Q&A: Adobe exec says all corporate apps are 'fair game' for AIR

Downey asserts that runtime supports software ranging from low-level utilities to high-end, Web-enabled enterprise applications

Adobe Systems Inc. is set to launch its Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) next month, which promises to transform rich Internet Applications to desktop applications that can run locally or online. Adobe, best known for its appeal to designers with technologies like Flash, has set its sights for AIR on the corporate enterprise. Mike Downey, group manager for evangelism in Adobe's platform unit, discussed the new runtime technology and the company's plans for it in an interview with Computerworld.

Are there particular nonconsumer-oriented enterprise scenarios where you expect AIR to play a big role? It ranges from a great platform for rapidly building useful utilities … to the more high end where there aren't many [development] limits. Any kind of application you can deploy in the enterprise is fair game for AIR.

On the low end, Adobe recently started allowing some of our employees to use Apple's iPhone. We were able to configure it to use our corporate e-mail, [but] there was a bug somewhere between the iPhone and Exchange server. When a user deleted e-mail on their iPhone, [the application] never actually deleted the e-mail on the Exchange server. Using HTML, JavaScript and Adobe AIR, a developer wrote a utility [to] manually delete those items. Any of us could download that … to automatically clear out this folder that the mail was being wrongly dumped into.

The developer is a Web developer … who in one afternoon was able to create a solution to an enterprisewide problem. Through a Web browser, he wouldn't have been able to go into a user's Outlook folder … and clear out that data. That was a really good example of AIR solving a significant enterprise problem extremely quickly. AIR is a cross-platform solution so the developer was able to use his existing AJAX skills to write a utility that would automatically work on Macintosh and Windows.

We've been seeing a lot of pickup [in] usage of AIR as an interface to ERP systems. [AIR] is being used for accessing data in a more integrated way. A lot of times people want to manage their data locally and offline. A lot of users are out in the field in situations where they don't have Web access. AIR can allow you to collect as much information as you like [in the local application], and it will automatically synchronize that data when a connection is available.

Some people have described AIR as a browser -- just as a traditional browser is used to navigate the Web, AIR can be used to navigate rich Internet applications. Could AIR be described as a type of application specific browser? AIR is not a browser. AIR is an engine that you can build a browser on top of. I'd have to build all of my own features, but the engine itself is built into AIR. The browser itself is just an application. AIR is more of the core runtime -- not the application itself.

What is unique about that is AIR has all the same rendering capabilities as the Safari browser does. As a JavaScript developer, I know in AIR I have access to all the same JavaScript APIs. I also have native access to Flash player APIs and all the video capabilities in Flash. Now from the same language I can reference any Flash API in JavaScript.

AIR is closer to something like a Java virtual machine where you are installing Java runtime on the computer so you can run Java applications. It is more similar to that than to a browser.

There has also been a lot of talk about the AIR runtime prompting AJAX developers to move to Adobe's Flex development tool set. Do you see AIR as a competitor to AJAX? Not at all. AIR is to AJAX as a browser is to AJAX. It is no different than a browser.

We've built a platform that is universally accessible … to our JavaScript engine and our Flash engine. As an AJAX developer, I have full access to all the capabilities in Adobe AIR right from JavaScript.

We really market Flex to AJAX developers and say we have a better framework than any of the frameworks you are using. Flex is a full application framework, and a lot of AJAX developers who are used to not having a really complete framework look at Flex and see … it really simplifies a lot of things they are used to having trouble with like data management.

One of the biggest pains for AJAX developers is incompatibility between browsers and operating systems. One of the nice things that AJAX developers really like about AIR is that the HTML engine in AIR is perfectly consistent across platforms and will work exactly the same across Macintosh, Windows and Linux (Adobe has said AIR will support Linux later this year).

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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