AIR to the desktop throne

Just as we are getting our heads round the idea of online applications, the wheel, we are told, is turning a full circle and the focus is moving back to the desktop. A number of browser plug ins are bringing applications out of the browser and creating hybrid apps that have been dubbed the new webtops. These include Microsoft’s Silverlight, Google’s Gears and Adobe’s AIR. Crucially though, Adobe takes things a step further with AIR, which can operate entirely independently of the browser. The race is on to develop must-have website applets for the desktop, keeping websites in the user’s face as never before, which is exciting the marketing and media types, and potentially replacing core desktop applications such as word processing with hybrid web/internet applications, which is scaring IT support. But why should the hapless user give up precious desktop space anyway? This confusing state of affairs is best clarified by example. A developer might write a desktop application that links to an online service allowing local storage to be combined with online features such as streaming media. The success of this latest generation of webtops lies as always with the killer app. In a move that could well put pressure on Google’s online apps offer, Adobe bought up the Buzzword online word processor this month as part of its strategy for internet application development. Buzzword was built with Adobe's Flex and runs in Flash, allowing people to collaborate on documents - and work with hosted and local documents. As well as its purchasing muscle, Adobe is using the latest crowdsourcing development methodology, running an AIR developer derby with $100,000 for the winning developer and last week it got together with MTV to launch another big ticket developer competition. Some big names have got in the web-desktop act – Ebay, AOL, The New York stock exchange NASDAQ and Business Objects are reported to have demoed hybrid applications for business and consumers. Applets can be knocked up in AIR by web developers in HTML (JavaScript, CSS, XML) and Adobe Flash (ActionScript, Flex, XML) and can be run on Windows or Mac operating systems, with versions for Linux and mobile devices in the pipeline. A big advantage is that browser specific code can be used to create the independent desktop app too. Downsides are the 10Mb runtime load and the need to install the application. Regular readers may remember mutterings about the security threats posed by desktop gadgets and widgets and there are similar murmurings that webtop hybrids carry the same risk of being a chink in the network armour. That health warning aside though, the results of the AIR developer derby should make interesting viewing. [tags] Adobe AIR, Applets [/tags]