Adobe AIR to erase Web, desktop division

AIR download for Windows and Mac looks to blur the line between the Web and desktop applications.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read

Adobe Systems on Monday is set to finally release Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) software, which is on the leading edge of a movement to make Web applications act more like traditional desktop applications.

At the company's Engage event in San Francisco on rich Internet application design, executives will announce the availability of AIR 1.0, a free download for Windows and Macintosh.

The New York Times is releasing a beta of an AIR application called ShifD (seen here on an iPhone), which enables users to move content--including Web links, notes, and Web maps--from their desktop computer to a mobile device. New York Times

Also on Monday, Adobe will release Flex 3.0, its application development tool that is now free and open-source. Another development tool, called BlazeDS, for linking Flex applications to back-end business applications, will also be released into open source as planned.

Adobe has been working on AIR for at least two years, when Kevin Lynch, now Adobe's chief technology officer, first publicly spoke about it. The company plans to build AIR versions of many of its Web applications, including photo-imaging application Photoshop Express and Premier Express for editing video, he said.

AIR is software for making Web applications appear like more like desktop programs. Applications can run offline, access data on a person's hard drive, have a desktop icon, and run without the need of a browser.

Developers can use any Web development kit, such as Ajax frameworks, to write applications that will run on AIR or they can use Flex.

These Web-native desktop applications have become an active area of software development--Adobe says that there are over 100 AIR applications--and alternatives to AIR are starting to appear.

The Mozilla Foundation, makers of the Firefox Web browser, launched a project called Prism that brings offline access to Web applications.

Lynch said that AIR is far ahead of what Prism offers but he expects many other platforms that bridge the Web with desktops to emerge.

"We're just getting back the lost treasures of the desktop that we lost when we went to the Web," Lynch said.

He said AIR is not competitive with Microsoft Windows or other operating systems; it's a layer above operating systems that enables people to use Web development techniques and toolkits.

A version of AIR for Linux is expected later this year, he said. Adobe will also create versions that run on mobile devices in the future.

Salesforce.com on Monday will release a free toolkit that will allow developers to write applications on its Force.com hosted development platform using Flex and AIR. The main driver for bringing offline access to Web applications is mobility, said Adam Gross, vice president of developer marketing at Salesforce.com.

The New York Times, for example, has created an application with AIR that will enable people to transfer content, such as Web links and maps, from their desktops to mobile devices.

"Our customers want offline access because they have users in mobile contexts like people in hospitals with tablet PCs or retail settings like supermarkets," Gross said. "I think we're going to see a variety of new technologies around how to effectively create offline Web applications."

Adobe made the low-end edition of Flex open source to lure developers who prefer open-source and standards-based software because it does not tie them to one proprietary technology or vendor.

Lynch said that Adobe intends to use open-source software and practices more. He noted that many pieces of its development products are already open-source, including the scripting engine in Flash, which was donated to the Mozilla Foundation for inclusion in the Firefox Web browser.

Lynch, who was named chief technology officer of Adobe earlier this month, said Adobe's different product teams are changing to embrace rich Internet applications, AIR, and online services to complement its existing products.

"This is a very, very important time in Adobe's history. We've made some big shifts--Postscript, multimedia, the Web," he said. "Rich Internet applications is one of those important transitions."