Apollo is not a browser, stop the comparisons

Apollo is not a browser, stop the comparisons

Summary: Read/Write Web ran a story about Apollo competing with the browsers. I just don't think that's true. The kind of applications that Apollo is enabling don't belong in a browser, and websites don't belong in Apollo. This is a case of using the best tool for the job,


Alex Iskold has a post that in many was summarizes the mind share issues Adobe has to over come. The post compares Apollo to a browser and even goes so far as to say:

It appears that, intentionally or not, Adobe is on a collision course with IE, Firefox and the rest of the Web Browsers. Firefox has already said it is looking to add support for offline applications into its next version. If this happens, it will be bad news for Apollo - because Firefox users are not going to switch. IE plans in the same space are not clear, but we can be certain that if offline mode for web applications takes off, then there will be support in IE.

Apollo in no way competes with the browser, and I hope that's something we can all agree on when Apollo releases it's 1.0 product. Alex makes a lot of good points about the development environment and empowering web developers to bring their applications to the desktop. There continues to be this love of the browser in a big cross section of the tech population and I can't understand why. It's a good development model, and it's universal, but convenience aside, are "browser apps" better than desktop applications? No way!

And it's not just offline capabilities. It's about freeing yourself from the browser chrome, giving your users the ability to access your application in a new, more powerful environment, and really branding the experience in a way that the browser just can't handle. The desktop is a fertile ground for applications, and it's been the primary driver of software for a very long time. The browser will never be able to replace that. What makes Apollo compelling is that we can bring some of the web knowledge we've acquired over the years as developers onto that rich desktop platform.

I'm a big fan of Alex's writing, so I don't want to pick on him, but he has a couple of errors that hit at Apollo and I think need to be mentioned. One is when he asks "will ordinary users download a runtime?" Well Alex, yeah, they will, and Adobe is the company to get them to do it. This is the thing that surprises me about people questioning Apollo. Is there a single company better than Adobe at getting runtimes deployed? Flash? Acrobat Reader? Adobe has this thing down to a science, and they've got a good strategy in place.

Alex also questions some of the technical, developer-specific parts of Apollo:

Language-wise, Java and .Net languages are richer and easier to program in than JavaScript and Flash. But beyond languages, there is a much bigger problem - [programming] libraries. Any language is only as good as its libraries. JavaScript does not have the Java-like standard and rich set of libraries needed for real desktop applications.

Sure, Java and .NET are more powerful languages, but are they easier? That I don't buy. Part of the reason the web has become so revolutionary is that the barrier to entry for developers was so low. JavaScript and HTML are farily easy to pick up, which has resulted in a lot of innovation. Apollo brings that innovation to the desktop in a way that keeps 75% of the richness. Can it compete with rich desktop platforms like Windows Presentation Foundation (.NET 3.0)? Initially, it doesn't have to. As long as people are bringing their creative web skills to Apollo and taking advantage of the desktop, the platform will grow. I think it's ripe for a big success, despite some of the naysaying. We've just never had anything like Apollo before, and that includes Java.

Update: Someone made me realize that saying "Apollo in no way competes with the browser" is actually a pretty dumb thing for me to say (surprise, surprise). The "browser" is doing a lot more than it used to, and that includes delivering applications, with Firefox moving offline, they do compete. But here's the point: Apollo isn't supplanting the browser. Applications will still run in the browser, and the browser won't die because of Apollo (in the near term ;) ). I think Apollo helps draw a clearer line of what should be a browser application and what should run on the desktop. The technologies that create those can be the same, but Apollo provides a richer set of features that more advanced web applications" can take advantage of. So in some ways they do compete, but not in the traditional sense. Hope that clears it up a bit.

Topics: Browser, Enterprise Software, Hardware

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  • Yah it is :)

    Apollo is a browser... eg:

    Short for Web Browser, a software application used to locate and display Web pages. The two most popular browsers are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Both of these are graphical browsers, which means that they can display graphics as well as text. In addition, most modern browsers can present multimedia information, including sound and video, though they require plug-ins for some formats. ...

