What’s your story around AIR?


Last week I was at the Web Directions South 07 Conference. It was a blast and learnt a lot from our customers and non-customers in the field. It was the closing party and I was asked a simple question around "AIR" – in that "What’s Microsoft’s response to AIR?"

My response is usual, WPF. I then get thrown a rebuttal – "but that doesn’t work on X-Platform does it" to which I respond "No, but why do you need your solution X-Platform".

I do not kid, but I usually get 7/10 times "Oh.. no reason" style responses. Amazing how the X-Platform discussion has a sense of elegance about it, but realistically most generally use it as "Potential vs Reality" discussion point.

The response I got from this one guy was different, he wanted to reach out to his fellow Apple audience with his application, to which I responded "ok, you have your answer – all the best". As I was giving him the polite "is that all, ok, onto the next person waiting" I got thrown a remark "typical Microsoft, always forcing people to be locked in, that’s why Adobe’s going to beat you guys".

Now… it’s at this point, where I feel like breaking about 46 Microsoft HR Violations but in a calm voice, I responded – "oh? disagree but respect your opinion, all the best again.."

He rambled on about Open Source of Flex 3 and so on, but one thing hit home was how "interoperable" AIR was to use, in that it gave his fellow web developer market the ability to create desktop rich applications.

hmm…

Yes and No. Yes AIR will let you write things to your hard-drive, it will give you the ability to put a shortcut icon on ones desktop and lastly it will give you the ability to create "icon tray" popup’s or design your own window, but that’s it (aside from the Adobe Flex extensions or AJAX basics).

image If you were to load up the Silverlight Halo3 site via AIR, you’d get a requirements message regarding "Where is my Silverlight runtime". If you want to interact with anything but Flash 9* or Adobe Acrobat (via JavaScript Bridge) you’ll be busily looking for some other alternative approach than direct access via the runtime. Point is, Adobe AIR does have a lot of positives about it, but make no mistake, you are locked in just as if you were in WPF land. As like us, we have a set of basic requirements that need to be put in play, to ensure security first and foremost is kept intact.

image*I also loaded the http://halo3.com/believe site in "Scout" and got the "wrong flash player version installed" message (even though via Internet Explorer I can load it fine?)….

AIR is a hard discussion to have, as most of the time it’s about what it potentially can do for you, yet little of the time is spent on "what it actually does for you or your customers today". I say this as, at heart I’m also a marketer and I always think of the X-Platform discussion around a thing called "Target Audience".

When Coke gets up in the morning and decides to pitch it’s brand at it’s target audience. They are very specific on whom they are targeting, they reconnect with their audience all the time and that’s why you’ll usually see Coke at rock concerts instead of bowls tournaments. Sure they could go after the seniors, as that potentially could grow their market further right? Yet they don’t.

Summary is this, acknowledge that Adobe AIR has wonderful ideas behind it and is exciting, but also respect the fact that it’s got a prescribed format and the difference between WPF and AIR is in reality the X-Platform argument.

The other missing point of the discussion is that Silverlight is here to stay, it will be here tomorrow and it’s gaining momentum. Now if one is to create YAB (Yet Another Browser) style AIR applications, you’re now ignoring your Silverlight market share and if you’re ok with living in a Flash / Acrobat Reader access only solution – cool, all the best.

It may change post MAX 2007, Adobe are likely to announce some new goodies around AIR but for now, I’m not sold on it what it can do as being an absolute elegant story – more work is ahead of it and ignoring runtimes such as Silverlight is going to be costly to them.

What if tomorrow Zinc were to release compatibility to Silverlight? hmmm…

Comments (10)

  1. Scott, you’re actually off here. AIR doesn’t support any browser runtime except PDF. This is a known issue Adobe is aware of and they are constantly reminded of. So, for a YAB, Adobe is not locking you down at all. The PDF plugin is a caked-into-the-runtime kind of thing so it isn’t loading a PDF via the browser and opening Acrobat.

    Understanding, at this point, you are nixing your Silverlight audience by not allowing SL content BUT…this is ONLY valid if you’re building a browser; in which case you’d need full plugin support so AIR could support the Flash Player, Silverlight, Java, etc, etc, etc. That isn’t the point of AIR though. AIR is here to take our existing knowledge base (html/js, Flash, Flex) and build AIR apps. Why even try to load a Silverlight (or Java) app into an AIR app unless it is a browser? Again…AIR is not a browser building runtime…semi-possible but not the point.

