Are you Bored With Adobe AIR?

Sarah Perez over at ReadWriteWeb has a post up titled Are you Over AIR Applications in which she talks about her change in perspective on the value of AIR and how much benefit desktop applications provide over browser applications. It’s a pretty good post, and one that I hope drives some traffic and conversation, especially as we’re hearing more about things like Chrome, Firefox 3.5, and the Chrome OS.

For much of the past couple of years web applications were trying to mimic basic aspects like functionality and look and feel of desktop applications. That drove the movement towards RIAs and the shift made it painfully obvious that the browser in its current form wasn’t up to snuff. So more and more energy went into improving the browser so that web applications could compete against their entrenched desktop counterparts. We’re finally seeing releases from all that work. Firefox 3.5 looks to incorporate HTML5’s support for offline mode. Chrome was written from scratch because Google felt, basically, that the current browsers weren’t powerful enough to run complex HTML/Javascript based web applications. So what benefits does AIR have in this world? I agree that desktop applications as we know them are falling by the wayside, but AIR still has a few areas I think make it shine.

Web Technologies
One of the best parts of AIR is that it uses web technologies like HTML/Javascript and Flash. Web developers are a creative and innovative bunch. I’d argue that one of the main reasons Web 2.0 exploded the way it did was because web developers took to their destiny as the drivers of technology. Web development is relatively easy to learn but complex enough to keep the challenges coming. It’s also more productive than traditional languages because it’s both faster and it’s cross-platform. The strength of web development is a strength of AIR. Look at the first wave of a game-changing technology like Twitter. Almost all AIR applications. That’s because web technologies are easy and AIR made it very simple to quickly create a new kind of experience for a new kind of service. Tweetdeck and Twhirl got a first mover advantage and reaped the rewards. The development speed that the web allows for shouldn’t be discounted.

Notifications and Files
I think notifications, or the “toast” windows that you can pop up in AIR are more and more important as the web gets more real time. People want the firehose and they want it as soon as they can get it. Another area that I think AIR hasn’t been used enough for are filetypes. It’s incredibly powerful to be able to not only create items on the file system but to associate those with your applications. So far there hasn’t been need to create things like a .twitter file extension, but the next generation of web services may see big benefits from users being able to create those extensions. And of course with the file system you get some inherent benefits like the ability to tie into Spotlight or other desktop searches.

Ultimately I think both the browser and a more web-centric approach to desktop applications will succeed. The cross platform benefits, the improved developer productivity, and the close integration with web services are going to be instrumental in driving adoption for web applications both inside and outside of the browser. I hope AIR continues to do well and help drive innovation for web applications on the desktop. Seeing technologies like Google Gears and Titanium’s Appcelerator prove to me that the space is still growing and that we’ve got a lot of demand for a blend of web and desktop. And we’ve got a lot of enhancements coming up in the next version of AIR, so we’re not standing still. Stay tuned.