AIR on Linux test run

AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) is a cross-operating system runtime that lets you use rich Internet applications that combine HTML, Ajax, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Flex technologies. What that means to you and me is that it's lets us run another kind of application on our Internet-connected Windows PCs, Macs, and just this month, Linux desktop computers.

I'm not crazy about AIR. It's not the first, or one-hundred and first, application layer software to make it possible to run the same application on multiple platforms. Java, JavaScript, etc. etc. have all had their day in the sun and more recently Silverlight/Moonlight, JavaFX, and Appcelerator Titanium have thrown their hats in the ring. That said, AIR applications are remarkably fast and reasonably mature.

We're already seeing a fair number of non-trivial, useful AIR programs like the Google Analytics Reporting Suite, the twhirl social network client, and RichFLV, a Flash video editor. And, now, in addition to Windows and Mac OS, you can run AIR and its applications on Linux as well.

That's the good news. The bad news is that getting AIR to install on your Linux desktop can be troublesome and, once in place, installing AIR applications is a bit of a security worry.

First, AIR is officially only available for Fedora 8, openSUSE 10.3, and Ubuntu 7.10. These are also older Linux distributions that are getting a little long in the tooth. AIR for Linux 1.5 comes in both RPM and DEB packaging so it should install on most versions of Linux without too much trouble.

Well, you'd think that wouldn't you? Actually installing AIR on any Linux is something of a pain. What you actually end up with a .BIN file. You might think all you'd need to do is click on the file's icon once it's down. You'd be wrong.

Before you can run the AIR installer, you need to make it executable. The simplest way to do that is to bring up a terminal window, change directory to where you downloaded the file and type:

chmod +x AdobeAIRInstaller.bin

Now, can you click the icon? Nope. It still won't work. Instead, it's back to the shell again,to run

./AdobeAIRInstaller.bin

Oh, and by the way, you need to be root to make it go. And, did we mention that you need the latest version of Adobe Flash or the installation will fail?

Adobe does a good job of hiding these details in the release notes. This is one program where you must read the release notes (PDF Document). It's also a darn good idea to go over the tips for resolving application issues, where you'll find that if you've been using the AIR beta on Linux that you'll need to reinstall all your AIR applications. If you're running AIR on a 64-bit Linux, this Adobe knowledge base article on AIR and 64-bit Linux is also a must-read.

In my case, I installed AIR for Linux on a 64-bit version of Fedora 10. I was running this distribution on a Gateway GT5622 desktop. This is not a terribly fast PC with a 1.80GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E2160 processor. It has 3GB of DDR2 SDRAM (double-data-rate two synchronous dynamic random access memory), a 400GB SATA II hard drive and a DVD R/W drive. For graphics, it uses the inexpensive Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950, which was set to pull 224MB of RAM from main memory to use as shared video memory.

Still, this proved more than fast enough for all the AIR applications, including the ones I mentioned above and others as well, to run at a very snappy pace. They didn't run so fast that I mistook them for desktop applications, but for online applications they were as fast as anything I'd ever seen this side of JavaScript applications running within Google Chrome.

Unfortunately, you can't install any AIR applications as Joe user. You need to be root, or have your account have similar system manager level privileges to install anything. This is not good.

The last thing you want in Linux, or any Unix-style operating system, is require a user to run as super-user to accomplish a simple task such as installing a small application. Once you do that, it's all too easy to start using that account for every-day computing. The problem, of course, is that at level, you can do anything to the system, up to and including destroying it. Fortunately, once you've installed a program, any user can use it.

Since Linux applications really are pretty darn easy to install these days, I really don't understand why Adobe made it such a pain, and a security concern, to install AIR and AIR applications.

AIR itself works quite well, and I already know that Google Analytics Reporting Suite is going to have a permanent place on my desktop. I really wish I could recommend Adobe AIR for Linux without reservations, but until they get those installation annoyances taken care of, I'm going to have to say that only expert Linux users should give AIR a try.

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