    Some people don’t need cross-platform…true. WPF is WAYYYY more powerful than AIR (on Windows, of course) on any given day (at this point) and has a ton of use cases. The thing is…you can’t write everything in WPF and "ignore your audience" if you at all want to reach any non-Windows system. Take the Yahoo! AIR Mail (AIR) vs MySpace IM client (windows-only). Yahoo! instantly satisfied their entire user base…MySpace…only windows. Mind you…that’s a huge customer base but still…I’d be ticked if I loved MySpace and were on a Mac.

    Again, not everyone needs it…true…but building tools that reach across generations or genres and only reaching Windows would suck for all of my Mac family and friends. There are a ton of use cases that can go back and forth but it completely depends on your needs. Neither AIR or WPF can be knocked for their respective abilities and I’ll continue building tools/apps in both.

    BTW, you should look for info on the MAX keynote so you can see some of the sweet things people are doing in AIR (and how fast) and get some updated info.

    Disclaimer:

    This isn’t a flame war at all. The post just doesn’t bleed properly for AIR and that is probably due to you looking at Beta 1 (Beta2 is on http://labs.adobe.com today).

  2. scbarnes says:

    John,

    In order to interact with PDF you need Adobe Reader 8.1 at base? (ie it only supports displaying PDF) which points to the notion that Acrobat Reader is being pulled into the conversation. Happy to correct this statement but it’s what I’ve been told and read from Adobe Staffers.

    AIR is essentially Flash Player + Extras as we all know. Yet if you are looking to embed Flash inside the WebKit, then so far all roads point to "seperate plugin required". I hope they be smart and utilise the bits within AIR itself to carry out that task but i’m getting back chatter "off the record" stating differently.

    The point I’m making, is in reality AIR is probably only a slight step up from "Widgets" (aka SideBar Gadgets, Yahoo! Widgets etc) in terms of capability and functionality. If that’s your cup of tea, then so be it but respect it’s capabilities on potential vs reality  – today!.

    As for "it’s not a browser runtime", sorry that’s the pitch being played out and I’ve had many discussions with Adobe staffers over this and some have reluctantly agreed "yeah, we need to move away from the Yahoo Maps style mashups and do more with it"…

    Change the showcases, change the conversation but don’t harpoon the notion of YAB when it’s then being put on show for the world to see as..well..YAB…

    If AIR is to succeed (no matter where it sits between the Desktop and Webclient matrix) it needs to open it’s borders more to other pieces of integration (embed Word Documents for example). Ignoring runtimes like Silverlight could also be painful, as you’re ignoring the future of WMV ..something you shouldn’t.

    So.. before folks point fingers at Microsoft for being a "locked" in solution… can i get an agreement that we aren’t alone?

  3. Hi Scott,

    Thank you for posting on this topic. I wanted to respond to a couple of points where there seemed to be a bit of confusion.

    * First off, great catch! Per the error message you received about Flash content not loading in HTML, this is not currently supported in AIR Beta 2, but it will be included in AIR 1.0. I would encourage those interested in developing with AIR to check out our Developer FAQ which details additional information such as new features in the beta and what’s not supported:  http://labs.adobe.com/wiki/index.php/AIR:Developer_FAQ

    * So there’s no confusion, Adobe AIR is about letting developers use their existing web development skills in HTML, AJAX, Flash and Flex to build and deploy rich Internet applications to the desktop. You mentioned that Adobe is pitching AIR as a "browser runtime"  which seems to imply that most people are building browser-like applications with it. If that’s what you’re implying, that’s not the case. Developers are in fact building desktop applications on AIR. For additional information on AIR, please see: http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/air/.  

    * Though some developers are getting their feet with by building what one might consider "widget-like" applications, many are already pushing the limit and building out full on applications. AIR supports many  features common in desktop applications  such as clipboard functionality, native menus, system notifications, running in the background, drag and drop and others.  

    Cheers,

    – Rob

    Rob Christensen

    Product Manager, Adobe AIR

    http://www.adobe.com/go/air/

  4. scbarnes says:

    Rob,

    You must be new? 🙂 (10pts for keeping the product messaging inline btw).