    There is more.. "define: browser".

    The point at the moment is that people are looking to use Apollo as a browser, its an extension of the browser as we know it today as its now breaching the 'connected' worled from the 'disconnected' world - its still a browser.

    The question is now, how is Adobe going to reposition this with the beta and more importantly if its been used in a browser approach to life what is the danger developers have with doing that.

    I think the debate on is it a browser or isn't it, isn't a fight that can be won. Developers will decide that one an nothing Adobe or other entities can do to stop that (short of locking it down).

    I mean look at SAP, classic showcase and what are they doing with it? providing a SOE wrapper for their web-based platforms :P

    Whats next...
    • RE: Yah it is

      Apollo doesn't just "display web pages". It uses web technologies, but I don't think that makes it a browser. We'll have to argue about this offline :)
  • The Difference Depends on the Mindset of the Developer

    Just because you could use a hammer to open a bottle of beer doesn't make it a bottle opener. :)

    The browser is a passive tool that requires the user to go and get content.

    While some desktop RIAs *could* perform the duties of a browser, they are more so an excellent Content Delivery device. That's the big piece that folks seem to miss - Content Delivery. No more checking for updates when any information update can be delivered to the desktop.

    I believe the less work required by the user to get the relevant content they want, the greater they're interest will remain.
    • RE: The Difference Depends on the Mindset of the Developer

      Good point, and I like that reference :).

      I mean you could build a browser with Apollo if you want, but I don't see a reason to. Apollo is a lot more than that, as you mentioned.
  • It may not be a browser...

    ... but it sounds a lot like HTAs, which date back a few years in IE. http://msdn.microsoft.com/workshop/author/hta/overview/htaoverview.asp
    • RE: It may not be a browser...

      I had never seen these daniel, very interesting. Thanks for the link!
  • We've had stuff like this before

    Multidmedia's Zinc has been in this space for at least 2 years and Zinc provides hooks for several client-side databases. I like the potential of Apollo but only because it's an Adobe product. Adobe has a great record of building good, widely adopted technology. That said, until Apollo can connect to a client-side database, it's just a neat browser.
    • RE: We've had stuff like this before

      It's a bit more advanced than Zinc, because Zinc doesn't tie as closely to the OS. Zinc apps won't show up in Add/Remove programs or be treated as installed apps. As for the database, I think the Apollo team knows that's a concern. We'll see what happens.
  • Not Getting It = Opportunity

    It is good that people are trying to get their head around this technology. But that so many technologically savvy folks are not 'getting it' simply increases the wow factor when really innovative Apollo apps start hitting the ground, which should be soon.
    • RE: Not Getting It = Opportunity

      I like that thinking :). If only I was smarter, I'd be out building a company. At least I work for a pretty innovative company. Hopefully we can get some wow factor.
  • Are they easier?

    "Sure, Java and .NET are more powerful languages, but are they easier? That I don't buy."

    I've programmed in all these, and the answer is, it depends. With languages like say, JavaScript and perl, it's easier to throw something together to get it working quickly. The barrier to entry is lower, and the tools are simple, and turn-around is quick.

    Languages like Java and C# (.Net is not a language) are well suited for large projects, or projects involving a team of developers, or projects that are expected to have a long lifetime.

    There's a whole spectrum, and each developer will have different opinions on where a language fits in the spectrum based on their experience and skills.
    Ed Burnette
    • I surely don't agree with you about Java...

      A quick breather, slightly askew topic-wise -- I just came off leading a project in Toronto that was bifurcated between Java and Smalltalk, the latter a remarkably robust language that's primarily used in the nuclear and space industries anymore. The complex part was in Smalltalk -- it came in fast, bug-free and solid, built by just 4 programmers. The Java part (web front end), with a team of 6, went significantly past deadline and I don't trust the results at all. There are bugs there. I think you need to seriously consider before calling Java a "powerful language". It's sort of interesting structurally, but I'd take a true object (or functional) language in a heartbeat.
    • RE: Are they easier?

