[T]he majority of AIR runtime installations occur at the time the first AIR application is installed by a user -- usually through the use of an "install badge" using AIR's seamless install feature.
You can download the 15-MB AIR runtime directly if you want, but there wouldn't be much point in that unless you had an application to go with it. Still, there are equally pointless ways you can get AIR. After a commenter pointed out that the AIR runtime is bundled with several widely downloaded Adobe products such as Adobe Reader, the company's blog entry was updated:
We've gotten a few requests for more specifics around badge installations, so I did a little more digging into the data. Over 30 million installations have been of applications delivered via AIR badges. That means a lot of people are also downloading applications without using a badge.
Yeah, so that assertion in the first quote is very wrong; people aren't usually getting AIR through an install badge, unless you consider "usually" to be defined as "about 30% of the time." I am one of those 70% who got AIR through another source, in my case by downloading Adobe Reader 9. Yes sir, all 33.5 MB of Adobe Reader 9. Remember, this is the free reader; it doesn't provide the fancy features of the full Adobe Acrobat package such as filling and saving forms. But it's still a huge download, and about half the size of the download appears to be AIR.
Most of the time, I use Foxit Reader for day-to-day PDF reading. It's only a 3.5-MB download and it starts much faster. However, watch the Foxit Reader install carefully. At the end, it asks whether you want to install the Foxit Toolbar, which will change your default search provider to Ask.com. You have to uncheck the option to get it to leave your settings alone.
In addition to the overinflation of AIR, Adobe Reader delivers a bloat all its own with gems such as the Adobe Reader Speed Launch shortcut that it puts in your startup folder to ensure that your computer takes longer to boot. Well, the company's reason is so that Adobe Reader won't look like a sluggish hog when it starts, but the net effect is slower boot times and wasted memory when you're not viewing a PDF. And isn't that most of the time?
Let me be clear, I have nothing in particular against AIR itself. It looks like a very nice platform and development environment. I am, however, opposed to Adobe bundling megabytes worth of unwanted, unneeded, and unrelated stuff into a download, and then offering that to developers as evidence that the Adobe AIR platform is being eagerly gobbled up by consumers. I fully understand the game they are playing here -- stuff your software onto the user's system to improve the optics on installed base -- but they should at least have some shame about it.