Adobe’s AIR

After being in beta since last June, Adobe released its Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) on February 25. AIR is one of a fresh batch of technologies promising to bridge the gap between desktop and web. It is already in use by eBay,, the New York Times, and a host of developers. At the moment AIR is available for Windows and Mac, a Linux release is expected later this year, and hopefuls expect a mobile version as well. Like Adobe’s nearly ubiquitous Flash, AIR is also free.

Adobe’s AIR did not come out of the void. It has been in beta since June, but has roots in a trend that was set in motion years ago with the first strides towards cloud computing. Adobe’s chief software architect says that the idea for AIR was spawned by the benefits of cloud computing: continual access, platform independence, version currency. However, as the cloud computing movement moves ahead with Microsoft, Google,, and others continuing developments, AIR has already gone beyond the paradigm.

InformationWeek says this about AIR: “AIR, a cross-operating system platform that was code-named Apollo, attempts to bridge the gap between the Web and the desktop by allowing developers to create Internet-connected applications that aren’t restricted by the form and functionality of Web browsers.” Traditional cloud computing technologies are interested in moving offline applications online, such as Google Docs; they are focused on the online/offline dichotomy. While AIR fully allows for this it is more interested in dissolving the desktop/web dichotomy. Using AIR developers can create Rich Internet Applications (RIA) which connect to the Web, but which are not restricted to it, and which can furthermore interact directly with the local machine.

Apart from being a catalyst for AIR and creating, according to Lynch, a “tidal shift in how people are actually creating software,” cloud computing has also been noted as introducing a challenge to the reign of Microsoft Office applications. If there are free versions out there, such as Google Docs, the need to pay the price to Redmond for the ability to write is removed. Cloud computing may be the tip of the iceberg, but Microsoft has yet to feel a real hit. The next wave could be an AIR-based attack and it could be substantial, as it strikes deeper than just the applications. The impact on Microsoft and its Office could be merely the byproduct of a paradigm shift.

AIR could pose a serious threat for a number of reasons. For one, it is platform independent which means developers can write applications for Mac, Microsoft, and Linux clients all at the same time; users will not be bound to an OS to gain access to certain tools. As writing for AIR is far less complex than writing desktop applications developers can devote more time to the product; development time and the barrier to entry both drop significantly. With AIR, the operating system itself becomes of little relevance. And, there is the source, Adobe, to keep in mind.

PC World notes, “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.” Al Hilwa, Program Director at IDC concurs “Adobe has been focused on improving the Web experience and delivering the underlying technologies to produce more interactive and expressive Web sites and applications, and the Adobe technology platform for RIAs hits right at a key need companies have today.”

Software developer Hank Williams is even a bit more assertive. He writes, “Adobe’s strategy is a death stroke to Windows as a strategic monopolistic platform. And Adobe as a software company with revenues north of three billion dollars has the muscle, the development community, and the momentum to fight this battle. They will not be ‘Netscaped.'”


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