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Adobe's Apollo Starts Countdown To Web-Desktop Integrated Apps

EBay has been working on an Apollo-based online-auction-site-in-a-box app since last summer.
Adobe Systems wants to be known for more than just Photoshop's pretty face.

Adobe last week made available to developers a very early version of its Apollo software, which is designed to support applications that bridge the desktop and the Web. Apollo is part of an emerging trend in software that takes some parts desktop app, some parts Web app, and blends them into a whole that equals more than its pieces. "A lot of the vision of Adobe relative to software is to extend the Web," says Michele Turner, VP of Adobe's platform business unit.

Apollo applications, built with HTML, will be able to take advantage of Adobe's Flash and PDF technologies, and Internet tools such as Ajax and JavaScript. Apollo apps will be able to access a PC's local file system, work offline, then update themselves--without opening a Web browser--when an Internet connection is made.

One test Apollo application, Maptacular, mashes stored contact information with Google Maps. When the user drags a digital business card from the desktop to the application, it automatically maps the location of that business associate. It could, for example, drag work address information to the map and automatically create driving directions between the user and the person represented on the card. The user can save the map for future offline reference.

LONG TIME COMING

Apollo evolved from Adobe's 2005 acquisition of Macromedia and its Web development assets, in particular Flash. Adobe says it's working with a number of large companies to create custom applications using Apollo, such as dashboards for financial information. "We're enabling Web developers to create desktop apps for the first time," says Turner.

Apollo could put eBay on the desktop

(click image for larger view)


Apollo could put eBay on the desktop
Well, maybe not the first time. Microsoft's software-plus-services strategy is another example of the trend toward apps that obscure the lines between the desktop and the Web. For example, the New York Times Reader, which is built on Windows Presentation Foundation, a user interface technology built into .Net 3.0, lets subscribers read The New York Times online in a much richer environment than the Web would allow. Windows Presentation Foundation is built into Windows Vista, but related development tools are still in test mode.

Another place Apollo-type applications could play a role is in the mobile world, where connectivity is intermittent and devices typically carry less memory and processing power than desktops. For instance, if a mobile device goes offline, an Apollo app could complete an interrupted transaction the next time the device is connected to the Internet. Though the first version of Apollo won't support mobile devices, future versions will. "You're freeing up the data by enabling it to live in the cloud," says Turner.

EBay has been working on an Apollo-based application, called San Dimas, since last summer. San Dimas can access a user's file system, so it can provide an organized browsing history going back months or years. It lets eBay store consistent HTML code, such as page formats, on a local drive, cutting down on the amount of information that needs to be uploaded and downloaded over the Internet by passing only new data, such as an item description, back and forth. Working outside of the browser means that San Dimas can return a search query with an element that looks like a normal results list on the left of the screen and a large-size preview of individual for-sale items on the right.

San Dimas may give eBay the opportunity to turn its service into a desktop application. "Seeing eBay as a platform is a core tenet of our philosophy," says Alan Lewis, the online auctioneer's technical evangelist. "Don't get me wrong--the Web site isn't going away, we just want to provide choice."

Adobe and Microsoft are eager to make that choice possible.