of the holy grails of software development has been to write
applications that run on just about any operating system. This is
called write once, run anywhere. The
Java programming language tried, and almost succeeded. Almost.
But the true grail is yet to be found. There's nothing worse than
being a Windows user who sees a really nifty app for the Mac and
finds out that there's no Windows version of it, and that there are
no plans for one either.
Web comes close, and a
previous TechTip looked at a way of bringing Web apps to your
desktop computer. But, let's face it: the Web's not quite the
desktop. That's where
Adobe AIR comes in.
The creation of the folks at Adobe Systems, AIR is short for Adobe
Integrated Runtime. A runtime is software that sits between
your computer's operating system and an application, and allows the
application to run by interpreting the various functions and
facilities of the operating system. The concept of the
runtime is a key component to making software run on different
operating systems without having to create and build (code
and compile is techie speak) versions for each operating
that are written for AIR are termed
Rich Internet Applications. A Rich Internet Application blurs
the line between the Web and the desktop. While (as you'll see in a
moment) AIR applications aren't as powerful or flexible as most
desktop software, they are beefier than many Web apps.
Programs that run using Adobe Air aren't written in the usual
programming languages chnologies and languages associated with Web
development. Technologies and languages like
What's in it for me?
A lot, no matter who you are.
If you're a software or Web developer, you can quickly write AIR
applications using the tools and technologies with which you're
already familiar. You'll notice that AIR leverages a lot of Adobe's
If you're a user, AIR gives you access to literally hundreds of
small, potentially useful applications that can make your computing
easier. More on these in a moment.
Using Adobe AIR
The first step, obviously, is to
download the installer for Adobe AIR runtime.
free, and is available for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. Once the
installer is on your computer, double click it to start the
installation process. If you're using Linux, you may need to go to
the command line, change to the directory where you downloaded the
installer, and type sudo ./AdobeAirInstaller.bin.
You need to use the sudo command because the
installer needs to be run as the root user.
The installation process is quick. Once the Adobe AIR software is
installed, you can start using applications.
The first step, obviously, is to download a few. Adobe
offers a number of interesting applications, and you can
download more elsewhere on the Web
on this later).
AIR applications have the extension .air, which is associated with
the AIR software. Just double-click on the .air file, and the
installer will start automatically.
If you're a Linux user, that might not always work. Depending on
your distribution, links to the AIR software might be installed
under your program menu. In
Ubuntu, for example, you'd choose Applications >
Accessories > Adobe AIR Application Installer to install an
though, you can install an AIR application right off the Web. When
you click a download link, you might be given the option to save or
run the application.
Note that the installer gives you the option to add a shortcut icon
to your desktop. It's a good idea to use that option. AIR sometimes
doesn't create a Start menu item for the application.
Getting your hands on applications
There are a lot of available applications for AIR, with more being
created every week. Depending on your needs, you'll probably find
something that's useful to you. Most, if not all, of them are free.
As mentioned earlier, Adobe offers quite a few at its Web site. But
they're not the only place you can turn to for AIR applications.
Here are a few other places you can find them.
airapps. It's a wiki that contains a list of almost 130 (at the
time this TechTip was written) AIR applications. The applications
range from photo and social media tools, to photo applications and
project trackers. Another site like this is
RefreshingApps. The site seems to be a bit more selective, and
many of the AIR applications it features seem useful. You might also
want to check out
this list of over 60 useful AIR apps. It contains a mix of
social networking tools, photo viewers, media players, and
Of course, you can always turn to your favorite
search engine and try to root out what you need.
Some recommended AIR apps
of the most popular AIR applications around is
microblogging client that works with a number of popular
microblogging services. Twhirl is compact and, once you get used to
the interface, very easy to use.
Doomi is a useful little To Do list. You type a To Do item, and
set a reminder for however
know more than a few
eBay users who love the
eBay Desktop. It sits in the background, and watches any items
you're bidding on. Instead of waiting for email notifications or
having to open or refresh our browser every time you want to buy or
find something on the auction site, eBay desktop sits in the
background and does all the work for you. It even has a powerful
Adobe AIR a fad or something more? It's hard to say at the moment.
It's definitely got potential, although I don't think that it will
replace the desktop or Web-based applications. That said, AIR offers
a wide range of useful utilities and some great ways in which to
interact with popular Web services. And maybe that will be its
niche: being a link between the Web and the desktop.
Have you used Adobe AIR? If so, what are your thoughts and what are
your favorite applications? Feel free to leave a comment on this