Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why is there Air - Bill Cosby versus Kevin Lynch

I know I'm dating myself, but Bill Cosby had a pretty funny routine where a PE Teacher explains that the purpose of air is to pump up basketballs and volleyballs.

Now Adobe has launched their Air product (with a matching Kevin Lynch NY Times article, and GigaOm fan dance) to allow platform to allow browser apps to escape from their little Firefox and IE prisons and flit gaily across the desktop like "real" apps.

Now what exactly are the benefits here? According to the NY Times article:
  1. I can click an icon on my desktop instead of a bookmark in my browser. Yawn.
  2. I can run an application without the browser border. Snore.
  3. I can run an application offline. Now this is cool, but hardly new, following earlier moves by Google Gears, Dojo Offline and Mozilla Prism
Excuse me, but I prefer Bill's definition of why we need air.

As I have written, Air, Flex and Silverlight are"back to the future" approaches for Rich Internet Applications that would have us believe that the future of the web lies in a proprietary animation engine (Flash) or an ancient and proprietary fat client architecture (Silverlight).

At WaveMaker, we believe open-source toolkits like Dojo are the best enterprise Ajax choice a more flexible, open-source browser choice. To be fair, we in the Ajax community still have a lot of work to do to be truly ready to take on giants like Adobe and Microsoft - but that's where the power of the community can make a difference.

Speaking of community, you can come find out more about the the Dojo toolkit at the upcoming Visual Ajax User Group meeting. On Thursday, March 20 from 12-1:30 PST, Alex Russell, one of the co-creators of Dojo, will be talking about the Zen of Dojo - how to make Dojo development effortless for beginner and expert alike. Come in person or sign up for the webinar by sending email to


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'm quite as negative on Air as you are, but I agree that it would be great if an open source Ajax toolkit became the defacto standard for web apps - maybe Dojo?

JimmySmash said...

Not to sound negative against ajax or dojo, as I believe as well that open source is the only way for application prosperity, but Flex, AIR, and BlazeDS are ALL open source. Adobe understands the community in a much more organized way than traditonal open source communities, and the tools and technologies are backed by one of the largest software companies in the world. Pretty impressive.

Also, a note to the author, in case you hadn't heard, AIR also supports DHTML/AJAX application development, in addition to Flex. I'd say there is more than a long way to go before you can suggest you have any hopes of meeting the standards set by Adobe.

Flash player, and the engine behind AIR are a much more evolved than the browser, and browser apps are going to be forever limited by the slightly raised borders they are contained within, and the security models they must comply with.

How about cross platform compatability, how about localized database, how about true databinding, how about limitless application development? All things possible with AIR. AIR is more than just a app with a icon on the desktop, it's combining the best properties of both app types. Does google gears, dojo offline, and Mozilla Prism do all of that? Yikes, I think not.

Air is a 1.0 release, imagine what 2.0 will be like. I'm not bashing AJAX or Dojo, I love them both, but to suggest that AIR is a yawn? That's just crazy talk. Built an AIR app, then tell us Yawn, maybe then you could spice things up with some credability

Joseph said...

Yeah, I have to agree with Jimmy but there is another aspect to Flex/Air that made up my mind to learn them.

I am no Flexpert or professional with AIR yet but what I have seen and been able to accomplish in a short time has impressed me. Flex/Air/Actionscript 3.0 are truly easy to learn. Especially if you already know JavaScript as Actionscript 3.0 are almost the same thing. (Possibly harder to master but I would not know yet.)

The browser wars might be over but the mine fields that they created have been left behind. Minefields that present themselves in the form of incompatibilities between different browsers, between the same browser but different versions, between any browser on different operating systems. And then if you consider just the Operating systems themselves. One application running on multiple platforms seamlessly seems like an impossibility yet AIR does that. (Flex for the Browser)

I have used AJAX and I found it suffered from the same issues that CSS and other webstandards often do. You spend more time trying to work around the incompatibilities (not step on a mine) then you do on the original project.

With Flex/Air/LCDS/BlazeDS I no longer have to worry about that. I can build an App and it will work anywhere the Flash 9 player or AIR can install to. (To be fair I DO have to worry about what version of Flash Player is installed.)

And lest ye forget Flash has it's origins in JavaScript.

I hate to say it as I appreciate all the hard work that has brought about Ajax. It would appear to me however that in a couple of years you will have only built yourself what amounts to Flex 1.0.

This is why there is AIR.

Christopher Keene said...

@Jimmysmash - I completely accept your argument that Flash is better at cross browser, but mostly because it simply opts out of the browser. Ajax has a much harder road because it is trying to play by the browser rules, while Flex just uses its own *proprietary* flash player to do its own thing.

What good is it to open source the tool (Flex) if the thing the tool runs on (Flash) is proprietary? I will consider Flex open source the day I can run a Flex app on a non-proprietary engine that is also open source.

I agree that AIR/Flex are powerful for visual dev outside the firewall, but when you come inside the firewall and have to worry about things like security, transactions and data, Ajax is already worlds ahead.

steve said...

Last I checked the Flash player was free and has been for about 10 years. It's truely cross platform. Apps developed for the flash player work in Win, Mac and Penquin all work the same, no hacking required. And now you can wrap them in Air and they'll still work the same and have a local DB. Not only that, You can write HTML/AJAX Apps that will render the same regardless of the platform. No more worries about browsers. Air will let your AJAX apps work