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Adobe's AIR strategy: First platform, then applications, exec says

Adobe Systems is supporting start-ups that build Web-based Office alternatives, while it focuses on building a development platform.

As Web-based applications become more powerful, Adobe Systems' focus is to provide a development platform rather than create online Office-style applications, according to an executive in Adobe's developer group.

Earlier this week, Wired ran a blog saying that Adobe could enter the market for Web-based productivity applications, quoting Mike Downey, group manager of platform evangelism at Adobe.

In an interview on Friday, Downey said that Adobe is committing its resources to building the underlying platform for writing more sophisticated Web applications.

Adobe's Flash Player is widely used on the Web, and it's Adobe Runtime Environment, or AIR, (formerly known as Apollo) lets Web developers create desktop applications.

"Our primary focus is building a platform that allows developers to build great Web-based applications," Downey said. "AIR is the ideal platform for building these types of Web applications that are robust and powerful."

Adobe, too, is using AIR to build some applications. The Adobe Media Player, which it announced earlier this year, is for watching Internet videos. Even though it is an application, Adobe considers the media player part of the platform it provides to third parties that have the ability to customize it, Downey said.

At the same time, Adobe is encouraging start-ups to write sophisticated Web applications that could be online alternatives to Microsoft Office.

Adobe is an investor in Virtual Ubiquity, a company that is writing a sophisticated online word processor built with Adobe's Flex development tools. The application, called Buzzword, runs on Flash and will run on AIR.

There are other online productivity tools such as Web-based presentation application SlideRocket that use Flash, Downey noted.

Adobe is also looking to exploit AIR within its existing product line.

"One of the main reasons we did AIR is because Adobe wants that technology to build new applications" he said.

AIR, which is now in beta, is expected to be generally available in the first quarter of next year.