Adobe Air - PC Retail

Adobe Air

Should the channel get excited about Adobe's new cloud computing project? Ian Osborne takes a look at the technology and what early adopters are using it for?
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It's a neat idea. Adobe AIR is a cross-platform system runtime environment that allows you to create desktop online applications that also function without an internet connection. But why would you want to? What possible use is Adobe AIR, and specifically, what use is it to the channel? Let's take a look.

AIR stands for 'Adobe Integrated Runtime'. It's already available as a free download on the PC and Mac, and is coming to Linux later this year. The application is designed to bridge the gap between online and offline computing by making it easier to launch and utilise online services, even when you've no access to the web. It offers a versatile runtime environment, being capable of running existing Flash, HTML and JavaScript code to offer website functionality in a desktop application that can run online or offline.

According to Adobe 'platform evangelist' Andrew Shorten: "We've enabled web designers and developers to take their current browser-based applications and bring them to the desktop, creating a new class of web-enabled desktop application. This is incredibly exciting, as it redefines who can build desktop applications and provides new opportunities for organisations to engage with customers."

But what can Adobe AIR do for businesses? After all, there's no point releasing a groundbreaking technology no one wants. The implications for distribution are clear. Using AIR, a distributor could create an offline version of its online ordering system, which can be updated when the user is online, but still navigated and utilised when not connected to the internet. A travelling retailer could (for example) update the application's database in an airport, pick through the catalogue making orders while in flight, and on reaching his destination go online again to place the order at the touch of a button. There's no longer any need to demand your customer is online throughout the browsing and ordering process.

Indeed, eBay has already launched something along these lines. Downloadable from http://desktop.ebay.com, eBay Desktop is a free application which you can use to search, browse, bid and keep track of your auctions. Perhaps best of all, you can organise and set up your own auctions offline, with your work uploaded to the web next time you connect.

Naturally, this is just the beginning. As developers get used to using Adobe AIR, the product will be put to ever-more inventive and imaginative uses. What the future will bring is anybody's guess, but the present is looking very interesting indeed. Maybe it's a good idea to get in there first and check out the potential of Adobe AIR before your competitors beat you to it.

AIR In Action

The New York Times

Originally a web-based offering, The New York Times' desktop-to-mobile tool ShifD is now AIR-powered. You no longer need to be online to use it – just run the ShifD desktop app and you can transfer (though not update) your news packages to your mobile device, even if you can't access the net at the time.

The New York Times Company technologist Nick Bilton says, "Adobe AIR allowed us to integrate and transport elements we developed for ShifD.com to the desktop. We were easily able to take the design and user interaction elements from our web and mobile site and apply them to the ShifD application on Adobe AIR."

AOL

AOL is to use AIR for its web-based storage service Xdrive (www.xdrive.com). An online virtual hard drive for storing and sharing data and software, Xdrive is currently web-based. AOL plans to revamp the service using Adobe AIR, giving consumers the ability to access it as a rich Internet application (RIA) on the desktop offline.

According to Robert Blatt, AOL's vice president and general manager of personal media: "We are excited about the market's enthusiasm for the new rich Internet applications built on Adobe AIR. People view innovative applications like AOL's Xdrive as easy-to-use solutions that function with equal convenience."

Nickelodeon

Kids' TV channel Nickelodeon's first AIR application is a jigsaw puzzle game which works in conjunction with its online site, www.nick.com. Users can explore the website and search for jigsaw pieces, each representing a snippet of video, with a new one uploaded each week. When found, the pieces can be dragged into the AIR application, so the kids can assemble the puzzle and watch the video segments offline.

Says Jason Root, senior vice president at Nick.com: "With Adobe AIR, we can deliver highly interactive, easy-to-use applications that Nickelodeon fans can enjoy right away. It lets us take our services and brand from the web to the desktop, keeping viewers engaged whether they are online or offline."

NASDAQ

Using Adobe's Flex and AIR, NASDAQ has created an application which allows financial professionals to 'replay market activity in detail at any point in time'.

"When investors receive trade confirmations, they often don't know what happened between the time they placed their order and the moment their trade was executed," says Randall Hopkins, Vice President at NASDAQ. "They want to know why the final price is different than the 'real-time' price they saw when they placed the order. It's really about understanding why they got a price and whether it was fair."

American Cancer Society

Using Adobe AIR, the American Cancer Society is building prototype applications to help patients access support services. By incorporating info from Google Maps, the Society's application will be able to integrate and display information about local events, services, help groups and more.

According to Adam Pellegrini, strategic director of online, "Adobe AIR has the potential to give us the flexibility to offer rich Internet applications both online and offline. We are working on the capability to 'cache' data on the desktop so that users have access to commonly searched information without an internet connection. This could be extremely useful in clinical environments or rural areas".

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