Adobe's attempts to push interest in rich internet applications received a boost with the official launch of its AIR cross-operating system runtime and Adobe Flex 3 open-source framework.
Launched on Monday, Adobe claims AIR combines the dynamic nature of the web with the data capabilities of the desktop, while Flex 3 is a cross-platform set of components and tools for building rich internet applications (RIAs) that run on any browser and operating system.
Targeted at both designers and developers, AIR and Flex 3 are described by Adobe chief technology officer Kevin Lynch as technologies intended to "create highly interactive and expressive applications".
"This year we predict a significant uptake in RIA development as our toolset and technologies are now quite mature, and because our RIAs deploy to Flash, 98 percent of internet-enabled desktop users worldwide can actually see the content that is produced," said Andrew Shorten, Adobe platform evangelist.
Adobe claims developers using RIA technologies are able to produce more engaging websites so that in e-commerce applications, for example, customers can fully understand what they are buying, leading to less online abandonment, increased average order size and more cross-selling opportunities.
Analysts, however, are more cautious about the potential for RIA to improve user experience. James Governor, principal analyst at Red Monk, said it is one thing to talk about cross-platform applications, but quite another to make it happen. "When I think about the fact that so many sites are overcomplicated and overloaded with Flash I'm reminded that personally, I'm a big fan of 'poor' internet applications. It is not just about making things look fancy, it's about creating a better data experience," he said. "I think from an enterprise perspective, we'll need to exercise caution with RIAs. It's for sure that we'll have some bad experiences, but we'll also have plenty of good ones to look forward to."
Adobe RIA technologies include tools, frameworks, servers, services and runtimes that are supported by learning resources at the online Adobe Developer Connection. Adobe says AIR enables developers to create RIAs on the desktop with the web technologies they already use, including HTML, Ajax, PDF, Flash and Flex.
Flex Builder 3 integrates with Adobe Creative Suite 3 software and includes new testing tools, including memory and performance profilers and support for automated functional testing: all factors that should arguably speed up development and lead to better-performing RIAs.
"The key to deploying RIAs successfully is 'progressive exposure to complexity' so new or novice users are only shown a certain amount of data or page options until they make the decision to dig deeper into a site. We do this by layering 'skins' over our pages that are set by developers who can change the parameters of the RIAs that drive the content on the page and therefore change what the user sees," said Graeme Harker, UI development lead for online betting specialist BetFair.
Adobe AIR and the Adobe AIR SDK are available as free downloads in English and offered for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Upcoming versions are expected to be available for Linux. The open-source Flex 3 SDK is available free of charge and Adobe Flex Builder 3 is available as a standalone product or Eclipse plug-in, with the standard edition priced at £125 plus VAT and the professional edition at £349 plus VAT.