Flash desktop apps go open source

By Kevin Yank

All the work that’s going into Flash Web applications that look like desktop applications begs the question “Why not just make desktop applications in Flash?” Macromedia tried to answer this with Macromedia Central, which starved for developer adoption and is now given away for free.

Screenweaver was another answer to this question. It began its life as a simple app for creating Flash-based screensavers, and grew into an integrated development environment (IDE) for Flash-based desktop apps. Screenweaver was also a commercial failure, but a small group of intrepid developers have rescued it from binary oblivion to continue its development as an open source project.

The announcement provides a little history on Screenweaver’s origin, as well as a side-project called Screenweaver Core–a library for using Flash within general-purpose programming languages like Visual Basic, C++, and Python on the Windows desktop–which is also being resurrected.

If you’d like to play with the initial open source release of Screenweaver 3, hit the project’s main wiki page, click Download, and grab the precompiled binary. You may also want to follow the link to the documentation, which is not yet included in the download.

The initial plan for the open source effort is to enhance Screenweaver to support synchronous communication between Flash applications built with Screenweaver and other operating system components. The soon-to-be-released Flash Player 8 includes support for ExternalInterface, a new ActionScript API that allows Flash movies to pause and wait for a request (such as calling a JavaScript function in the browser) to complete before continuing.

Synchronous communication is much simpler to manage than previously-supported asynchronous interfaces to the host environment, and developers like Darron Schall (the instigator of the Screenweaver OS project) believe that this type of communication will be key to making Flash desktop application development a popular reality.

  • Andrew

    Why make desktop applications in Flash? Despite the new developments planned for flash 8, the development tools are amazingly poor when compared to normal desktop application development. Flash’s performance is also woefull when it’s used for anything serious.

  • Redivider

    Here’s a (still commercial) piece of software that’s similar to Screenweaver, except that it has the capability of creating cross-platform apps (PC/Mac) from one .swf. There’s also a version for developing Pocket PC apps.


    I’m not sure how successful (finacially) they are, but it seems to be doing well so far.

    Either way it’s good to see Screenweaver continuing on as an open source project. If they can add support for creating OS X apps, I might just make the switch.

  • You can make cool Desktop Applications already with other Macromedia tool – Macromedia Director. You can use various xtras (plug-ins) with it, combine it with vbscript, office applications, databases etc. Flash is much more limited in that field.

  • the duke

    I believe that screenweaver os can really learn something from this company http://www.flashprojector.com they seem to have the best Flash Desktop application development tool in the marker not because of their Synchronized AS but also their ActiveX Control hosting, I mean with this tool I was able to use all my AX in flash just like using Flash Objects, it just can’t get better than that… anyway I hope that screenweaver grows and includes the AX feature.

  • Erik

    Macromedia Director is a good product, but it does not let you write code that interacts with the actual Flash content. You can only embed it like other multimedia content. My understanding of this project is that you are given an API to allow programs to interact with the actual Flash environment. I am excited about this, I have wanted to do this for a while but it natively the Flash ActiveX component does not let you interact with the flash animation, just display, start, stop, etc.

  • Jim

    > but it does not let you write code that interacts with the actual Flash content

    I beg to differ! these days (Director MX 2004), you have pretty complete interaction with any embedded flash objects, call your actionscript functions, have them call director etc etc.

    These days my CD projects are largely flash based, in a director shell for the occasions when I need a bit more local access than flash can provide itself.

  • silverfish

    >These days my CD projects are largely flash based, in a director >shell for the occasions when I need a bit more local access than >flash can provide itself.

    Jim, what plays your flash CD projects? Do you bundle the stand-alone Flash player?

  • Carlos

    Can Flash desktop apps query database servers? Sql Server? Oracle?
    Can they access hardware specific features?
    Basic things such as writing a file to disk, parsing xml serialized database, etc?
    How about networking libraries (tcp, upd, or upnp connections)?
    Is it possible to manage the memory or multi-thread?

    If “yes” to all questions, then I’ll start using flash for the real thing. Otherwise, flash is just eye-candy.

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