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Adobe's AIR 2: Faster, with better HTML

Company's revamped AIR software has arrived, bringing better performance and compatibility with forthcoming Android 2.2 devices.

Adobe Systems on Thursday released AIR 2, upgrading the features and aspirations for the software foundation.

AIR is a programming foundation that lets a Net application run on a variety of computing platforms--Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and, significantly, forthcoming Google Android mobile phones now as well. The software can run standalone programs written either with Adobe's Flash technology or, courtesy of a built-in WebKit browser engine, with HTML and JavaScript, too. AIR applications run on their own, though, not within a browser.

Adobe has had some significant successes with AIR. It is installed on "nearly 300 million desktop computers," Adobe said. It's used for applications including the Tweetdeck's software for bringing some order to the chaos of Twitter, Facebook, and Buzz; a New York Times reader with a built-in crossword puzzle; and an interface to 120 years' worth of National Geographic issues.

But it's got big challenges, too. At the same time AIR is arriving on Android devices with the upcoming 2.2 upgrade, it is banished from Apple's IOS devices--the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad--undermining its cross-platform advantages. HTML and JavaScript in a browser can handle an increasing amount of what AIR can do, although efforts such as Mozilla Prism to break Web applications free of browser frames haven't made much headway. And in general, it's always hard to convince developers to commit to a new programming platform.

Adobe expects AIR 2 will help, though. Among its new features, according to Adobe:

• Diminished memory and processing demands.

• Better networking features, for example supporting the newer IPv6 Internet standard or enabling multiplayer games that need chat.

• Support for modern Web standards such as CSS3's transforms and HTML5's Canvas 2D graphics.

• Better performance when running JavaScript.

• Better control over printing.

• The ability to integrate with applications running natively on a computer.

• Better hardware support including multitouch interfaces, printer control, USB drive detection, and microphone recording.

AIR 2 also benefits from the improvements in Flash Player 10.1, also released Thursday.

Flash is at the center of a debate between Apple and Adobe, with Apple deriding it as an insecure, battery-draining, unstable technology and Adobe criticizing Apple's heavy-handed controls over developer choices. Adobe is working to make Flash--and therefore AIR as well--better on Macs, though, in part through taking advantage of some hardware acceleration features. Through a project called Gala, Adobe also is working on some video decoding improvements made possible after Apple opened up an interface to take advantage of hardware acceleration.

"It is expected that the Gala functionality--H.264 hardware decoding on Mac OS X 10.6.3--will be available in an update following the release of Flash Player 10.1," Adobe said of that project.

Updated 8:02 a.m. PDT with further details on hardware acceleration plans on Mac OS X.

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