Blurring the line some more

June 10, 2007

Adobe Apollo moved from developer preview to beta recently, and also changed its name to Adobe AIR.

This is a very, very exciting space – it gives much more flexibility for the creation of Rich Internet Apps. Rather than learning up on VB or other horriblenesses, AIR lets developers use skills they already have in Flash, Javascript and HTML to build applications both for the web and for desktop.

Crucially, Microsoft are competing in this space too, with Silverlight and an environment for developer/designers called Expression Blend.

Underlying the incredible complexity of pretty much anything you read about this stuff (not to mention the ever-changing silly names) are some core reasons why we should pay at least some attention.

First off, as mentioned above, you can use existing skills to build desktop apps, re-using the exact same builds for both environment but augmenting the experience when the environment allows. This means, for example that a collections search tool could be built for the web and also for desktop with pretty much the same code. In the desktop environment, though, you can extend the functionality so that you can drag and drop, save or open local files, etc.  I saw an example of this at the Future of Web Apps conference a while back with an application developed for eBay. It leveraged all the usual API stuff that eBay has opened up – you got search, saving, bidding etc within a very rich application-like environment, but you could also drag and drop or save results onto your desktop. There’s a review of the app on ZDnet if you’re interested…

Secondly, web application and the blurring of the line between various environments (ie. thin client computing, “cloud” processing, widgets) will increasingly expand in importance as practical considerations such as bandwith and platform are sorted. Windows Presentation Foundation – although yet another download for users at present – is being shipped with Microsoft Vista now, so expect this to become more and more important…

Thirdly, both of these solutions are programmatic at their core. This is coherent in that it continues along the line of separating content from presentation but it also gives unprecedented access into the underlying content structures. What is interesting about this is that it takes developers and designers along a converging path. Expression Blend, according to the guy I talked to at The Future of Web Apps, is pitched at both creatives and coders, which will be an enormous challenge for almost everyone. It’ll be very interesting to see how this convergence is dealt with into the future.

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