      You're right, and as with everything on the web, we need to keep in mind that we should use the best tool for the job. What I think is interesting about Apollo, especially on the Flex side, is that it provides a robust development model (not unlike Java and C#) but backed up with web technologies.
    • WebBrowser component

      People in the Windows environment have had the WebBroswer component (from IE) available for use in their own projects/products for years. It makes for easy integration of a lot of web technologies and internationalisation (change two words in css and left-to right, top-to-bottom becomes top-to-bottom, right-to-left for rendering Asian languages).

      Of course, IE also made a whole lot of other web technology components available to developers.
  • How is Apollo different than Flash Projector?

    From what I've read about it, it seems like it's just Flash Projector with a couple new features. Projector has been included with Flash for years (it's been a useful product for me, I might add). I don't understand the fuss about Apollo, since it doesn't seem to be new - it just has new packaging with a load of marketing to go along with it.
    K B
    • RE: How is Apollo different than Flash Projector?

      It's quite a bit more than Flash Projector, because as I mentioned above, Apollo lets you create full applications, that look and act like native apps. Flash projector is just an exe wrapper. That's nice, but it's limiting, especially as we go foward.

      Apollo also exposes APIs that make it easy to add desktop functionality like file storage, windowing and desktop-integration.
      • HTML is why..

        The moment the HTML component hit the Apollo runtime, it crossed the threshhold of being a "Runtime" piece into a hybrid browser/runtime piece.

        Projectors don't have that.
  • Inside, Outside, Browser wars

    As I mentioned on jinsync.com, the way I think about it is that the new turf for (web)apps isn't the browser space, it's the space inside the browser and outside of it.

    With the introduction of Flex, Adobe is making it easier for the Elvis and Einsteins (MSFT personas) to adopt the richness of the SWF/ActionScript runtime.

    This richness is available inside the browser, like WPF/e on modern browsers (FF+IE) and modern platforms (XP/OS X), with mobile support to follow.

    But, it's also available outside the browser. Let's face it, the browser -- HTML / CSS / DOM / JS -- is here to stay. What's up for grabs is not the browser space -- those technologies are workable enough -- but that "middlespace" between desktop+offline and web+online.

    This outer space includes but is not limited to a non-trivial security model (not just the same-origin policy), file system access, 3-D and hardware accelerated 2-D / audio, dock / systray integration (cf. IBM Sash), an offline story, deployment and auto-update hooks, application signing, (un)installation, versioning, and attention management.

    I should point out that Adobe does sell Flex Builder, an Eclipse-based IDE, which can be a great help, I would guess, in writing Apollo apps.

    On the MSFT side, Redmond has Blend and Expression Web to counter Macromedia's Flash and HTML toolset, and of course the venerable Visual Studio to match wits with Flex Builder and Eclipse.

  • Actually, An Interesting Concept...

    As I read this, an interesting concept comes to mind, and I wonder if this is the point Ryan is trying to get to?

    Currently, most Web 2.0 apps, such as Google Docs, typically require you to open the browser first, go to the website for that app, login, and work in the app via the browser. What if you had a Web 2.0 app that you accessed directly from an icon your desktop without opening a browser, behaved in every way like an ordinary app installed on your computer, and yet, if you were on a computer other than your own, you could still access the app, your files, and your data via a traditional web browser? It would be like having a saved shortcut icon to the app's webpage, but clicking on the icon would simply open the app without launching the browser.
    • Re: Actually, An Interesting Concept...

      That's a usecase of Apollo : kinda porting web applications to the desktop thus apollo acting as a desktop bookmarker (some introduced the term deskmark..)

      But I don't think it will be the main usage of Apollo : Apollo will enable much richer applications featuring PDF, Flash-Ajax closer integration, local storage, updates...