(Ed. note: when this was written, AIR was referred to as “Apollo”)
At the Web 2.0 Expo this week, we had the opportunity to demo and discuss Buzzword in the Adobe booth. Our conversations often began with the question, “Can you show us Apollo?” The flip answer, “No we can’t, it’s invisible.”
This was a bit of an exaggeration: we had Buzzword displayed on each of two screens, side-by-side: one instance in a browser, the other in Apollo. The Buzzword application looked virtually identical, the only visible difference was the title bar of each window – one of which read “Apollo Buzzword” as well as some other browser artifacts. (Note that we were demoing on a Mac, which requires a title bar; on Windows we can remove any trace of Apollo).
“So,” one visitor asked, “is Apollo another kind browser?” The short answer: well, sort of.
Less is More
In some ways, AIR represents more than a browser to us, and in other important (and positive) ways, it represents *less* than a browser. The theme here is again invisibility: on the AIR screen, something is missing: “cruft”.
On the browser screen, just below the title bar, there are generally two or three strips of toolbars. While this real estate represents important functionality for general browser use, for a web app like ours that aims for elegance, simplicity and attention to the task at hand, it is “cruft,” the descriptive term used by our CEO Rick Treitman. And all that cruft is a distraction and intrudes on the writing experience.
And to us, less cruft is more usability – as you’ll notice in the images below.
(click here for a larger view)
But AIR also gives us more. Delivered in a browser, even the best web 2.0 applications are, well, web apps. They visit the desktop, like foreigners, with the browser as an escort and an interpreter. These web apps are constrained by what the browser allows them to see and do.
To be sure, what distinguishes web 2.0 apps like Buzzword from their forebears is the creative use of increasingly rich functionality squeezed out of browsers. For Buzzword, the Flash platform allows us to deliver functionality in a browser that would have been unthinkable only a couple years ago.
But visiting the desktop via browser is like having a visa with some travel restrictions. Deploying Buzzword in AIR gives us full citizenship on the desktop. This includes things like full file system access, including dragging and dropping files between Buzzword and your local file system. It also will include system tray notification, and more robust clipboard and keyboard control – all of which make the word-processing experience even more personal and engaging.
Of course, browsers can be configured to emulate some of this desktop experience but these things come naturally with AIR, allowing us to behave like a native citizen on the desktop.
Virtual Document Ubiquity
As AIR offers dual citizenship, it blurs the line between the desktop and the web. Perhaps AIR’s biggest value is that it will enable access to your documents and your writing environment whether or not you’re connected to the Internet.
This means that you get virtual document ubiquity: your documents are available on-line from any computer, and they can also be available to you when you’re off-line. And the transition will be seamless – you won’t have to spend time managing your files and their various locations.
This is obviously important: although you can count on connectivity most of the time, it’s never there all of time, and word processing needs to be reliably available. In our demo travels, we find ourselves without access to internet more than we’d anticipated. It’s often the case that even though we’re in a building with wireless, we don’t often have the login information to join the network. Of course, we also want people to be able to use Buzzword on planes, trains and automobiles.
AIR as Users’ Primary Environment
Our expectation is that users will use Buzzword in AIR on their primary, or even secondary machines. But you’ll have the convenience of being able to walk up to any other web-connected machine, connect to your account and go right to work via Firefox, Safari, or IE without missing a beat.
Though none of the individual AIR benefits mentioned above seem earth-shattering, together they create a compelling case. We think that Buzzword is getting all the good press recently because we sweat the details. And sweating a bunch of small details, including all the benefits offered by AIR, adds up to a compelling and very cool experience.
In short: we believe that with Buzzword we’re uniting the richness of desktop functionality with the reach of the web. AIR is a perfect complementary platform to help us bridge that divide.