Adobe is not the only company working toward that time when we can build rich, interactive, and data-filled applications for the Web or the desktop with equal aplomb. However, making a big step of its own yesterday (January 25, 2008), Adobe released three products: Adobe Flex 3 Framework, Adobe Flex Builder 3 and Adobe AIR 1.0. A fourth related product, Adobe BlazeDS, was also recently announced. Collectively these products move Adobe and its band of developers further in the direction of the seamless Web/desktop application development system.Moving the world of programming and application developers is a big challenge, especially when some really heavy heavyweights like Microsoft and IBM are already leveraging their massive stacks of developer tools. Adobe is a heavyweight too, but from the side of creative tools (think Photoshop and Illustrator). Adobe attached "serious" programming to its product line when Macromedia was absorbed a few years ago. Now Adobe is racing toward the promised land of RIAs, Web 2.0, and their desktop versions, while trying to convince developers already in the IBM, Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, and Ajax camps that Adobe, too, has the right stuff - or better than the right stuff because it can not only offer powerful programming tools, but also powerful content development tools, which in the world of Web 2.0 are beginning to look more and more like the same thing.
With this third rev of its Flex technology, Adobe believes it is providing a stable and robust development environment for "rich" programs (read: heavily enhanced with graphics, animation, streaming media, and interactivity). In this new version, Flex's key elements, ActionScript and MXML can make legitimate claim to being "mature" programming languages. Using the Eclipse workbench as the base, Adobe Flex Builder 3 is a familiar development environment. Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) extends the application building to standalone desktop apps using the latest in Web development tools. Adobe BlazeDS provides the data handling and communications capability to underpin applications of either kind. Together these products are supposed to provide a seamless set of tools. That remains to be seen.
I've written for Intelligent Enterprise about the beta versions, and look forward to testing the production releases, but I can tell from the get go that "seamless" is not yet an appropriate designation. Adobe is still finding ways to bridge these programming products to its vast creative suites, and also to its nascent enterprise workflow suite LiveCycle. There's a way to go yet before it doesn't matter if Adobe Flex is used by Flash, Ajax, or Java developers.
Still, Adobe is making the effort to position itself. It wants to be one of, if not the leading provider of application development tools that produce the next generation of applications - whatever that may be called. Adobe's got a legitimate angle, but nobody knows if it's a "winning" angle; obviously those in the competition are keeping an eye on it.Some day we will stop talking about "RIAs" (Rich Internet Applications) and Web 2.0 apps and Web apps; they will all just be apps. The same goes for "desktop applications." They will just be apps too. In fact, I wish we had a simple name for all these flavors of apps right now. Thankfully, I can see the horizon of that "some day."...