AIR, and a Prism

Web 2.0 is upon us, and with it comes new technologies determined to integrate it with our daily activities.  Thus far, interacting with the web has been through the use of a web browser such as Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.  But, times are changing…


Let’s take a peek at two new technologies that are poised to change the web world and truly integrate web-based applications with traditional desktop applications.


First up is Adobe AIR, formerly known as Apollo.  According to Adobe :

Adobe® AIR lets developers use their existing web development skills in HTML, AJAX, Flash and Flex to build and deploy rich Internet applications to the desktop.

In a nutshell, it brings web-based content directly into standalone applications.  In other words, developers can write a complete web-based application and distribute it as a downloadable application.  It’s a pretty neat concept as it allows you access to the standard UI elements of a desktop application, while allowing you to use standard web technologies such as HTML and JavaScript.

It’s cross-platform, like Java, so you can build a small distributable application without needing to distribute the framework as well.  It also supports offline use.  In other words, you can interact with web-based applications, while not connected to the Internet.  There are limitations, of course, but all of your interactions are queued up and synchronized with the online portion of the application the next time you connect.

It looks like a pretty cool technology.  Time will tell if it takes off or not.  One drawback, depending on who you are, is that this is not an open-source solution.  This is an Adobe product and with that comes all of the Adobe licensing.


The other new technology is Mozilla Lab’s Prism.  Prism is similar to AIR in that it strives to create desktop-based applications using web technologies, but so far, it’s doing it in a manner opposite to that of AIR.  Prism allows you to encapsulate on-line content into a simple desktop application, minus any of the fancy UI elements associated with the Firefox web browser.  The result is a fast web-based application running in a normal desktop window.

It doesn’t sound like much now, but it has potential.  Mozilla has plans to add new functionality to the web to allow for offline data storage, 3D graphics, and more.  So, instead of extending the capabilities of Prism, Mozilla wants to extend the capabilities of the web.

So why the different approach?  Well, with AIR, if you are away from your computer for some reason, you may not be able to access the same content you normally would.  AIR may not be installed on the new machine, and you may not have permission to install it.  You can likely access the web-based version of the application you were using, but you may end up with limited functionality.

Prism, on the other hand, allows you to use web applications as if they were desktop applications.  But, at the end of the day, it’s still a web application.  So, if you find yourself on someone else’s machine, without Prism, a simple web browser will do.


Both technologies clearly have advantages and only time will tell if either, or both, survive.  It’s a strange, new world, and I’m excited….