SAN FRANCISCO-Adobe Systems is advancing its platform for rich Internet applications with the release of Adobe AIR and Adobe Flex 3 software.
Developers and designers use Adobe’s RIA technologies to rapidly create and deploy rich, branded content and applications, according to Adobe officials. The release of Adobe Integrated Runtime signals the next wave of Adobe RIA innovation by bridging the real-time, dynamic capabilities of the Web with the computing power and data capabilities of the desktop, they added.
Adobe will showcase the technology at its Adobe Engage event here Feb. 25. Dubbed as an “annual ‘conversation’ on the future of applications and the Web,” Engage sounds a lot like Microsoft’s Mix, which Microsoft also characterizes as a “‘conversation’ about the future of the Web.” Microsoft Mix ’08 will be a week after Adobe Engage, March 5-8 in Las Vegas.
Leading enterprises across industries such as entertainment, finance, media and retail, as well as social networking companies, are using Adobe RIA technologies. Deutsche Bank, Nasdaq, the New York Times Co. and others use Adobe’s technology for RIAs.
“Adobe has been focused on improving the Web experience and delivering the underlying technologies to produce more interactive and expressive Web sites and applications, and the Adobe technology platform for RIAs hits right at a key need companies have today,” IDC analyst Al Hilwa said in a statement.
Adobe also is delivering new applications built with Adobe Flex and deployed on Adobe AIR, such as Adobe Media Player, which is now in beta release. Adobe Media Player is a fusion of TV and the Internet that allows users to watch their favorite shows anytime and anywhere. Adobe also offers Buzzword, an online word processor that has built-in collaboration capabilities.
Adobe AIR, Adobe Flex and the Adobe Flash Player software are the foundation of the Adobe technology platform for RIAs, the company said. Adobe RIA technologies include tools, frameworks, servers, services and run-times that work together seamlessly, enabling the creation of engaging experiences with the greatest reach. Adobe AIR enables developers to create RIAs on the desktop using the skills and Web technologies-such as HTML, AJAX, PDF, Adobe Flash and Adobe Flex-they already employ.
Applications deployed on Adobe AIR have the advantages of browser-based RIAs, such as speed of development, ease of use and access from virtually anywhere. Yet they also have the benefits of desktop applications, such as the ability to read/write local files, work with other applications on a user’s computer and maintain local data storage on the desktop, Adobe officials said.
Flex is a free, open-source framework for building RIAs. Adobe Flex Builder 3, an Eclipse-based development tool, accelerates Flex application development and includes new capabilities for deploying RIAs on Adobe AIR. Adobe Flex Builder 3 integrates with Adobe Creative Suite 3 software, making it easy for designers and developers to work together more efficiently. The Adobe Flash Player reaches more than 98 percent of Internet-enabled PCs and hundreds of millions of mobile and set-top devices, the company said.
Battle for RIA Supremacy
With the release of Adobe AIR and Flex 3, Adobe has fired its latest volley at Microsoft in the battle for RIA supremacy. The two companies have been duking it out over which has the best and most complete story for designers and developers, as well as for helping designers and developers work together via designer/developer workflow tools.
Microsoft entered the competition with its Expression Suite of designer tools; the cross-browser, cross-platform Silverlight run-time for creating RIAs; and the WFP (Windows Presentation Foundation). Now Adobe is upping the ante by releasing Adobe AIR and Flex 3.
“I feel like I’m watching a tennis match,” said Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond. “We’re seeing a great game of serve and volley. I think Microsoft put the pressure on Adobe last summer with Silverlight 1.0’s VC-1 codec support and the tight integration between Expression and Visual Studio. In the fall Adobe responded nicely with H.264/HE- AAC support and now by shipping AIR 1.0.”
Hammond said he is impressed with the AIR release. “They’ve done a lot of thinking about security in particular,” he said. “That’s critical when you start to break down the barriers between the browser and the desktop. I still think that Expression and Visual Studio’s shared project model is a bit friendlier when it comes to designer/developer collaboration, but I think AIR and Flex 3.0 get the edge over Silverlight 1.0 when it comes to depth of programming model and developer capability. In that area Adobe’s clearly served the ball back onto Microsoft’s side of the net-or .Net, if you prefer-and the pressure’s on for Microsoft to get Silverlight 2.0 out the door.”
Michael Cote, an analyst with RedMonk, said Adobe and Microsoft are coming at the RIA product line challenge from opposite directions.
“Their efforts and hiccups so far match this pretty well. Adobe’s base is largely built of -designers’ and people who are more creative than programmer-minded. Microsoft, of course, is coming from the developer angle and base,” Cote said. “There’s this idea of a designer/developer out there that we’ve been chasing forever: a person who can not only write clean code, but make the result look good and be usable. Both Microsoft and Adobe and all the other RIA -toolers’ are racing toward being the tool supplier for this designer/developer persona.”
Cote said Adobe comes out looking strong because it has had a head start on making things look good through design.
“I mean, the Adobe tool chain is the de facto standard for design in this regard,” he said. “Microsoft, on the other hand, has the ability to pull from the entire .Net and Redmond brain trust when it comes to programming. We’re hoping to see Silverlight 2.0 deliver on a large part of this theory that Microsoft can dominate the developer side of things. Silverlight 2.0 enables users to access all the resources of the .Net Framework. I’m continually surprised by the number of Java developers and shops I encounter who are already using and liking Flex. A 1.0 version of AIR could find a lot of easy uptake among that crowd. More importantly, I have a dim view of Java people taking a liking to Microsoft.”
Key to Silverlights Success
Silverlight is in serious catch-up mode, but it has a chance, Cote said.
“The key for Silverlight’s success is matching the Flash player’s ubiquity but also getting all of the .Net programmers out there to start developing for RIAs for the Web rather than for the desktop,” he said. “Deals like getting the Olympics to use Silverlight are the beginning of this. Adobe has had years and years to spread the Flash player, and Microsoft is starting at Day 1.”
Brad Becker, Microsoft’s group product manager for Silverlight, said Silverlight 2.0 is now a real development platform with features such as data binding and a control model, which offers a bunch of controls. The platform has also seen the benefit of performance enhancements to the tune of 25 to 40 percent increases in graphics, list rendering and cold start time performance, Becker said.
With the Microsoft RIA offerings, “you can go as high or as low as you want,” Becker said. “Microsoft offers ASP.Net for lightweight Web applications, Silverlight for rich Internet applications, and WPF and the .Net framework for developers who want to get down and touch the hardware for their applications,” he said. “With Silverlight and WPF, when you have to go to the metal you have .Net and DirectX.”
Meanwhile, he questioned the security model around Adobe AIR.
Becker, who was once a product designer for Flex and Flash while at Macromedia/Adobe, said that “with AIR, access to your local file store is an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s kind of an immature model as far as security goes.”
In addition, Microsoft is targeting its tools at other platforms, including phones, devices and kiosks. However, Adobe’s new creation already boasts key enterprise customers as users.
Adobe AIR and the Adobe AIR SDK are available immediately as free downloads at www.adobe.com/go/air. The Adobe Flex 3 product line is available now in English and Japanese, and offered for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. The open-source Flex 3 SDK is available free of charge, and a beta version of Adobe Flex Builder 3 for Linux is freely available at Adobe Labs (labs.adobe.com). Adobe Flex Builder 3 is available as a stand-alone product or Eclipse plug-in, with the Standard edition priced at $249 and the Professional edition at $699.