more a shift in focus,” Hammond said.

Community Minded

Adobe is not backing out of its FOSS (Free Open Source Software) interests, according to IDC’s Hilwa. To the contrary, Adobe in the last three years has done quite a bit to portray a view that it is friendly to open source even it continues to be primarily a proprietary technology vendor, he noted.

“A couple of years ago, [Adobe] released the Flex framework in open source, and they based their FlashBuilder IDE on Eclipse. In fact, there is a whole bunch of Adobe Open Source projects out there,” said Hilwa.

Adobe, much like Microsoft and Oracle, has found it important to appeal to open source developers as a community. This is a pragmatic approach because open source has gone mainstream and has seen much wider adoption in enterprises and amongst developers, he explained.

Only Free for Profit?

Adobe’s decision to make money while continuing its relationship with the Linux community is nothing new.

“Companies like Adobe can make use of free, libre, open source software as both a consumer or a producer. And Adobe is active in both arenas,” said Adobe’s MacAllister.

Open source lets Adobe build innovative products on stable, widely used and understood code. An Adobe subsidiary, Day Software, uses code from the Apache Foundation. Adobe itself uses Eclipse and SQLite. In return, Adobe has released significant code and technologies under open source licenses, including Flex SDK, BlazeDS and Open Source Media Framework (OSMF), MacAllister said.

Still, part of Adobe’s business motivation is profit. Open source cannot survive in isolation.

“Free software from for-profit companies has always been a way to spread a technology that you would eventually stick with or you would depend on. Revenue comes from indirect business generated by the original technology needs,” Olivier Debon, Web Developer at 3W Studios, told LinuxInsider.

Keeping an Image

Adobe is certain that its decision about dropping Linux Air support will not hurt its place at the Linux table. That decision reflects the market direction.

“Adobe isn’t moving away from the Linux community. Rather, the company is refocusing its efforts into the emerging Linux-based space found in mobile products. Our customers and partners are likewise focused on this new market powered by Linux-based products, such as Android,” said MacAllister.

From the view of a developer who uses Air, it was neither a wise nor unwise decision.

“Actually, that’s not the point. They have to put all their forces into creating the ubiquitous suite for mobile software development. And Air is the key. They can’t afford any Linux-specific developments, so no more fun at Adobe’s,” concurred Debon about the impact for the Linux platform.

Is Flash next?

That depends on the Flash vs. HTML5 competition. So far Flash is extremely slow on small devices (phones), said Debon.

But it is possible for Adobe to dump Flash support for Linux as well, warns Hammond. However, he sees that as a distant possibility now.

“I think it’s possible this same thing could happen with Flash. For that to happen, Adobe would have to see that the Flash rates on Linux are so low that it doesn’t justify the additional porting investment to support the investment. I haven’t seen any indication that is where their thinking is. But if they would do this for Air, I do not see any reason why they wouldn’t apply the same set of guidelines to making decisions about Flash,” said Hammond.

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