34 Comments

Summary:

Adobe announced the public alpha of its Apollo development framework that allows developers to build cross-platform hybrid web/desktop applications using Flash and Ajax. The tech blogosphere responded mostly positively, looking forward to the era of so-called rich Internet applications that’s been predicted for some time and […]

Adobe announced the public alpha of its Apollo development framework that allows developers to build cross-platform hybrid web/desktop applications using Flash and Ajax. The tech blogosphere responded mostly positively, looking forward to the era of so-called rich Internet applications that’s been predicted for some time and to the possibility of web applications used offline.

The alpha download includes the Apollo runtime which embeds the WebKit open source web browser engine, an SDK for building applications, and an Eclipse plugin for Flex Builder. It’s aimed at developers who already know how to develop HTML and Flash applications but who want to target the desktop, whether it’s Windows, Mac, or Linux.

You might wonder why we need a new application development framework and runtime, when so many developers are targeting the web for cross-platform applications. However, Apollo gives the developer access to system resources like the file system, allowing for offline applications. Also, Apollo applications eliminate the browser paradigm for better or worse. Apollo applications must be installed and upgraded explicitly like desktop applications and they don’t have browser features like back buttons and tabs, unless the developer specifically codes them.

Some consider Microsoft’s WPF/e platform the main competitor to Apollo, because it promises rich cross-platform applications, just like WPF/e. However, I wonder if the real competitor to Apollo is the web browser, specifically Firefox. Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web reported last month that Firefox 3 will include support for offline web applications. He also noted that some of Firefox developer Mozilla’s top workers are employed by Google.

It’s not Microsoft that matters so much these days — it’s Google and the web and new ways of doing things. Does Apollo represent a truly new way of doing things or a backwards look at the desktop and past hopes for a cross-platform development environment? Even if Ajax applications are heinously hard to develop and some apps just need to break out of the browser, the momentum towards the web seems almost unstoppable. Ballmer would love you to think that Microsoft’s the competitor to keep your eye on, but the real steamroller may be Google’s billions married to an open source browser with offline support.

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  1. John Dowdell Monday, March 19, 2007

    Hi Anne, I liked reading what you thought, but the title seemed uncomfortably martial to me. It’s more like an ecology than a battlefield, isn’t it?

    tx, jd/adobe

  2. guynamednate Monday, March 19, 2007

    “..the momentum towards the web seems almost unstoppable.”

    That’s true, but why limit your notion of “the web” to mean “things that are accessed through a web browser”?

    It’s precicely this momentum that is driving Adobe to push Apollo and Flex, and Microsoft to push WPF and WPF/E.

    The power of the web is not limited to a browser, and for many applications and many types of content the browser (and really AJAX as a platform) is too constraining.

    I think WPF/E will really take off because it is so closely related to WPF, the presentation framework on Vista, that will allow developers to target the largest demographic (Windows users) while taking that same code and using it for a cross-platform, browser-based version in WPF/E (not to mention the fact that they could then take that same code and have it work on a mobile device, Xbox360, or any number of different kinds of devices running the lightweight WPF/E).

  3. Anne Zelenka Monday, March 19, 2007

    JD (or do you prefer John?) — funny you should mention that… I started this post with the idea that an all-out battle between open and proprietary is actually good for technology and for users, and so I was already predisposed to the martial analogy. Then it turned into a riff on the Adobe Apollo news.

    Maybe it doesn’t have to be war, but I see the push and pull and opposing forces of commercial vs. open source as driving development. It only works if both are very strong… as with Adobe of today and what may be a new axis: Google/Firefox.

    guynamednate: I don’t disagree with what you say. The next generation of the web is likely to be very different than today’s web. The next generation of the browser is also unlikely to look like today’s browser.

  4. Anne,

    In your comment to guynamednate you stated:

    The next generation of the web
    is likely to be very different
    than today’s web. The next
    generation of the browser is
    also unlikely to look like
    today’s browser.

