Adobe blasts Apollo into beta through AIR

Adobe Integrated Runtime, formerly dubbed Apollo, paves the way for Web applications that perform like desktop-bound programs. Images: Building apps on AIR

Adobe Systems on Monday released a beta version of AIR, a software download formerly called Apollo, that makes Web-native applications operate like desktop programs.

The much-anticipated software, now called the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), is expected to introduce a new class of hybrid applications that meld the Web with the PC.

A free AIR software development kit released Monday is aimed at developers building those applications.

Also on Monday, Adobe released a beta test version of Flex 3, its software development tool that can now be used for writing AIR applications in addition to Flash and HTML-based Web applications.

AIR is one of a growing number of downloads, or "runtimes," coming onto the market. Others include Microsoft's Silverlight and Google Gears, which are Web browser plug-ins.

Each serves a slightly different purpose. Like Adobe's Flash, Silverlight runs interactive Web-based applications, including those that integrate media such as video. The first version is expected this summer.

Google Gears, set for release later this year, offers a way to run Web applications offline by providing a local database and other features.

Adobe's AIR also brings an offline component to Web applications. But AIR applications can operate without the need for a browser.

The key advantage is that software developers can use their existing tools and skills to build these desktop applications, said Kevin Lynch, the company's chief software architect and senior vice president of its platforms group. Typically, a developer will use AIR to write a desktop application that links to an online service, as Adobe has done with its video playback application, Adobe Media Player.

"As a developer, you now have a lot of choices about applications. The reasons you might want to build desktop applications would be (getting) access to the local file system, or notifications onscreen to get the user's attention...or having a desktop icon," he said.

Online music service Finetune, for example, streams music to a browser, but an AIR version allows people to store their music locally.

Hosted application provider Saleforce.com said it sees Adobe's AIR as a way to bring its applications out of the browser.

"With Adobe AIR, (on-demand business applications) can be further extended with the persistent desktop functionality and interactivity AIR enables," Parker Harris, co-founder and executive vice president of technology at Salesforce.com, said in a statement.

Opening up Flex
Adobe and Google are collaborating on Google Gears. Both chose to use the same local data store--open-source database SQLite--and now engineers from the companies are working together to provide a common application programming interface (API) for storing data, Lynch said.

Adobe didn't originally envision a database with AIR, but it was the feature most requested from developers after the alpha release, he added.

Although Flex will be updated to work well with AIR, Web developers can use any Web development toolkit, including Ajax frameworks like Dojo, to write AIR applications.

The introduction of the Flex 3 beta is the beginning of a process to open-source the company's flagship development tool.

Adobe will not make the code for Flex 3 available with an open-source license on Monday. But by the time the product is released in the second half of this year, the code will be available for free under an open-source license. It will also introduce a governance model for the open-source project, Lynch said.

Until then, people outside Adobe can see regular "builds" of the product as well as track its bug database.

The company's goal in adopting an open-source development model is to elicit more feedback from developers and potentially attract product contributions.

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