Adobe Releases AIR Runtime for the Desktop, Opens Flex

In a move that will let Web developers use their existing skills to build rich Internet applications (RIAs) for the desktop, smart clients and browsers, Adobe Systems Inc. today released the first version of its widely anticipated AIR cross-operating system runtime, along with updates to its Flex Framework for Windows and Macintosh platforms.

AIR (short for Adobe Integrated Runtime) is a technology that's been a long time coming. Developed at Macromedia, AIR -- along with Flex, ColdFusion and Dreamweaver -- was part of Adobe's $3.4 billion acquisition of the developer tools company in 2005.

Available as a public preview or beta since March of 2007, AIR (formerly code-named Apollo) lets developers use familiar Web technologies such as Flash, AJAX, HTML and Flex to build desktop apps. Other emerging technologies that promise to synchronize data and bring Web-like functionality to the desktop include Google Gears, Mozilla Prism and Sun Microsystems' Java FX. These technologies are open source.

Adobe AIR 1.0 doesn't have any breaking changes from the December 2007 beta.

"There are some licensing details," said Adrian Ludwig, Adobe's platform marketing team manager, "but primarily it was performance and stability."

AIR is freely available to developers under the Adobe Apollo EULA license. A Linux version is expected later this year.

Several companies demoed RIA applications in conjunction with the AIR 1.0 release, including FedEx, The New York Times Company, NASDAQ, eBay, AOL and Nickelodeon.

Opening Up Web Development
Flex is built on Adobe's Flash technology; it uses a declarative XML called MXML and ActionScript. Version 3 integrates AIR extensions into the framework, SDK and Flex Builder tooling. As promised, Adobe open-sourced the Flex framework and SDK today under the Mozilla license. The Flash player and Flex Builder 3, an Eclipse-based IDE (U.S. $249), still require commercial licenses.

Adobe has what Ludwig characterized as "a relatively new but committed movement toward open source" and opening up the Flex SDK is expected to increase its usage.

"We're thinking that it is going to significantly affect uptake in the Web developer community, which has strong ties to the open source community -- they are very, very tightly aligned," he said.

Adobe also released today the open source Blaze DS back-end tools (remoting and messaging) for Flex applications.

Flex 3 is an incremental release, according to Ludwig. "Almost all Flex 2 code works very easily in Flex 3," he said.

Adobe announced the new dev tools at its Adobe Engage 2008 event for tech bloggers in San Francisco. The products will also be featured at the 360 FLEX conference in Atlanta this week and in FITC Amsterdam.

The company is working on several projects to improve the developer-designer workflow, most notably "Thermo" which was demoed at MAX in Chicago. "We don't have any plans to talk about Thermo at this point," Ludwig said.

"Right now between the Creative Suite and Flex Builder, there is a lot of interoperability added with Flex Builder 3 to make it easy to build the components and skins and visual elements in the Creative Suite products and easily transfer them into a Flex project," he said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Adobe are both chasing the RIA market. Microsoft is expected to announce beta 1 of its Flash competitor, Silverlight 2, in early March. The company also offers a designer-developer tool called Blend; "Thermo," according to some developers, is based on a similar concept. Last week, Microsoft made headlines by announcing its intention to allow developers to use key APIs to improve interoperability in heterogeneous environments.

"We've seen Microsoft make announcements around openness and interoperability in the past and it is very difficult to know whether the results of these announcements will be different," Ludwig said. "At Adobe, we think we've demonstrated our commitment as much as we've announced our commitment. That's an important part of our relationship with open communities."

About the Author

Kathleen Richards ([email protected]) is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.