Review: Adobe Delivers Web 2.0 Sizzle, But Can it Serve Up Enterprise App Steak

Adobe's portfolio can help you add Web 2.0 style rich graphics, interactivity and multimedia functionality, but does it offer the data-connectivity and beefy support enterprise developers need to do their jobs? Here's a closer look at the matrix of capabilities.
AIR (Beta 2)

Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) is a response to the need for some Web-enabled applications to run while disconnected from the Internet. It's also a response to the needs of developers who know Web programming rather than conventional desktop programming. AIR uses its own client program (currently about 9MB in size) that packages most of the facilities of the Flash Player with the SQL Lite database engine, the WebKit HTML engine and access to desktop OS API functionality. In short, an application developed for AIR can run like a standalone desktop application while retaining most of the distribution and connectivity advantages of a Web application.

AIR applications can be built with the AIR SDK or Flex Builder 3 (beta), but Adobe is making AIR the most open-ended of its runtime engines, so apps can also be developed with Flash, Flex, Ajax, plain HTML and JavaScript to be compiled with the AIR SDK. Is it Rich enough for the Enterprise?

It's obvious that a monumental effort went into integrating the Adobe and Macromedia creative products, up to and including Flash. In the realm of the application developer and Flex, a lot of progress has been made with enterprise-level capabilities, but not yet to the same depth as leaders in the enterprise market. BEA and Microsoft, for example, surround their IDEs with fully integrated capabilities such as UML modeling, SOA management, Web services development, and sophisticated team programming systems.

Adobe appears to be in a transition period in which some of its enterprise attention is with the LiveCycle products, and the RIA products are still shaping up in various beta stages and in numerous open projects. From the perspective of an enterprise IT shop, the picture may seem patchy. Most enterprise shops already have comprehensive application development systems; committing to Flash (Player or AIR) as a major application delivery system is no small step. So, the question will be, "How will Adobe fit in?"

As it stands, Adobe is a leader on many fronts in the RIA world, and with Flex 2 (soon Flex 3) it arguably has the best creative/RIA development environment available. Does it really need integrated enterprise-level data and support systems to be viable in the enterprise? That's a question Adobe needs to answer more clearly for potential enterprise customers.

Pricing: Adobe AIR SDK: Free. Adobe Flex 2 SDK: Free; Adobe Flex Builder 2: $249; Adobe Flex Builder 2 with Charting: $699; Adobe Creative Suite 3 (CS3) -- CS3 Master Collection: $2,499 (all products in the CS3 line); CS3 Production Premium: $1,699 (video production); CS3 Web Premium: $1,599 (Web production); CS3 Design Premium: $1,699 (Web and print production).

Nelson King has been a software developer for more than twenty-five years. Further complications include being a computer-industry analyst, product reviewer and author (of nine books on database programming). He has been writing for Intelligent Enterprise (and its precursors) for more than ten years. Write him at [email protected]