Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Too, Can be an AIR Developer!

Mozilla recently announced Prism, a tool for bringing web applications to the desktop. One of their first comments is comparing it to Adobe AIR and Silverlight, in an almost ignorant fashion:

"Unlike Adobe AIR and Microsoft Silverlight, we’re not building a proprietary platform to replace the web. We think the web is a powerful and open platform for this sort of innovation, so our goal is to identify and facilitate the development of enhancements that bring the advantages of desktop apps to the web platform."

It's a cool idea, clearly they see the need and are jumping on the bandwagon. But I think they, like many others, really misunderstand AIR. I'm surprised how many times I've seen Adobe AIR called a "proprietary" or closed technology platform lately, and how tightly its reputation is coupled to Flex and Flash. So many standardista/open source fanboys & girls are chasing alternatives because they think that AIR requires an investment in Flex and that you have to maintain a separate code base between AIR applications and "regular" web applications. Many confused developers think they need to learn something new to build apps for AIR. That is simply not the case! So I would like to point out a few facts:

  • AIR development does not require a specialized IDE or cost a thing to get started
    (download the free SDK)
  • AIR development can be done with any combination of static HTML, JavaScript, AJAX, dynamic HTML (IE server back end such as ColdFusion, ASP, PHP, Ruby...) AND Flash and Flex
    (About AIR)
  • Creating an AIR application out of an existing applications (or a new one) only requires configuration of a simple XML file. There are plugins for Dreamweaver and FlexBuilder to make it even easier.
    (getting started)
  • The FlexBuilder IDE which has a super simple AIR app wizard is available as a free public beta, and is also free for educational use
    (the education announcement)
  • The Flex SDK is STILL FREE if you want to develop for AIR in Flex and for some reason can't use FlexBuilder
    (download the free SDK)
  • Over and over, Adobe makes the point that they have designed AIR in such a way that developers can use their existing skills to develop desktop applications.
    (right on the AIR home page)
  • Prism does have the unique and interesting feature to give the user the choice to move an app to their desktop (IE Gmail), but does not yet include the first-class desktop presence or local data storage that AIR does. AIR, although in Beta, is really much farther along that Prism.

There you have it. There are no excuses to not learn AIR and start using it today. Adobe is not some evil mega-software company, they are creating kick-a** tools for developers that will become (or already are) incredibly valuable in our daily jobs.

Other web-to-desktop platforms sweating AIR's style:


Sellotaped to Insanity said...

Nice post - AIRs something I need to check out - might just try it this w/end


willCode4Beer said...

Another difference between AIR and Prism.
Prism runs on Linux, AIR doesn't (yet?)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, seriously..? Not everyone runs Windows you know.. if its not usable on linux, then its not really "open"

Anonymous said...

never be confused by the words "free public beta" That has nothing to do with either free openness or free beer. It really means the company wants to get the software into the hands of some "free" software testers. They benefit as much or more than you do for having free public betas. Not knocking anyone who does it, just remember not to confuse it with truly free.

Anonymous said...

Just because something doesn't run on Linux doesn't negate it being open source. Running on Linux is not a requirement of any open license that I know of (please correct me if I'm wrong). Besides, Adobe does state that they are working on AIR for Linux

I think anytime a company introduces a runtime or engine that allows a program to run on multiple platforms should be applauded! Java is very good, but not everyone is going to like Java. There are other solutions, but sadly most haven't caught the mainstream (see REALbasic, and Runtime Revolution) - so more options are always better! :)

Rae said...

Thanks everyone for your input.

@willcode4beer - you make a good point about Linux! However the consumer market for Linux is much smaller than that for Windows and Mac. How many businesses run Linux as their primary desktop platform? I'm sure it's higher overseas than in the US. How about Ubuntu? Whether or not AIR is ideal for you depends on your needs, and if you need Linux, then use Prism! At least until Adobe releases AIR for Linux.

@anonymous 1 - I use the term open in meaning that you don't have to buy something to build with it, rather than "open" meaning cross platform.

@anonymous 2 - I know that a free beta means nothing, I just shelled out $300 to upgrade to FB3 Pro! But the SDK is 100% free. So is the use of FlexBuilder (at least v2, I'll have to check on 3) for educational use. I am not saying FlexBuilder is free, nor should it be. All of this is moot though if you consider that you don't even have to use Flex to use AIR!