View Source in Flash!

Email from Kevin Lynch, Chief Software Architect at Macromedia: “After Lawrence Lessig’s presentation at FlashForward I encouraged the Flash community to make their source code more readily viewable, and proposed a common way of accomplishing that. Mike Chambers implemented it during my presentation and posted a right-click command to view Flash source. So, next up is getting developers to support this.” 

This is very cool. I have long pointed out that with all the fixation on open source licenses, people overlook other factors in the open source equation, such as software architecture, hackability, community, and of course, the ease with which you can learn from and copy the work of others. In this regard, the web browser’s “View Source” command gave the web many of the characteristics of open source, even when the copyright of the underlying material was unclear or proprietary. (As Kirk McKusick used to say, “never mind copyright or copyleft. At Berkeley, we believed in Copy Central. Just go down to the copy shop and make some copies.”)

One of the big drawbacks to Flash’s “hackability” and ease of development in contrast to HTML was the lack of a view source option. Where even relatively unsophisticated users could build complex web pages simply by adapting the work of others, Flash developers had to work the old fashioned way, building their sites from the ground up,

Mike Chambers has written up a description of his initial implementation of View Source for Flash. Kevin is thinking about how best to socialize this idea in the Flash community, and asking for ideas about how to spread the word. Did I say that this is VERY cool? I’d love to see Macromedia get a lot of strokes to encourage them to do more with this exciting new direction.

Because of the way Flash is deployed as an executable, this isn’t just a software problem. We will end up needing a social convention like the orange XML buttons or the RSS icons that you see on many sites. But a big part of the challenge is also to get Flash developers to take advantage of the new option to show their source, since it isn’t yet built in the way View Source is built into the web browser.

Meanwhile, looking to see if Kevin had made any mention of this new development on his blog, I noticed in a posting from late 2004 that he’s been doing some great thinking about how to do stateful linking into rich internet applications. Again, very cool. I’m really excited by the way that Kevin is working to think through the question of what “openness” means in the Web 2.0 era.

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  • http://icite.net/blog/ Jay Fienberg

    HTML, along with having good view source (copyable), has the nice feature of being highly paste-able, i.e., once you view some source of interest, you just paste it into any text editor, save, and it’s “executable” in the browser.

    Likewise with code that runs at the command line or in a wide variety of often handy shells–very paste-able.

    View source on Flash is great, but I don’t know if the relatively specific IDE requirements for Flash development make it altogether less paste-able.