AIR

I just installed my first adobe air-based application. It’s called Snitter and its a new Twitter client. At first blush, it does a few things that Twitterific doesn’t do and I think I like it better.

But this isn’t a post about snitter or twitter. It’s a post about Adobe’s AIR, which is an "integrated runtime".

The neat thing about building an app on top of AIR is that it instantly runs on windows and mac. True cross platform development

That in and of itself isn’t new but building an app on AIR is like building an app in Flash and/or HTML/Ajax. In theory, if you have a web app that you’ve built in Flash or HTML/Ajax, it should be a snap to write it on AIR and launch it as a desktop app.

There are a couple other efforts to do this, including Google Gears, the Parakey effort that Facebook acquired recently, and something from Microsoft (i think). Google Gears is potentially the most interesting because it includes persistent storage which is nice. Imagine being able to do gmail as a desktop app when you are not connected to the web (airplanes, etc). That’s a dream of mine for years and it’s going to come true soon.

So here’s the issues as I see them. If you want to install an AIR based app, you first need to download and install the AIR runtime. I did that yesterday and it was simple, but that’s a problem because most computers don’t have AIR on them and many people won’t want to take that extra step. It would be great if AIR came with Flash because most computers have Flash on them at this point.

So if you are a developer, you have to think twice about developing to AIR. And then there are going to be two or three more of these "web runtimes" out there. Do you need to support all of them in the short run? Probably yes, if you want to get the most adoption that you can.

Ultimately one platform, maybe two, will win out. Flash has won that place for rich media on the web. That doesn’t mean that AIR will win too. My guess is that Google has the best position at this time because if they launch versions of their web apps as gears-based desktop apps, they’ll get a lot of adoption that others can ride on top of.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting area to watch develop.