    Ok onto the points:

    * Desktop applications are a bit of a stretch in imagination at present. Essentially what’s happening at the moment in majority of the applications is that AIR is in reality taking Web centric applications *stuff typically housed within a browser* giving them a desktop icon, and blessing it as being "Desktop"..

    Furthermore a lot of this applications (eg: eBay version) are essentially creating a "browser-like" scenario within AIR. YAB applies in this situation and until AIR opens up more powers within (interop for example) this is something AIR will always come up against.

    (Take it as Microsoft FUD or take it at as open criticism, i think AIR needs more is all).

    * AIR does support "some" not "many" of the desktop features, don’t over sell it 🙂 yet this wasn’t questioned? so not sure your point here overall. The fact still remains, the type of audience that are building with AIR are essentially building YAB style concepts. Furthermore, once you get passed the basics of a "desktop" application (as you put it, clipboard, native menus, chrome changing events etc) you’re going to get down to real business and that is "How do i bring in my word documents for inline editing to empower me to continue my workflow…" something which a lot of AIR competitors do quite well and with minimal effort at times.

    I’d consider ZINC a "desktop solution" that brings web developers to almost equal footing of a typical web form, but at this point AIR is simply Flash with some tiny amount of Extras (which is great, don’t get me wrong, and if you’re happy with just Flash / Browser driven experience go for it).

    I must confess, I would of preferred a more worthwhile discussion around "Interoperability" with you instead of the marketing messaging around AIR.

  5. Hi Scott,

    Thank you for the response. Since some of your points are subjective so we’ll have to agree to disagree. Either way, I appreciate the response — I really do. 🙂

    One thing that we can agree upon is that AIR will benefit from additional functionality. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that Adobe AIR is in its first version and we’re continuing to work with the community to understand their feature requests. If you or others have things you’d like to see, feel free to let us know by dropping us a note at: http://www.adobe.com/go/wish/.

    Cheers,

    – Rob

    Product Manager, Adobe AIR

    http://www.adobe.com/go/air/

  6. scbarnes says:

    Rob,

    Thanks for dropping buy to read at the very least. I look forward to the future of AIR (really do) and hopefully some synergy can be formed in the RIA space around both our brands – hopefully.

    Scott.

  7. scbarnes says:

    Rob,

    I’m going to retract my entire blog post as i’ve just seen AIR in a totally new light.

    I just bought an iMac and had a few .NET apps I’ve made myself that i wanted to bring across. I tried the virtualisation (Parallels etc) and it doesn’t work as well as I hoped.

    I then spent last night coding it in Flex 3 / AIR 2 and I’m impressed on two points:

    1) The OSX Market will love AIR, that I have no doubt as one is able to create some interesting solutions with AIR that would typically be reserved for native Apple languages (I still think it needs more interoprability and depth, but that will come).

    2) Building the applications in question do seem quite compelling as a number of the small "Widget" applications I use now on the iMac are something I’ve relied on through out the day. I’ve even got a few ideas of my own around building some so ..not sure if the brand politics will let this in, but expect some from me soon heh.

    I stand corrected, I think the Windows market won’t embrace AIR but i have no doubt the Apple market(s) will.

    Scott Barnes

  8. Scott, glad a bulb went off. 🙂 I think the Windows market will embrace it. Apps like eBay are GREAT. They look great, work great, and feels like a desktop app when I use it. I do agree though…having the same app work with no prob on Windows and Mac is definitely the big seller!

    I am definitely corrected on the Flash Player being available in WebKit. I spoke with the AIR team at MAX (the gentlemen responsible for html integration) and they confirmed. The problem with supporting other plugins is adding them to the runtime then updating them. They are looking into a solution but "AIR is not for building a browser, at this time." So, for now…yes…you can say Adobe has locked you in. 😉

  9. scbarnes says:

    John:

    Disagree, eBay’s AIR Application is horrible. The amount of build up to that application and the end result, I just felt disappointed. I was expecting to see more and was actually suprised by it’s lack luster.

    I see the Mac market as the greenfields for AIR, it’s what I’d do in that i’d approach it from that angle, get my success and then look to migrate over to the PC market with my success in the Mac. The reason I say this as you’ll have an established following, one that has a degree of emotional attachment (most Mac owners are passionate about their ecosystem).

    PC market is a different story, as when you move solutions into the desktop, no matter what the scale you have to provide some kind of interop story. You’re seeing this now on some of the AIR mailing lists "How can I integrate with xxxx"..