Kamis, 22 Oktober 2009

Vendor Lock Out: Screen Sharing via the Flash Player and FMS

The following post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while and I wasn't sure whether to publish or not. Today I decided I would, and it was after reading a very interesting article by Mike Slinn on InsideRIA. It talks about Adobe's lack of focus on its developer community, and how a shift in startegy may mean winning the RIA market for Adobe.

I'm always hesitant posting an article such as the one that follows as it will most likely be perceived as mainly negative by Adobe and its employees, many of which I know personally and rate very highly. I realise that there are people behind the software that this corporate behemoth churns out and it is for that reason that I'd like to say upfront that everything posted here has Adobe best interests in mind. I desperately want Adobe to succeed in the RIA market (and commonly they are doing a good job - but could do better...) and it is frustrating to see them making decisions that I think are not in their best long term interest.

One of my recent posts to the FlashMedia List seems to have struck a nerve when I asked if anyone there had tried out a Java application called JScrCap yet. According to its author, a developer can 'put this Java code on your web site as a Java applet and get browser-independent, platform-independent screen sharing solution with minimal installation efforts from end users'.

Due to the continued lack of screensharing support in publicly available editions of the Flash Player, this sounds like one of the best workarounds yet. It quickly became clear that there was a distinct vibe running throught the list, and that is was one of discontent with the way that Adobe is conducting business these days.

One poster noted (about JScrCap): "I can't get it to work... seems that FMS drops the connection as soon as publishing starts. I see the connect, but as soon as the FCPublish event hits the server, goodbye client. No messages in the logs.
That's what got me to wondering if FMS does that on purpose. JScrCap uses the screen codec, and I'm wondering if FMS is dropping the connection because the screen codec is reserved for Adobe Connect (my only reason for thinking that is the fact that so many other goodies are "reserved" for Adobe's use... I'd love to learn that the problem is me doing something wrong.
Charlie (aka the Wowza guy) said that it works with Wowza, so that leads me to think the problem is not JscrCap."

And more:
"Yeah... and I'm about fed up with the business rule restrictions Adobe has put in place. Were it not for concerns about the rtmp patent, I'd dump FMS and move to Wowza today. As much as I like FMS and programming AS on the server side, I'm running out of patience with Adobe. FMS is too f'ing expensive to have such a limitation."

Charlie was quick to point out that JScrCap works fine with Wowza. Adobe - are you listening? This link has more details. http://www.wowzamedia.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5328

It seems fairly obvious that FMS is blocking streams which utilize the screencodec (or at least they have an explanation for it... but that still means it's not there), a video codec that is highly optimised for screen capture and transmission. This codec is also used in Adobe's own collaboration platform, Connect. Within Connect - and this is my own experience - screensharing is one of the most heavily used features. I have yet to attend a Connect meeting in which the presenter would not share her screen, and I use Connect for that very reason. It's a KILLER feature for any real-time collaboration tool.

Another commenter on the list states that 'Adobe demonstrates a lack of vision with disallowing other services to interact with them'. Yet another one notes: "I've been waiting for screen sharing with FMS as well, for too long. Adobe, you are shooting yourself in the foot. FMS could be THE STANDARD, but bad business decisions are causing you to lose ground because you're trying to make money using outdated business models."

In fact the disgruntled posts just kept on coming: "I've got two FMIS seats to upgrade and at least one more to buy in the next
several weeks. Forgetting the money, their instransigience on the screen sharing has me ready to bolt. Makes me ill to be treated like this."

The whole thread made me realise that now would be a good time to give this topic one last shot, which is the reason I am writing this post now. I quite frankly cannot be bothered to fill in another feature request, or vote on existing ones, or indeed jump through hoops of any kind over this. This topic has hung over our heads for far too long, and maybe we can have an open discussion with some Adobe representatives over this. I'm not holding my breath though.

I understand the list members' view points all too well. Many of them can count themselves amongst the most long standing and loyal FMS developers (and dare I say Adobe supporters) within this small community, yet I do feel a real shift happening. I think it may be fair to say that some of us are starting to lose patience, and are getting more than fed up with what we perceive as business tactics on Adobe's part that are putting us at a disadvantage. There simply is no other logical reason that could explain the continued lack of screen sharing within the Flash Player in a form that is leveraged by Adobe Connect (and has been leveraged for years since the product was still known as Macromedia Breeze - we're going back roughly seven long years), a vital feature for any decent collaboration tool, as well as the incompatibility that several users have discovered when using encoders that utilize the screen codec. Not only is the most obvious piece, the Flash Player add-on, outside of our reach (and firmly within Adobe's) but the server that would happily support this codec out of the box is being sabotaged and a potential workaround is being denied. Actively denied that is. By Adobe. Yet at the same time Adobe is hard at work trying to attract developers to the Flash platform.

To complicate things even further, Adobe also would like to sell its Flash Collaboration Service (AFCS) to the masses. While AFCS has a lot to offer, I do wonder how it fits into Adobe's overall business strategy. On one hand we're being told that screen sharing is not a crucial feature (it's not present in AFCS), on the other hand we all know that the opposite is the case. Of course it's not all about this one feature, the question for me is where exactly is Adobe heading. Will they focus on selling me the tools I need to do my job, or are they potentially more interested in building products that are similar to the ones I'd like to build - using Adobe tools and servers? There's clearly a lot of overlap, and a real conflict of interests on Adobe's part. How can they push Connect and AFCS without stepping on the toes of FMS?

Adobe is clearly making some moves in the right direction, and I'm a big fan of most of their products. However it's time now to step up the game and be a lot bolder in their overall approach. Having a hard-core, forward-thinking and extremely loyal developer crowd behind them will their single best asset in a RIA market that's likely to hot up much more over the coming months and years. Adobe, we can't do it without your help, and you can't do it without ours. Up and to the right is where we'd all like to be. Let's make it happen.
You can help by voting for
the screen sharing feature, as well as other related ones such asAcoustic Echo Cancellation (which is apparently a Connect-only feature also) and RTSP support.

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