Blogging Adobe's AIR rollout

Here's the latest from the Engage conference, where, among other things, Adobe Systems is rolling out its Adobe Integrated Runtime software.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen Charles Cooper/CNET News.com

Good morning--belatedly, of course, to any folks living outside Pacific Time--from Adobe's San Francisco event Monday where the company is gathering developers supporting its much-ballyhooed Adobe Integrated Runtime software, or AIR. By now, all the world has read the first round of stories since the company made sure to brief everyone prior to Monday's "official" release. (Here's the link to our earlier AIR piece. )

I'll be blogging the event so tune back in for updates.

I'm looking forward to seeing what The New York Times has in store. I was talking with a couple of its developers. That's right--the Gray Lady is in the development business. That was news to me, but they say they've been working under the radar on some projects and ShiftD is the first fruits of their labors. They actually pushed the button last night around midnight, but some of the wires got crossed. Needless to say, the two guys from The Times who are demoing here didn't get much sleep. But they're mainlining coffee so I'm confident they'll last until their time slot.

*****

Shantanu Narayen, who took over as CEO from Bruce Chizen, is talking about a future filled with "rich, engaging online experiences." (If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that line. Oh well, that's part of every strategic overview spiel.)

He's talking about a new generation of devices coming to market that will take advantage of the proliferation of rich content and applications. And of course, the ability to work offline with the connectivity of the Web. (Can you spell A-I-R?)

*****

Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch Charles Cooper/CNET News.com

Kevin Lynch just took the podium to give an AIR demo. He's showing off applications from different platforms--yes, Mac and Linux included--where AIR comes into play. He threw in a plug for the potential of AIR to give Linux a big shot in the arm. The product will be ready sometime later in the year.

He said the ability to reach mobile devices is where AIR may really have an impact. The product's still in concept stage but he talked about an AIR app for a small form factor. "The design center of what we build will shift" toward mobile devices first. "That's going to be liberating. Coming down from a big screen to a small screen doesn't really work that well."

Lynch just asked for a show of hands, how many people in the audience thought that was a workable idea? Looks like most people here agree.

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Lynch just clarified: the Linux version isn't yet ready for prime time. Still some tweaking to do but it's on the way.

Narayen is back on stage with Lynch to take questions and said the strategy will be "AIR anywhere." Unfortunately, no word from Adobe on what Apple might do. "Apple's a partner," he said. "You really have to talk to them about the road map. We're excited about seeing it on iPhones." Duh.

The R&D guys from The Times are onstage to demo ShifD . The product is still in beta and still has a few bugs. Drag content from a Web page to the Times' AIR app--in this case it was a smartphone. You're able to pull up the info, and it appeared seamless.

The Times is also working on an SMS way to send the content as a text message to your ShifD account, where it appears as an AIR app. (This will be available in another couple of days.) The same principle applies here as it did during the days when cut and paste really was cut and paste.

*****

FedEx is here . Its appointed rep is giving a dutifully company commercial on its AIR product. It's got all the expected shipping extras. Once logged in to the system, a user can pull shipment information based on the tracking number, filtering it every which way from Sunday. The product's on a limited beta for the next month. Once the company airs it out, so to speak, the plan is to roll it out globally.

The guy from MFG.com is taking his turn and I feel for him. He's going through demo hell right now, and the audience's attention is wandering while Adobe's technicians try to repair the glitch. Glancing around the auditorium, I just noticed that lots of guys turning out for the event are sporting chrome domes similar to yours truly. Call it geek chic or maybe there's something in the water in the Bay Area. Bald is beautiful, baby.

*****

Lynch and Demo conferences impresario Chris Shipley are onstage for a one-on-one ruminating about the state of software. Lynch obviously is bright but Shipley is a smart cookie. We used to work together at the now-defunct Interchange project (subsequently sold by Ziff-Davis to AT&T). She's worked hard, and it's great to see her inherit the role of (not-so) elder stateswoman. Lynch made an intriguing comment about the future of free software and a possible "sea change" on the horizon. I'm going to try to get him to elaborate during the lunch break.

*****

So I caught up with Lynch, who said that he and the Adobe brain trust envision a transition where "free" (for the user) may become the operative word. (I stress the word may.) The future's still hard to read, but he thinks it could feature a far more prominent role for advertising-supported options and premium subscriptions for products companies currently charge for.

Adobe's already dipping its toe in that pool. Premier Express, for instance, allows users to remix video. It doesn't cost you a penny but Adobe gets a revenue cut from videos that wind up on MTV.com, Photobucket, or YouTube.

"It's a lot like the move toward graphical user interfaces," Lynch told me. "That didn't happen overnight. It took awhile. We'll see what happens."

***

AOL, as expected, trotted out the AIR-based file-management application version of its Xdrive application. (Check out Rafe Needleman's review by clicking here .) The company also showed off an AIR version of AOL Top 100.

AOL brings AIR to Xdrive.

Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com is on stage now and he's in danger of putting the audience to sleep. Not because he's boring--Marc is anything but. The problem is that the big guy seems to be on auto-pilot and has lapsed into one stemwinder of a company commercial.

Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com

After 10 minutes, he's getting to the news--an AIR tool kit for developers who write apps for the company's software platform.

Yahoo's on deck but I get the gist of what's going on. For Adobe, this is an important step. But the salivating over how to manipulate rich Internet applications may be premature. My colleague at our ZDNet sister site, Larry Dignan, nailed it earlier in the day when he wrote:

"I haven't had that "A ha!" moment where a hybrid application is a must have."

Bingo. Most of the demos I saw today were cool but what the heck am I supposed to do with them? Maybe by the next "Engage" conference a year from now, we'll have a clearer idea where this is heading.

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About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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