Adobe strikes back at Silverlight with RIA

Adobe Systems has launched a major initiative aimed at creating a unified platform for rich Internet applications (RIAs) that crosses PC, mobile, set-top box and other consumer electronics. The Open Screen Project will rely initially on Adobe Flash Player but will add support for AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) as that runtime environment becomes available beyond PCs.

The Open Screen Project has backing from a hoard of companies from across the TMT (telecoms media technology) spectrum. These include ARM, Chunghwa Telecom, Cisco, Intel, LG Electronics, Marvell, Motorola, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Verizon Wireless as well as content providers, including BBC, MTV Networks and NBC Universal.

Adobe is delivering several important building blocks for The Open Screen Project. These include making Flash Player and AIR license free, publishing device porting layer APIs for Flash Player as well as the Flash Cast delivery protocol, and removing restrictions on the Flash media formats SWF and FLV/F4V. Despite its name, Open Screen Project is not an open source initiative.

Adobe really needed to do this. Microsoft has recently replaced Adobe's cross-device, cross-platform RIA musings with something more concrete. It has not only ported its rival Silverlight technology to Windows Mobile but Nokia will be supporting Silverlight across its device portfolio (except the low end).

Moreover, where Flash has suffered a degree of fragmentation in its different guises across devices, Silverlight appears a much more consistent RIA framework for multiple device categories from the outset.

Open Screen Project is clearly a means for Adobe to counter this perception and to re-establish itself at the center of the pervasive RIA agenda. However, we still need to see a clear timeline for introduction of AIR on other devices to feel as confident in Adobe's prospects as we currently do in Silverlight's.

While Ovum believes there is room for both Adobe and Microsoft in this market, and we believe that OEMs will adopt a multi-approach strategy to RIA, it is clearly more one for Adobe to lose than for Microsoft to win. This is simply due to Redmond's ability to leverage its own device software platforms (Windows XP and Vista, Windows Mobile, Windows CE, Xbox 360) as Trojan horses for Silverlight, although unusually for Microsoft, Silverlight is intended as truly cross-platform.

Adobe, on the other hand, needs to convince its OEM partners not just to consider its technologies within a particular device category (as mobile phones, set-top boxes etc.) but to convince them that they should do so widely in order to further the ambitions of content providers, the wider TMT industry and end users.

That's much harder to do. But the backing of Open Screen Project by multiple chip and content providers is a good starting point. The fact that several major OEMs are also backing the initiative from the outset is also important and early indications are that device manufacturers are taking a flexible approach to RIA.

Ovum's only real concern is that Adobe avoids Open Screen Project becoming simply a sedate club rather than a motivated activist group, as it so often is the case with similar efforts.

The prospects for RIA across multiple devices is the subject of two upcoming Ovum reports: RIA in mobile and consumer electronics - impact analysis and RIA in mobile and consumer electronics - vendor landscape.

Tony Cripps, Senior Analyst and Service Manager / Adam Leach, Principal Analyst