Flex (and thus ActionScript 3 / Flash) are going open source, according to an Adobe announcement today. Ely Greenfield, Flex architect, and David Wadhwani, vice president of Flex Product Line, explained to Robert Scoble what it all means:

It’s difficult to say yet exactly what all the implications are, but something very exciting is happening in the realm of coding digital visuals. Let’s review:

  1. As ActionScript matures, artists begin catching onto new possibilities for generative and interactive animation, and non-programmers discover the aesthetic possibilities of code.
  2. Processing grows in use as a powerful multimedia environment for media like interactive 2D/3D animation and video. It’s entirely open-source, and extends from dead-simple coding for total beginners to full-fledged Java development.
  3. Arduino, using an IDE based on Processing, becomes a popular tool for hardware. From circuits to IDE, it’s entirely open source.
  4. ActionScript 3 and Flex 2 include free development tools, all built with Java. (Noticing a theme?)
  5. While Flash/Flex itself remain proprietary, artists and developers increasingly share open source Flash projects and code. Many have both Flash and Processing examples on their websites.
  6. Flash is the basis of open-sourced VJ tools like the awesome Onyx VJ app.
  7. Java, on which Processing, and SDKs for ActionScript and Flex are all based, goes open source. Java itself has long been a tool for teaching programming for multimedia use, popular among artists and academics.
  8. Now Adobe announces its entire Flex SDK will be open by summer.

There’s lots of philosophical debate about open source that I don’t really want to get into. Let’s cut right to the chase and talk about the purely practical reasons this is cool.

The free SDK has already meant that, for coding interactive visuals, you can unload the weight of the Flash app and work directly in a text editor. That makes it easier than ever to switch between something like Processing and ActionScript for quick visual sketching — and you don’t have a massive application / IDE to distract you.

Now that the SDK itself is open source, art projects can modify existing classes to their benefits. Not for the feint-of-heart, but imagine digging into one of the ActionScript 3 classes to add some functionality. And having an open-sourced SDK means that, just as is now happening with Java, you’re more likely to see the development tools included with pre-built Linux operating systems.

Even then, this isn’t just for Linux fans. I’m already addicted to the free Flashdevelop tool, which (with a couple of adjustments) works nicely with Flex 2 / AS3. (Only caveat: it’s Windows-only.)

The fundamental underlying theme, though, is that free, code-based visual tools are here to stay. I think that could benefit the Processing/Java and Flash/Flex platforms alike. I notice poking around Amazon that people who order the couple of Processing books available now or for pre-order also go buy ActionScript stuff, so the link between these two communities obviously remains. But what interests me is that these tools are maturing fast, and are entirely free. It’s setting the stage for a real community around coding visuals.

Thoughts? Does code still send a shiver down your spine? Have you never looked back at Flash/AS/Flex after moving to Processing? Still prefer coding in C? Building analog video hardware? Shadow puppets with your hands?

More: RedMonk, the open source-specialist consulting agency who worked with Adobe on the deal, blog about all the good news, and the bad. (The bad being there’s still no open source version of the Flash Player, which is really the news we’re waiting for. And imagine then embedding the Flash Player into other environments, without ActiveX on Windows. Alas, not yet.)