While Flash Player got most of the attention at Adobe Systems' developer conference this week, the company also announced an update to Adobe AIR, a runtime environment that allows Flash programs to run offline on the desktop.
The first version of AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) has been used for a handful of well-known applications, such as the TweetDeck tool for Twitter, the BBC's iPlayer media software and the New York Times Reader, which makes it easier to flip through news articles on a PC screen.
AIR can be useful to Flash and Flex developers because it lets them write programs that run outside the browser, on the desktop of any computer with the AIR runtime installed. The technology is only 18 months old, however, and is competing for attention with Microsoft's Silverlight, Google Gears and others.
Adobe hopes to move it forward with a new version that will be released in beta later this year, it said at Adobe Max this week. The software aims to address shortcomings identified by some developers, especially the limited access that AIR provides to local PC resources.
AIR 2.0 will add the ability to access mass storage devices, which means an application will be able to detect when a user plugs a Flip video camera into a PC, for example, and then save the files to a local hard drive or offer to upload them to the Web.
It also gets a native process API (application programming interface), which will allow AIR programs to communicate with applications installed on the desktop. An AIR directory program could call up information about a customer stored in an SAP application, for example, said David Wadhwani, general manager of the Adobe Flash Platform group.
To do this, however, AIR programs will have to be deployed as a native installer, such as an .exe file. Adobe says developers will be able to generate native installers automatically in a forthcoming AIR development kit.
Other planned capabilities include the ability to open a document such as a PDF or Word file from within an AIR program, and to use AIR for a peer-to-peer application. There are also general improvements for better CPU and memory utilization.
That last item is much needed, according to Derek Zarbrook, president of Konductor, a startup that is using AIR to offer a content hosting service for Web designers. "Memory leakage has been a big issue," he said. Memory leaks occur when programs gradually use more and more of the computer's memory over time, causing performance to take a hit.
Konductor's service includes an AIR application that lets clients update Web sites built for them by designers. It chose AIR because its allows the clients to update their sites by dragging and dropping images and other content into the application from the desktop, something a Web browser can't do. "Also, a lot of people still like desktop applications; it's what they're comfortable with," he said.
AIR 2.0 is scheduled for general availability in the first half of next year. Adobe says it will also do a version of AIR for smartphones sometime in 2010.
The update is unlikely to change the usage model for AIR, which will continue to be around games, video, media applications, and creating rich interfaces for business applications, Wadhwani said. "I think the use cases are pretty well-settled," he said.
The software has been installed on 300 million desktops, according to Wadhwani. Developers can write AIR applications using Adobe's Flex tools or with Ajax, but most are using Flex, he said.
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