AIR Out Your Desktop with Adobe

Cross-platform never looked so Flashy.

Most Linux users are intimately familiar with programs that are similar to their commercial counterparts, but not quite the same. There isn't anything wrong with clone applications, but if programs were inherently usable, regardless of the underlying operating system, fewer programmers would have to re-invent the wheel over and over again.

Cross-Platform Apps, a Great Concept

One real hope for Linux users is the idea of cross-platform applications. It's not a new concept, but we're beginning to see some huge leaps in the ability for Linux users to use the same applications that Windows and OS X users use—not just clones, but the same actual apps.

Java, for instance, is a great way to make the underlying operating system unimportant. One really huge stumbling block with Java programs, however, is that packaging them for the different computer systems is very difficult. Sure, you can download a JAR file, but that does the average user little good. It takes effort to make installers for each platform you want to support. Java also has a reputation for poor performance. Before any Java developers form a lynch mob and hunt me down with pitchforks, note that I said it has a reputation for poor performance. At one time it was true, but in most cases, these days Java programs perform quite well. However, fair or not, the general opinion regarding Java programs to date is that they are slow and cumbersome.

On the Web, Computers Become Irrelevant

Web-based applications recently have become the most prevalent way to provide equal access for everyone. Whether you call it Web 2.0, advanced JavaScripting or just the availability of a more diverse set of Web programming frameworks, the Web currently is a hotbed of new platform-agnostic programs. That trend isn't going away any time soon, but there are a few problems that are tough to solve with on-line apps. For one, relying on the Web browser to handle multiple applications puts all of your eggs in one basket. If the Web browser itself crashes, so does every one of your running programs. An even bigger problem is that if the Internet itself isn't accessible, neither is the Web-based program.

Several potential solutions exist to solve the “unconnected” problem regarding Web apps. Google, for instance, continues to develop its Gears infrastructure that allows people to use Web applications when in off-line mode. The concept, whether implemented by Google or someone else, will make Web applications more viable as desktop program alternatives. Unfortunately, it still tethers us to a Web browser. Projects like Prism can allow for separate instances of Web applications, but regardless of what browser is used, the apps still require the browser in order to function.

Enter: AIR

Adobe has taken its long history of Flash on the Web and given developers the ability to create standalone applications that don't depend on a Web browser at all. I know that many Linux Journal readers just rolled their eyes at the mention of Flash technology under Linux, but to be fair to Adobe, it has put more serious effort in its Linux ports recently than ever before. The mere fact that the same version of Flash is available for Linux as is available for Windows proves that Adobe is taking our favorite operating system more seriously.

So, what makes AIR unique? Several things:

  • Applications look and function the same, regardless of the operating system.

  • Developers do not need to package AIR apps separately. One package installs identically on any platform.

  • AIR applications, along with the AIR environment itself, can be installed directly from a Web link inside a Web browser (assuming a recent version of Flash is installed on the computer).

  • Applications are standalone and don't require a browser. One AIR app doesn't affect other apps if it crashes.

One of the best things about AIR applications is that they tend to look aesthetically pleasing. Let's look at a few from Adobe's AIR Marketplace. I specifically focus on those that work under Linux now, and a couple that I hope work by the time you read this article.


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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Adobe still treating Linux like the poor stepchild

Ard Righ's picture

I think the article speaks for itself, when it notes the Linux AIR software is version 1.1 beta, and Windows and Mac have a release quality verion 1.5

This is the same issue I, and I suspect quite a few others, have with Adobe's Flash software. The plugins, especially the 64-bit ones, have been 'beta' for so long now.

If Adobe was actually serious, their linux releases would all be the same release quality and versions as Windows and Mac OS.

'future releases are planned to come out simultaneously' is PR spin for dangling a carrot and seeing how far they can get the donkeys to follow.

2 bad examples

Manzabar's picture

MyMediaPlayer was replaced by MyMediaPlayer2 but Hulu's already made changes to kill MyMediaPlayer/MyMediaPlayer2 and according to the developer, he's not going to try fixing it again anytime soon.

Google Analytics Reporting Suite does not appear to be available from the Adobe AIR Marketplace any longer. At least, I cannot find it anywhere on the site and the developer's site refers you to yet another website which doesn't have a download available.