The problem with AIR

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 27 February, 2008

in opinions

I got carried away last night commenting on this Read/Write Web post about 6 new Adobe AIR apps.  For anyone unfamiliar, AIR or Adobe Integrated Runtime (so that’s Adobe Adobe Integrated Runtime, really) is Adobe’s effort at bringing Rich Internet Applications (RIA) one step closer.  RIA, for those increasingly unfamiliar with my jargonistic babblings, is the idea of web apps that have a high level of interactivity and preferably can be used offline.  Another example is Google Gears or the recently announced Mozilla Prism (formerly WebRunner).

For AIR apps to work, users first need to download what is known as a runtime binary, which is essentially a library of code that can be used by multiple applications.  It allows for a degree of interoperability and common usage.  A “sort of, not really” example of a runtime binary is a Java virtual machine, which allows for an application to be written on one platform but run on many different platforms and still look exactly the same.  There are also .NET runtimes in the Microsoft/Windows world.

I like the idea of having web apps that include an offline component, particularly as more and more services like office productivity, photo and video editing move into the cloud.  However, the fact that users have to download a separate application/library for these applications to work in this manner still feels like a significant roadblock to me.  It’s hard enough to get people to load plug-ins in their browsers or even extensions.  The popularity of the Flash plug-in does not disprove my point either.  When was the last time you installed a browser that didn’t have a version of Flash installed as a default.

The fact that the runtime has to be downloaded and then installed is another aspect that will work against it.  How many people still spend the majority of their screen time at their work computer in cubicle land where corporate IT has locked the workstation down tight to prevent unauthorised installations?  Every office job I’ve ever worked at reflects that situation.  Hell, I can’t even use Buzzword at work because the standard operating environment has settled on a version of Flash 9 that is several point releases lower than is required for the word processor to work.  If a point release for a near-universal plug-in is crucial, how much more difficult will it be to increase adoption rates for a runtime binary installation?

AIR has me interested and intrigued. I’d be something of a failed geek if it didn’t.  I just can’t see AIR gaining wide spread acceptance while it still needs a separate download and installation for any of the apps to work.

Think I’m wrong? Deluded? Uninformed? Right on the money? Let me know in the comments.

You know you want to.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bahamut February 28, 2008 at 2:29

I think you’re exactly on the spot about AIR. With malware finding new methods to trick people, the whole “download and install and hope you didn’t get screwed” should never be used on the internet.

Although the more pressing problem I see is the one of acceptance. Flash is universally accepted as *the* multimedia platform for the web. It’s wide acceptance will make any new comer (even if it’s made by the same company) hard pressed to get people to use it.

2 shane February 28, 2008 at 20:08

I agree on both counts.

Related to your first point, the first AIR app I installed gave me a big warning message about giving total access to my computer and to be careful. I know what I’m doing and it still freaked me out. What are the average users going to think? AIR is still too raw for prime time.

3 Todd February 29, 2008 at 5:46

“I just can’t see AIR gaining wide spread acceptance while it still needs a separate download and installation for any of the apps to work.”

What would rather have happen?

4 shane February 29, 2008 at 8:04

For widespread adoption, I think Adobe will need to somehow get have the runtime pre-installed, possibly bundled in with other programs. As an example, they could include it as part of the Adobe Reader install on an “opt out” basis ie you have to uncheck the box during installation of Reader if you don’t want AIR.

Would Flash be ubiquitous if all browsers didn’t pre-install it? It would always be popular but I still remember the days where if you installed a new browser you had to go out and install the Flash plug-in separately.

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