Adobe and Open Source?

Rajesh SinghRajesh Singh Posts: 1
edited September 2014 in Type Business
Hello everyone, I've been wondering about the development recently with the big font company, Adobe, re their open-source, projects, such the Source family and now AFDKO too. My curiousities is about why such private companies choose to release their intellectual property freely? Furthermore, the Souce Han, that seems like a big project, Is it an act of good will? Doesn't it cost quite a lot to develop such a large project?


  • Adobe's David Lemon spoke on this subject at ATypI yesterday, the video will be posted at some point on They've been quite open about their motivation, they needed open source fonts for the UI of their open source tools, and Google financed the CJK work. But there's likely an element of good will too.
  • why such private companies choose to release their intellectual property freely?
    It is in their business interests to do so.
  • What's private about Adobe again? They published PostScript, then Type 1, and cooperated on OpenType and OFF, Flash was open and they are open sourcing almost all their font developer kit, and google helped with the cost of this particular font.

    Otherwise, I am as mystified as you are.
  • This stuff was mystical in the 90s, but its now another rote play in the Ivy League MBA playbooks. Thomas Phinney, MBA from Cal, presented the argument at ATypI a few days ago.

    Start here: open source
  • In regards to AFDKO and similar non-product software tools, these are tangential enough to the core business products that Adobe produces that they're not giving up much.

    These are products that, while valuable *tools*, wouldn't be profitable enough to figure out how to make a business model out of. In the end, Adobe could be using any toolset and produce fonts to the same baseline quality; other companies could have their own toolset to accomplish the same goal (and probably do). Since everyone at Adobe's scale must have software to accomplish the same goals, Adobe isn't ceding anything of value by giving it away (one aspect of OSS).

    What they do gain is a user base, which is extremely valuable for open source tools. This removes some of the burden by allowing people who use the software to contribute and maintain it. Although not publicly stated, a realistic goal of open-sourcing ADFKO may be to build a more active community around its development and unsolder some of the burden of maintaining it in the long run. This happens often in OSS when maintainers shift their focus elsewhere.

    Neither of those points necessarily true for open source typefaces, but it's no mystery why companies would choose to release open source production tools.
  • David Lemon said i could post this recording of his talk. Hope this sheds some light :)
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 277
    edited September 2014

    Re. " open source"

    Why .ch? Is this due to Swiss "do not track me" laws?

  • (I didn't notice... I was in Switzerland and my browser didn't update I guess)
  • Dave mentioned my presentation at ATypI last week. One fairly radical thing I put forth was that our default as type designers could be to share code and resources. I suggested there were four reasons to NOT share, which were:

    I) Too much hassle?
    II) Competitive advantage
    III) Useless to others?
    IV) Could sell for €$£?

    To expand on those:

    I) It’s too much work to explain and support the thing, because it is complicated.
    II) Or it offers some significant competitive advantage to you.
    III) Maybe it’s so particular to how you work that it wouldn’t be useful to other people?
    IV) Maybe you think you can make significant money selling it?

    I humbly submit that IF none of these things is true, our default in the absence of such factors should be to share things.

    I am not suggesting that things are any different for folks developing font editing tools, btw. I just happened to be talking mostly about type design, because I was talking to folks who make fonts.
  • The short answer is simple: you should open-source those pieces of software where you will gain more than you lose if let other people use them, improve them, extend them and contribute to them. Also, you open-source infrastructure.

    Shared efforts are sometimes more useful than individual efforts. For example, building roads or electricity networks is often easier and cheaper if done publicly or through a shared effort than individually — because a larger group of subjects shares the risk.

    Developing software costs time, money and expertise. Even in large companies, many software components are usually "owned" by one particular developer. This developer may be a good and valuable developer, and his time may be better spent if he works on some projects that are more critical to your business. But if the first piece of software is not working well, that developer has to stop what he's doing and fix it. Or he just puts the fixing on the "back burner". If you open-source that piece of software, more eyes have a chance to look at the code, test it, find bugs and improve them. Sometimes, you get a completely different perspective from a developer with a totally different background who can contribute. He will often contribute because he wants to use that piece of software himself.

    Also, if you keep your software proprietary, one one hand you may make some money with it, but on the other hand you also need to keep people employed who "maintain" that software. Which costs money. If you have five houses in five different cities, it's possible that you need to employ ten guards, five gardeners, cleaning people etc. So sometimes it's cheaper if you only have one house and in the other four cities, you stay in hotels or time-sharing houses :)

    If you run your business optimally, you try to keep those things private where the gains are larger than the costs, i.e. that bring you money. But you would choose to share those things where keeping them private does not bring so much money but actually costs you.

    Also, you sometimes share because of competitive advantage. If company A has some private "standard" (software library etc.) and they try to get other people to use it, but company B develops a different "standard" in the same area and open-sources it, then there are big chances that the majority of people will start using standard B. And then, later, company A may actually be forced by the market to start using standard B, and their standard A becomes useless. So perhaps it may be better to open-source standard A yourself. Then people will be doing things "your way". Your ideas will prevail, and your other private software can keep using the standards you've developed.

    The typical example of this was the Adobe Type 1 font format. Adobe kept it private and hoped to charge licenses. But Apple and Microsoft developed the TrueType format and published it. This forced Adobe to publish the Type 1 format as well, because otherwise, all world would just start using TrueType and then not only Type 1 would bring Adobe no more money, but they might be forced to adopt the TrueType format themselves, and "dump" their own invention, Type 1.

    Just a few examples why open-sourcing is often better — purely as a business decision. But of course there are many cases where you want to keep certain things private. For example, if they are the ones that actually bring you money, and no competitive open-source solution is in sight.
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