    You are really forgetting something. Most people resist change. Millions upon millions of people have learned how to use the simplicity of today’s web browser (with back buttons, bookmarking, etc.). Everyone can federate to this simplicity. Rich applications which may be nice and snazzy, but if everyone fractures and does their own thing just to be cool or to stand out, and if in doing so you break the simplicity of the browser’s interface, then you will never gain a mass change of habit and behavior. Do not estimate the human brain which is resistant to change. Why do you think Apple almost always gets it right with their human user interface experiences? Perhaps Steve Jobs understand this Zen: less is more (in many situations). There will be many people who will not understand this Zen and they will waste their cycles cackling about Microsoft v.s. Google v.s. Apollo v.s. whatever … when the reality is that there are BILLIIONS of people who don’t give a rat’s butt cheek about the technology under the hood.

  5. Apollo Alpha release link roundup…

    As you’ve probably heard, we’ve released the first public alpha of the Apollo runtime. Woo-hoo! If you’re not familiar, Apollo is the code name for a cross-operating system runtime being developed by Adobe that allows developers to leverage their…..

  6. Rob Freeborn Monday, March 19, 2007

    I think that Apollo is far from a backwards look at development and will do nothing but expand the move towards a web based world.

    An easy example would be webmail. What’s the one thing that stinks about webmail? You can’t get to it, search it or even write emails when you aren’t connected to the web. We solve that problem by using a desktop client that downloads those emails. This of course means that the emails are now stuck in that client and are no longer accessible. Now think about an Apollo enabled webmail solution where you can manipulate and work with that information regardless of location, regardless of connectivity. Apollo “could” give us all Exchange type synching but we wouldn’t be stuck in a M$ world.

    This will no longer be a discussion about web apps or desktop apps but instead just “apps”.

    This is why back buttons and things like that are an irrelevant part of this dicussion as it has nothing to do with the browswer paradigm. This is about using the web for what it’s meant to do, transport information.

    r.

  7. Jesse Kopelman Monday, March 19, 2007

    Well clearly the issue is whether online-enabled is going to be about the browser or some other interface. Applications will be online-enabled. We can argue about to what degree, but they will be, end of story. So again, the issue becomes the interface, and as such the article is fairly well titled. What I keep thinking back to is that weird hybrid browser interface Windows 98 had that nobody used. Maybe Microsoft was just 10 years ahead of their time.

  8. alex sergeyev Monday, March 19, 2007

    The really interesting story is what happens next with Java… momenutm on intranets continues, and it looks like they’re getting their act in gear wrt scripting, etc. to come back onto the internet – when that happens, flash will be what it’s always been, a proprietary putty for stuff not done by others.

  9. alex sergeyev wrote:

    The really interesting story is what
    happens next with Java … momenutm
    on intranets continues, and it looks
    like they’re getting their act in
    gear wrt scripting, etc. to come back
    onto the internet – when that
    happens, flash will be what it’s
    always been, a proprietary putty for
    stuff not done by others.

    I disagree. There is nothing at all interesting about Java these days. Sun is a dying company in a post McNealy era and they are not even close to being a player when it comes to desktop apps or hybrid Desktop – network apps. Java in its current or future incarnations may well be leveraged under the hood by Apollo, but did you read the documentation about how Apollo is re-using WebKit that has been kick started in the open source community by Apple and Nokia? Java is big and fat. The watered down versions of Java for mobile edition are hard to keep track of among the mobile phone manufacturers. Furthermore, Sun is a bunch of control freaks and they never really understood the meaning of community and thus just can not let go of Java and truly open source all of it such as with a GPL license. If there’s anyone who really knows, from years of experience and wisdom, rich media desktop based apps, its Adobe (and Apple although Apple’s zen is with the human user interface which also includes physical interfaces such as mice, monitors, machines, iPod scroll wheels, etc.). Google’s experience lies in the network, and thus I would not count on Google being a player in this space of emergent rich media hybrid desktop-web apps.

  10. GigaOM » The Coming Apollo vs. Firefox Battle « Wordpress testing Monday, March 19, 2007

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