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Two heads are better than one

February 20th 2003 | David Vogeleer



Two heads are better than one

An old saying, and an obvious one, it means that two people have a better chance at solving a problem than just one of them. This statement may be obvious to everyone reading it, but you would be surprised to find out how many software companies don't believe in it.

Written by David Vogeleer Open source is much more than a simple technology buzzword, its way of thinking about intellectual property. Because coding is just a grouping and ordering of specific keywords that eventually just translate down to 0's and 1's, no one truly owns it, they just write it. You can always copy write code, but it's very difficult to patent it, that is to prove that you are the first person to create the ideas behind the code.

It all started back before computers were personal, when programming sometimes took place not at the keyboard, but at a slot where you put cards that had special holes put in them. When PC-Dos was purchased from Microsoft by IBM to be its operating system of choice for their new computer, many thought that there were many similarities between this PC-Dos and CP/M systems. And PC-Dos itself wasn't really a product from Microsoft, but was purchased by Microsoft for only $50,000. It was Microsoft's first attempt at an operating system.

Now flash forward to today where Microsoft not only owns the majority of market share in operating systems, but in application software, and the browser war. Does this mean that they make the best product, or even the cheapest product? Certainly not. If they did make the best, or even the cheapest product, then why are they concerned with Lindows?

Lindows is a version of the open-source operating system called Linux. It was made to be an easy to use operating system by users, but still have the ability to see and adjust the source code to fit the needs of the individual, or even just to tinker with.

Linux, who have 10's of thousands of developers constantly improving the core software only to pass it on to the next person to improve, are not employed by Linux. On the other hand, the only people who see the source code of Microsoft products are their very own developers. They do this because they don't want to give away their "secrets". It's easy to see how Linux has not only improved exponentially, but several different versions have been spawned.

So far, we have talked about what open source is, who uses it and why, and who doesn't use it, but now lets talk about how it relates to Flash.

Most know that Flash (originally called Future Splash) was not intended to be much more than a vector animation tool, but when Macromedia purchased it and renamed it, they had a different path in mind. In Flash 4, a language began to take shape in the form of ActionScript. Then in Flash MX, the software finally made it from a vector animator with some coding to a full-blown web application development tool. All the code for Flash made applications can be found in the .fla file that is created, and there are even programs that can grab the source file from the .swf file that is viewed on the web.

But forget about the ability to steal the code from the .swf when you have sites such as Flashkit who offer tons of free open source .fla files so you can see how things work, they even offer tutorials to show people how to do things. In general, the flash community is very unique in how they handle source files and an open source environment in general. When you have some of the top flash developers in the world releasing their source files, and how they do things, not only in the books they write, but also in their personal sites, that type of commitment to the community trickles down to everyone.

Even one of the new features of Flash MX, the component, is open source. Every component you install into Flash, you can look through the coding, make your own changes how you see fit. This was part of the design by Macromedia to keep UI components open to development and improvement.

This was not the only step Macromedia has taken in the open source community; they have also released the source code for the flash player, which allows third party vendors to create new software for the swf format. There is even a great site dedicated to the open format of the flash player.

As you can see, being open source has moved software such as Linux, quickly through development stages by offering the code to all who wants to see it. Carrying this idea through the Flash community has proven just as successful with Flash becoming a premiere option for web applications more and more every day. Even Macromedia supports the community with many of its employees having community blogs. So remember the next time your having a problem with a script, go to the community, they have probably seen it before.


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