Catching AIR

When Apple announced there was something in the Air, it wasn’t the only one. Adobe recently launched its own lightweight cross-platform runtime, also named AIR. Deceptive pun indeed, it expands to Adobe Integrated Runtime. What does it do?

In essence, AIR itself can be thought of as an emulator. It emulates in this case, browser technology. Once the basic runtime is installed, AIR applications can be downloaded [the proverbial ROMs] and you can run them on any platform with AIR installed, be it Mac, Windows and Linux [coming soon].
What’s special about AIR is that it emulates a browser [WebKit rendering, the same technology as Safari and Opera], and it follows that AIR applications are Rich Internet Applications, similar to Firefox extensions, only now masquerading as fullblown applications on your desktop.
The applications can be written in any web language, Flash or even Adobe Flex.

People usually dismiss the potential of Rich Internet Applications, I find, but with the advent of the Software as a Service paradigm, rich Internet applications are no-install, quick-deploy shock troops in the Internet realm now. Visit any page with even a teeny bit of Javascript and that’s lite programming at work. The benefits are undeniable; most of the interactivity you now see on webpages is asynchrous and you customise the page and services you want with minimal fuss server-side. The processor power and bandwidth they save empowers them to offer the same services to more people, with lesser downtime.

While the AIR concept sounds similar to Google Gears, the fundamental difference is the need for a browser for the latter. Google Gears only caches the database data with SQLite and simulates a server-side environment so your online service [like Google Reader] works offline. In terms of functionality, I’d say AIR is similar to Microsoft’s Silverlight and the not yet released Mozilla Prism.

I haven’t tried too many AIR applications; there aren’t very many available right now. Just under 50 AIRplications available in the Marketplace [a misnomer; they’re all free!] and not every one of them is going to appeal to everyone. What I can recommend to you, in this Youtube age, is RichFLV.
This app has liberated me, changed how I work with .flv files that I routinely download from the Internet.
It offers rich editing [true cut and paste] and rearragements of Cuepoints, exporting of the audio track to mp3 form, taking screenshots, converting the flv to SWF format; all this and more without breaking a sweat. If nothing else, it’s a responsive offline FLV player. Highly recommended!

Other apps worthy of download would be CleVR Stitcher [allows quick stitching of photos to make a panorama], MeeBone [Meebo for the desktop; MSN connectivity without the bloatware!] and Fotobooth [named after Apple’s Photobooth with pretty much the same functionality].

If you couldn’t tell by now, most of these applications occupy niche areas, in true scratch-an-itch fashion. And by leveraging their strongest suit, these AIRplications finally bring you the power of mashups to the desktop without the bulk of traditional equivalents. Hats off, Adobe.


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