AIR on Android: An Open Letter to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen


You may not remember me, but I was in the audience of Google I|O 2010, where you and other major industry CEOs extolled the virtues of openness, in the context of Google TV.

I was about 40 rows back, a bit to your left. I apologize if the lights bouncing off my balding dome distracted you during the panel discussion.

Anyway, I am writing about a curious decision Adobe has made with respect to the Adobe AIR for Android pre-release. Specifically, I am disturbed by the NDA slapped upon this edition. This NDA is described as:

You will be subject to terms of an NDA which allows you to display your application publicly, but you will not be permitted to disclose anything outside of Licensee’s own personal development experiences of a beta Android application(s) using this beta AIR SDK.

Of course, the actual legal terms are significantly different. Those who sign the NDA have to keep quiet about “Confidential Information”, defined as:

“Confidential Information” means the Prerelease Software, any related information supplied to Licensee by Adobe hereunder, and any Evaluation Feedback. “Confidential Information” whether in written, verbal, graphic or electronic form, including without limitation, (a) the Prerelease Software’s existence, features and functionality, fonts, user interface details (including screen shots), capabilities, specifications, architectural diagrams, APIs and related information, serial numbers, login identifiers, passwords, Adobe development and shipping schedules, Adobe email lists, bug databases, know how, trade secrets, and source code; (b) any Evaluation Feedback regarding the same; (c) discussions of potential features, product changes and Evaluation Feedback and opinions stemming therefrom, including the existence of any business discussions, negotiations or agreements in progress between Adobe and Licensee; (d) opinions stemming from the customer advisory boards organized by Adobe; and (e) the terms and conditions of this Agreement.

That is substantially broader than the marketing claim. After all, it will be rather difficult to describe our “own personal development experiences of…this beta AIR SDK” when we cannot even admit to the “Prerelease Software’s existence”.

Fortunately, I have not agreed to the NDA, so I can safely write this letter.

I am stuggling to reconcile Adobe’s calls for openness with the existence and terms of this NDA. NDAs are antithetical to openness by their very nature.

This smacks of the “open for me, not open for you” issue that has been front-and-center in the debate over Apple’s blockade of Adobe-generated content from iPhone OS and the App Store. Adobe has bristled at this characterization, yet at the same time adds more supporting evidence, like the NDA.

I would like Flash and AIR to be a success on Android, because I value freedom of choice. But you need to understand that, in the eyes of many developers, NDAs are WMDs.

So, thanks for supporting Android, but, please, get rid of the NDA.

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