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Adobe Contributes ActionScript to Mozilla

In a surprise nod to the open source community, software giant Adobe has announced it is contributing its ActionScript Virutal Machine to the open source Mozilla Foundation. Mozilla will use the code to create a new open source project called Tamarin with the goal of creating an open source, standardized, high-performance implementation of ECMAScript 4th edition scripting language.

If all that leaves you saying “huh?,” here’s the short version: this is all about making JavaScript and ActionScript the same between Web browsers, Flash, and any other application or tool which wants to integrate a scripting language.

Most Web users—and nearly all Web developers—have some idea about JavaScript: it’s an interactive scripting language supported by Web browsers often used to perform form validation, implement online advertising services, create interactive elements on Web pages, and more—including a lot of oh-so-hot AJAX development. But here’s the thing: JavaScript was created by the original Netscape Corporation for its Netscape browser, and the project was turned over to a standards body which developed ECMAscript, a supposedly-standard version everyone could implement so scripting would behave the same way across platforms and Web browsers.

Sounds good, except nobody followed through due to the political, technical, and legal fallouts of the Microsoft-versus-Netscape browser wars and Microsoft-versus-everyone antitrust pursuits. Microsoft implemented its own scripting system called JScript; the Mozilla-based browser use their own implementation called SpiderMonkey, and Adobe rolled its own version called ActionScript for use with its Flash multimedia format. These versions all have similarities, but they are emphatically not the same—a fact which has been frustrating Web developers for years.

Now, Adobe has thrown down its glove, contributing its ActionScript Virtual Machine as a basis for Tamarin. Tamarin will implement the final version of ECMAscript 4th Edition. Adobe is also contributed its Just In Time compiler, which it claims can let ActionScript run up to ten times faster than SpiderMonkey.

“Adobe’s work on the new virtual machine is the largest contribution to the Mozilla Foundation since its inception,” said Brendan Eich, Mozilla Corporation’s CTO and creator of JavaScript. “Now web developers have a high-performance, open source virtual machine for building and deploying interactive applications across both Adobe Flash Player and the Firefox web browser. We’re excited about joining the Adobe and Mozilla communities to advance ECMAScript.”

If the project succeeds, Tamarin would unify scripting across the Mozilla browsers and Flash, but could also lead to significant performance improvements in Web applications. The big variable in the equation remains Microsoft: while both Adobe and Mozilla say they would welcome Microsoft’s participation in the Tamarind project, the Redmond software giant seems unlikely to embrace open source technology at the core of its Internet Explorer browser. However, even without direct support from Microsoft, a unified scripting system in Flash and the Mozilla browsers may force Microsoft to adapt JScript to make it more transparently compatible with the rest off the world.

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