Adobe's AIR technology takes flight

Formerly code-named Apollo, AIR is a cross-operating system development tool upon which Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) can be built on the desktop.

At the Adobe MAX conference in the US this week -- themed 'Connect, Discover, Inspire' -- Adobe Systems announced beta 2.0 of its Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) technology, around which the company is hoping the developer community will build applications to promote the platform's capabilities.

Formerly code-named Apollo, AIR is a cross-operating system development tool upon which Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) can be built on the desktop.

The company plans to continue leveraging its AIR technology by collaborating with developers to build RIAs against its existing file formats (Flash, PDF), as well as create its own apps that take advantage of AIR's capabilities, said the company's CEO Bruce Chizen during a press conference.

"The most exciting thing we saw this morning was clearly everything about AIR," said Chizen, referring to the event's opening keynote in which other announcements were made including beta 2.0 for Adobe Flex 3.0, enhancements to Adobe Flash Player, and launch of the Adobe Developer Community (ADC) featuring resources and Software Developer Kit downloads.

Adobe's strategy for reaching beyond its current developer community will be achieved through development materials available on ADC and through evangelism in different developer groups, said Kevin Lynch, senior vice-president of platform business unit and chief software architect.

The company's on AIR bus tour -- showcasing how Web developer's apps can be brought to the desktop using AIR -- across North America this past summer was also part of that plan to connect with .NET, AJAX, Java and HTML developer groups, he added.

Working with partners to build successful apps around AIR will encourage other developers to make their own creations on the platform, said Chizen, therefore highlighting what the platform is truly capable of.

Actually, the company expected consumer-facing apps to dominate the first generation of AIR applications, but were "pleasantly surprised" when enterprise developers began building tools, according to Adobe's president and chief operating officer Shantanu Narayen. The emergence of enterprise apps may have happened sooner than expected, but "it was certainly part of our roadmap," he said.

Adobe's approach to leveraging its AIR platform through the developer community is a smart one, thinks David Liao, software engineering manager with Adobe partner Ensemble Systems. "What they're trying to do is leverage a large pool of resources to come out with innovative development and applications. And that in part will help drive adoption of AIR as a platform."

Adobe has essentially given AIR and Flex "for free" to the community, said Liao, a strategy that will ultimately mean more people will use tools made for the technology.

Furthermore, he said with the availability of developer-centric open source components, it's become easier and faster for developers to build complex apps for the platform.

Adobe also announced the acquisition of Virtual Ubiquity, a provider of online word processor Buzzword. With AIR, users can access and work on documents offline as well. Chizen denied the move is an attempt to make inroads into the office productivity space and as a result go up against the likes of Microsoft and Google. Instead, he said a familiar tool like a word processor is a great way to showcase the richness of the AIR platform and provide such a tool to users.

"We're only trying to take care of our customers," he said.

Also in the area of office productivity, Adobe announced the addition of a new file sharing service, code-named "Share" in beta, which will allow users to share, publish and organize documents online.

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Kathleen Lau

ComputerWorld Canada

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