March 21, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Adobe's Apollo looks to one-up Ajax

Adobe Systems' Apollo software is at the vanguard of an emerging set of technologies that seek to improve on Ajax, perhaps the most popular style for writing interactive Web applications.

Adobe on Monday released an alpha, or early, version of Apollo, software that can run Web applications both online and offline.

Reaction to the release has been enthusiastic among programmers who create so-called rich Internet applications (RIA), cross-operating system applications that combine the interactivity of desktop software with the Web.

Ajax-style development, used for many Web 2.0 services, improves on the interactivity of Web applications, compared with those of only a few years ago. Web 2.0 generally refers to Web services that let people collaborate and share information online.

But Adobe's Apollo and other alternatives offer some advantages over Ajax, said Richard Monson-Haefel, an analyst at the Burton Group. For example, Flash-based applications can run multimedia content such as video, and Java has a richer set of development tools. Now the ability to mix online and offline content is coming to the fore.

"In terms of trying to capture the development community, I'd say (Apollo) helps Adobe compete more with Ajax," Monson-Haefel said. "Offline development is becoming a real issue now. You need to make applications available offline, and Ajax can't do that."

In addition to Apollo, slated for a version 1.0 release in the second half of the year, there is a growing roster of rich Internet application platforms, including Adobe Flash-based tools, Java, and Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E), which is still not generally available.

Which of them will become the most popular among programmers remains to be seen. But many people believe that the richness of the latest generation of tools will usher in more full-featured Web applications as well as hybrid applications that cross the line between the Web and desktop.

"The fundamental thing is that Apollo is enabling innovation on the Web to come onto the desktop. These have been completely separate worlds," said Kevin Lynch, chief software architect and senior vice president of Adobe's platform business unit. "Potentially, we're going to unveil a flood of innovation on the desktop."

Pushing the limits of the Web
Virtual Ubiquity, a 10-person start-up staffed with IT industry veterans, decided to forgo Ajax when it set off to make an online word processor about a year and a half ago.

The company tried to write a prototype using a range of development technologies but eventually decided to use Adobe's software, said company CEO Rick Treitman.

The word processor, called Buzzword, runs in Adobe's Flash and is built using Flex 2.0, Adobe's development software for writing rich Internet applications.

Finetune Desktop

"We're convinced this is the only way we could write this product," Treitman said, adding that his team looked at Java and JavaScript, which is commonly used for Ajax programming. "The other technologies just didn't take use where we were going."

Virtual Ubiquity intends to build a version of its application for Apollo as well, he added. Company engineers will build an offline option for its Flash-based word processor. But using Apollo will make the offline capabilities more "elegant," Treitman said.

An important factor in choosing Flash is that it is installed so widely in browsers, he said.

Indeed, having a single vendor control a browser plug-in, like Flash or WPF/E, means that developers have a more consistent platform for running applications compared to Ajax, Monson-Haefel noted.

Many developers prefer open standards-based Web development, like using JavaScript, rather than adopting development tools and browser plug-ins from a single vendor such as Adobe or Microsoft.

But "there are still a lot of problems with browser compatibilities with Firefox and (Microsoft's) Internet Explorer," Monson-Haefel said.

CONTINUED: Tooling…
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9 comments

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The new DRM?
Would it be possible for Flash to become the new standard DRM?
And would an Apollo-based desktop player help such a move?

If so, then I'd probably be more likely to adapt it than Microsoft,
Apple and Real Player's super-restrictive DRM.

I wonder if that's possible, though.
Posted by toosday (343 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Concerned!
Good write up!

Reading this, I am concerned about browser compatibility. Still wondering how one is going to adapt to the mindset of using one browser to browse web 2.0 applications on Apollo browser and the other browser to browse net on IE/Firefox?

Huhh! I guess, Jave based frameworks are going to get advantage of this, as they can provide freedom to users to use their favorite browser. Pramati's Dekoh (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.dekoh.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.dekoh.com</a>) is going to get advantage of this.

Anyway having said that, it is not the one of major factors for deciding who is going to lead in this race.
Posted by mayankmishra (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Does it come with nagware downloader?
Like every Adobe product as of lately, does it come pre-bloated with nagware and an installer that constantly harps you to download the korean language pack? Adobe is bloatware.
Posted by Lite Rocker (42 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This isn't going to be anything but a niche player
<ol>
<li>Users don't want to download (and have to constantly upgrade) yet another runtime engine.
<li>Java already provides a mature open-standards platform for deploying rich applications on the web.
<li>If users have a choice between using an AJAX application that runs in their web browser and something that runs on a proprietary runtime, they're going to choose to run the application in their browser.
<li>This is going to open up a whole new set of security issues.
<li>Developers are going to use this to cram adware down users throats, which will impede adoption.
<li>IT managers want non-proprietary open standards, and are not interested in being locked into a single vendor. We've all been bitten by Microsoft and we've learned our lesson.
</ol>
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't be so sure
1. Users don't want to download (and have to constantly upgrade) yet another runtime engine.

Yeah pretty much everyone I know has quit using Windows cause of how many updates it requires. Same thing with iTunes, OS X, Firefox and Thunderbird. User won't stand for it.


2. Java already provides a mature open-standards platform for deploying rich applications on the web.

And everyone decided that a fifty meg download to play a 250k file was load of crap.

3. If users have a choice between using an AJAX application that runs in their web browser and something that runs on a proprietary runtime, they're going to choose to run the application in their browser.

Unless the user is a developer interested in extending the technology, it will never even cross their mind.

4. This is going to open up a whole new set of security issues.

I'm assuming you are a security expert. I'm never installing anything else ever again.

5. Developers are going to use this to cram adware down users throats, which will impede adoption.

Yep, dang developers. All they can think of is cramming adware onto your unsuspecting computer. I know thats how I spend my days- scheming and planning my adware attack. And yeah, look at all those crappy Flash intros, ads and banners that killed Flash. I can't remember the last time I heard of anyone using Flash.

6. IT managers want non-proprietary open standards, and are not interested in being locked into a single vendor. We've all been bitten by Microsoft and we've learned our lesson.

You are definitely right about that. Remember when Microsoft pulled that kind of thing? The people spoke and they are definitely history!!!! Wait.. sorry. That was Blockbuster.

Most IT managers want solutions that work. Period. They don't care where they come from as long as they do what they claim. The IT manager you just described is a hippy.
Posted by brandonthedeveloper (1 comment )
Link Flag
Evil MS
"IT managers want non-proprietary open standards, and are not interested in being locked into a single vendor. We've all been bitten by Microsoft and we've learned our lesson."

Yes, evil Microsoft is creating their own non-standard proprietary extensions. Such as a thing that is now known as AJAX.
Posted by alegr (1590 comments )
Link Flag
 

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