Today I was asked not once but twice about whether or not installing an AIR application requires admin rights. If that’s not a sign that the topic needs some explanation, I don’t know what is.
Surprisingly, it’s not a yes or no question. The problem is that you have to know what you mean by admin rights, which may not be as easy to know as you’d think it should be.
A more satisfactory answer can be had by coming at the problem the other way around: Which rights are required to install an AIR application?
In general, there are two requirements: You must have rights to write to the install location on disk, and you must have rights to update any other system state that’s modified as part of the install—i.e., the registry on Windows.
The first item, install location, depends in part on the selected location. AIR defaults to a machine-wide location, which may or may not have restricted permissions. If you can’t install there, you can certainly try installing elsewhere, such as in your own user folder. You’re more likely to have rights to do that, although it’s still not guaranteed.
On Windows, however, the registry entries created as part of the application install are always written to the machine-wide portion of the registry. If you don’t have write access to c:\Program Files you probably don’t have the necessary write access to the registry, either, and so you’ll find that choose an alternate install location won’t be sufficient to make things work. And no, there’s no way to avoid writing these keys.
Mac OS is much friendlier in this regard: not only does it define ~/Applications as the per-user install location, but it requires nothing but write access to install an application.
So, does installing an AIR application require admin rights? Not always—but sometimes it does.