Adobe gives AIR away

Elizabeth Montalbano
26 February, 2008
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This evening, Adobe will release the first full version of its Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), while revealing early adopter customers who are building both business and consumer applications using the technology.

AIR 1.0 is now available as a free technology, said Adobe Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch. He said hundreds of thousands of developers have downloaded the software development kit (SDK) for AIR during the beta process, which began in June. Some of the first applications built using AIR also will be available tonight.

AIR is Adobe’s technology aimed at bringing the same functionality of rich internet applications built using technologies such as Adobe Flash and Flex Builder to the desktop. AIR acts as a wrapper for rich internet applications, allowing those applications to run locally in the Flash Player.

Adobe also will release the latest version of its developer framework for rich internet applications, Flex 3, along with a new technology called Adobe BlazeDS. The former integrates with software from Adobe’s Creative Suite 3 applications, while the latter is a data-services layer that helps send information between back-end IT infrastructure-like application servers and front-end applications more quickly and efficiently.

Flex 3 and BlazeDS are open source and available for free.

Adobe hopes AIR will expand its reach beyond the internet into business and desktop applications, where competitor Microsoft plays prominently. Meanwhile, Microsoft is gunning for Adobe’s position as the leading provider of RIA tools with its browser-based technology Silverlight and its Expression graphic- and web-design toolset.

In fact, if Microsoft’s bid to purchase Yahoo! is successful, it would likely displace the use of Flash on many of Yahoo!’s web sites and services, helping Microsoft proliferate the use of Silverlight more quickly.

Lynch, who just last month was promoted to his CTO position at Adobe, said that it’s taken ten years for Flash to reach 99 percent adoption among web users, so he is not overly concerned with what might happen to Flash if the Microsoft-Yahoo! deal goes through.

"It’s not an easy task to get that kind of distribution," he said, adding that Adobe would even welcome more competition in the rich internet applications market. "It keeps all of our teams on their toes," Lynch said.

Indeed Adobe, particularly with the acquisition of Macromedia in 2005, has been successful at building a comprehensive set of tools that developers use primarily to deliver multimedia and high-impact, customer-facing web sites and web-based applications. Barring Microsoft, the company really has no major rival in this space.

With AIR, Adobe provides internet companies with new ways to reach consumers, Lynch said. Companies going live tonight with consumer-facing applications that leverage AIR include eBay and AOL.

eBay, working with consulting firm EffectiveUI, is one of the earliest adopters of AIR. The online auction company will release the first full production version of eBay Desktop, a version of its auction site that can run on the desktop without being connected to the internet or accessed through a browser. By leveraging AIR, eBay Desktop can automatically update user information whenever the user is connected to the internet.

AOL plans to launch an AIR-based application called Top 100 Music Videos, which allows users to search for and view music videos from AOL Music even when they are offline.

AOL is working on another AIR-built application that it plans to launch soon called AOL Xdrive. The personal hard drive — offering 5GB of storage — is currently a web-based service that lets users share photos, spreadsheets, videos, and other content; the coming version will let users access the service via Adobe AIR.

Phil Costa, director of product management for Flex and ColdFusion in Adobe’s platform business unit, said bringing rich internet applications to the desktop has a number of advantages for end-users. A desktop application built with Adobe’s tools can deliver the same experience regardless of what platform a user is running. And putting such programs on the desktop gives them access to local files and storage.

Users also don’t have to be in a browser or, in some cases, even online to use such applications, Costa added. Take eBay Desktop, which will be able to deliver product notifications and auction updates to users without requiring them to launch a browser. The eBay application also can grab auction and product information that users can review offline at their leisure.

With AIR and related free offerings, Adobe also hopes to drive adoption of its for-fee developer, design and server software in the business and enterprise market.

Some of the customers Adobe has revealed show some momentum toward that goal. For example, BusinessObjects, the business-intelligence software provider recently acquired by SAP, is using AIR for a new product called BI Widgets. The technology allows users to search, organise and access BI content in back-end systems and databases from the desktop.

Web-based CRM (customer relationship management) provider Salesforce.com also is using AIR to deliver applications built using its Force.com hosted developer environment to the desktop, said Adam Gross, vice president of platform marketing for Salesforce.com. The company is launching a new product called Force.com Toolkit for Adobe AIR that allows developers to extend applications built using Force.com to the desktop.

"In theory, one could build [technology to bridge that gap] themselves, but it would be an enormous amount of work," Gross said. "AIR makes it a lot easier."

Another enterprise customer, Deutsche Bank, is using AIR for a new internet service for its business customers called db-direct, which provides instant desktop alerts about account activity to corporate clients and financial institutions.

Other companies scheduled to show off how they’re using AIR at Adobe’s event include The New York Times Company and The Nasdaq Stock Market.

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