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The Apache mission

"The Apache mission became 'how do you foster open development'. If you don't like meritocracy, you're out of luck… The natural tendency for developers is a group; there are very few complex projects now that are run by one person. Apache is the creator of the plus one, zero, minus one vote structure which is a very clever way of reaching consensus or at least majority for decision. Apache is a perfect fit with PhoneGap because open source is how you enable developers and designers to build really cool things."

And that's a good fit with Adobe, he says. "Adobe has been quite blessed in that it has had a number of platforms that have been widely adopted; we had PostScript, we had PDF. But we've also had HTML as a platform since the later 90s and it's still a major platform for us." In fact the open web is becoming ever more significant, despite Adobe's investment in Flash, and that explains one of the reasons Adobe is involved in both WebKit and the W3C; it has donated code to WebKit and co-sponsored proposals to the W3C, often on similar technologies. It's not that it favours WebKit browsers over other open source options like Mozilla (to whom it donated Tamarin JavaScript acceleration), more that it sees WebKit as a way to prototype ideas before they're ready to standardise.


"One is a specification and one is an implementation," as McAllister puts it. "In many ways – but not all – the concept of prototyping and delivering to the mainstream of WebKit has been leading HTML5 development. The things that have been floated into WebKit show up in the W3C. We presented regions to the W3C at the same time that it went into WebKit, and it's now mainstream in WebKit. We see Mozilla and we see IE adopting the standard from W3C; we see that standard implemented in WebKit."

Prototyping means you're more likely to get specifications that developers can actually build sites with. McAllister compares a problematic standard like SVG Filters (which he frankly calls "nightmarish") with the far more practical CSS Shaders: "What you're seeing is part of that maturity of standards versus production. There's a reason you're now seeing implementation lead specification." Of course, WebKit is also an important route to mobile (with PhoneGap and AIR covering the app options for developers). The mobile web, he points out "is heavily weighted towards WebKit, in the 70% range of mobile browsers."

Adobe is also contributing to some W3C test suites "where we have expertise" (like internationalisation) but he also sounds a note of caution. "You have to be really careful that the test itself does not become a certification suite; you don't want it's 'cool, this is all open source, do with it what you want to, redistribute it any way you want to, but I'm sorry you didn't pass the certification test so you can't do anything with it'. That is a way to stifle that marketplace."

Too soon to standardise

There is some work Adobe is doing that's isn't being proposed as a standard or being contributed to an open source project because it's too soon, in particular touch – something that has a vendor prefix in every browser that supports it. "It would be really great to have universal hardware and software standards for touch but it's too soon; the market's too new. Standards codify what's common and in the touch world there's just too much innovation going on."

But when new technologies stabilise, McAllister says: "You are going to see us probably being aggressive in standards activities that we need to be aggressive in. You're seeing that a little of that with CSS. Where our customers really expect to have the best capabilities in a technology, if that is controlled by a standard, then it's part of our job to represent what those needs are."

That means we can expect to see Adobe continue the cycle of contributing to open source to advance platforms the company is interested in, proposing standards based on proving their ideas with those prototypes – and building tools so that developers can work with those standards.

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