Emerging Technology Promises to Bridge Web, Desktop

Nasdaq and the American Cancer Society use a new runtime for next-gen apps.

Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. and the American Cancer Society Inc. are looking to Adobe Integrated Runtime technology to take some of their rich Internet applications to the desktop.

The new AIR technology from San Jose-based Adobe Systems Inc. is among several emerging products that promise to let companies run Web applications built using various AJAX tools on desktop systems. AIR is slated to ship next month, according to Adobe.

Nasdaq and the American Cancer Society are among several large organizations eyeing the Adobe runtime technology as a way to bridge the traditional gap between Web and desktop applications.

Claude Courbois, associate vice president of data product development at Nasdaq, said that he has long been searching for tools to help the stock markets analysts and brokerage customers comply with stringent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules much faster.

Claude Courbois
Claude Courbois

For example, one of the SEC rules requires that brokerages provide a tool that can quickly re-create market conditions to prove to customers that they received the best price available for a stock. But traditional development technology isnt capable of building such a tool, Courbois noted.

Today, Nasdaq analysts spend hours using statistical software from SAS Institute Inc. on the desktop to re-create market conditions when necessary.

After gaining access to a beta version of AIR this summer, the stock exchange swiftly built a single application that can simultaneously access Web and desktop data, Courbois said.

Built using Adobes Flex development tool set, the rich Internet application, known as Nasdaq Market Replay, can provide a replay of a trade and associated prices on different markets in seconds, Courbois said.

The software runs on the desktop, relieving servers of a good deal of data-intensive processing, he noted. We saw the ability to process the data halfway on our servers and have it in as small a package as possible. Then, when someone requires a replay of the market, we send a small packet of data to desktop, he said.

The new Nasdaq application is slated to begin rolling out to in-house analysts and client brokerages next month, coinciding with the expected release of AIR 1.0, Courbois added.

Adobe describes AIR as a runtime environment for building rich Internet applications in Adobe Flash, HTML and AJAX. The package includes the Safari WebKit browser engine, along with APIs to support desktop features like native drag-and-drop and network awareness, Adobe said.

In addition to Adobe, Microsoft Corp. and Mozilla Corp. are maneuvering to gain a foothold in providing tools to help companies build next-generation rich Internet applications that run on the Web and desktop systems.

Microsoft, for example, has come out with an initial version of Silverlight, a plug-in that supports multiple browsers and operating systems and is designed to support desktop-based animation, interactive features and video in Web applications.

Mozilla Labs, the research arm of Mountain View, Calif.-based Mozilla, in October disclosed that its Prism software, which is now under development, will let Web users strip a Web application from the browser and use it as a traditional desktop program.

The new technologies are intended to enable Web developers to build desktop applications, significantly cutting the need for expensive programming talent.

You dont have to be a C++ programmer to build a desktop application anymore, said Mike Downey, Adobes group manager for evangelism in its platform unit.

That was a big selling point for Adam Pellegrini, strategic director of online at the American Cancer Society, who called on his staff to prepare to use AIR immediately after Adobe announced the public alpha release early last year.

[AIR] reduces one step from the design process, which accelerates your product life cycle, said Pellegrini. If you have a Flash programmer, they can hit the ground on Day One.

Since the Atlanta-based charity began working with a beta version of the technology last spring, developers have created an application that integrates Google Maps with some desktop Web services, allowing users to find the location of cancer treatment resources by entering a ZIP code.

The group is also using Flex to create an AIR-based portal that physicians will be able to use to access the Cancer Societys information over the Web and then use the data offline, he said.

Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., predicted that AIR will capture the interest of many organizations, especially those running aging client/ server applications built using fourth-generation languages or Microsofts Visual Basic tool set. AIR can be used to re-create such software as Web-desktop applications, he added.

In those sorts of situations, AIR is a very nice fit to take what is working today and [update] it, Hammond said. There are a lot of aging applications out there that have a richer user experience than what traditional Web applications have had up to this point.

Security Concerns

However, Hammond also predicted that browsers will continue to be the preferred application-delivery vehicle at some sites because of AIRs dependence on Adobes Flash Player. He also noted that other sites may not give users permission to use AIR in some cases because it could pose security problems. This stuff really hasnt been tried before, he said.

Developers might think they are doing validation on the client so they wont have to do validation on the server, but you have to do it in both places, Hammond said. You do it on the server because you assume any client is untrustworthy.

Paul Giurata, managing partner at Catalyst Resources, a San Mateo, Calif.-based IT services firm, said that most of his clients are moving away from the desktop altogether in favor of hosted systems. Catalyst builds user interfaces and AJAX applications.

The trend we have seen is almost all people developing new software applications are moving toward the software-as-a-service model, he said. Over 80% of [our clients] have said they dont want to have to distribute software.

But some companies using hosted development offerings could nevertheless use AIR. For example, Coghead Inc., a provider of hosted development tools in Redwood City, Calif., announced this month that it had rebuilt its technology in Adobes Flex, in part to prepare itself to embrace AIR.

Indeed, Paul Fu, vice president of corporate development and CIO at Taiwan-based international freight and logistics company Morrison Express Corp., said his users have been asking for the type of offline synchronization that AIR will provide. Morrison tapped Coghead to build its hosted CRM tool, Fu added.

[Offline synchronization] would be very big for us, he said. Having access to your data in an offline capability would be a huge boon to us. Sales representatives are not always near a computer, and [online access] doesnt help you when you are on an airplane.

Dana Gardner, an analyst at research firm Interarbor Solutions LLC in Gilford, N.H., said that the interest in AIR-type tools by SaaS providers is a good indication that people will take notice of the technology.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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