John Brandon

Will Adobe AIR become the PDF of Web 2.0?

By John Brandon
August 24, 2008 7:00 AM EDT

I'm working on an article on photo retouching today. As many of you know, I'm a feature writer by day and switch hats between Computerworld articles on data centers and Internet hoaxes one day, then write a game review and test a bunch of smartphones the next. It's a kind of a journalistic personality disorder, a skill (or maybe that should be "condition") I have developed over the past 8-9 years.

Web 2.0 helps me keep track of my life, my contacts, my schedule, and my accounting. It also helps me do my main job, and can occasionally intersect with a feature article in interesting ways.

For example: one of the great challenges in photo retouching is getting the colors right. Bad, amateur photos always use sort of dull colors, but a vibrant pro photo just pops off the page.

I decided to try out a new tool from Adobe called Kuler to solve the problem. It's a Web app that follows the Jason Kottke definition of a "single use site" - it is really just meant to share color themes. So, in a photo of a statue, I can use a color theme from another user to make the photo look, well, cooler. There's also a desktop component that uses Adobe AIR. AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) is a development platform that crosses the great divide between the desktop and Web. (A divide that Microsoft would like to expand as much as possible.) It's similar to the Firefox Prism project, in a sense, in that it lets you run a Web app as though it is a desktop app, but still relies on the Net.

Another way of looking at it is: AIR could eventually negate the need for an operating system altogether. It could also negate the need for a browser. Oh, and you don't really need a powerful computer either. Apps would just run in their own space, similar to how a widget lives within its own world.

AIR could become the PDF of Web 2.0, if it catches on with developers. I like that idea. I like the concept of have a Web app that lives in its own world and is portable to whatever PC I am using, at whatever speed I'm connecting, regardless of the browser or the OS I'm using. Maybe a really good term to use for this kind of Web app is "open source" (except that the term already means something else, eh?).

We'll see if AIR can gain the traction of PDF, but they are headed in the right direction.