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Adobe’s Apollo: we have lift off…


Adobe’s latest and most compelling foray into rich internet application development, Appollo, is really interesting for a couple of reasons.

It combines proprietary tools and technologies namely, Flash and Flex with public domain stuff like AJAX, Javascript and HTML. The client-side component, a cross-platform runtime engine, allows developers to deploy RIAs that look and behave like desktop apps.

A few years ago, everyone was talking about how as browser-based apps became increasingly powerful and sophisticated, the OS might soon disappear. What’s interesting about this development is that it works in the opposite direction. Apollo makes the browser disappear it does an en run around it. So my question is, if we don’t need the browser any more and the OS is also superfluous, what’s left?

The development stack gets a lot more complicated as technologies like Apollo make headway. Used to be that the browser layer was fairly abstracted from everything below it. Modern OSs now incorporate a range of web services-based APIs to bridge the gap; and again, what we’re seeing is a reciprocal move in the opposite direction. Apollo makes the Internet App central and allows it to hook into the desktop layer, presumably through an API-like model.

It’s interesting to speculate here on how Microsoft intends to compete. Remember when Lary Ellison was trumpeting Java as the great disrupter of Microsoft’s hegemony? It feels like history is repeating itself, minus some of the hubris that was flying around back then. Microsoft was able to effectively handle the Java threat, and went on to release its .NET framework and a RIA strategy centred around it’s Direct X suite of APIs. Part of Microsoft’s strategy was to let the Java thing run it’s course while focusing in the short term on promoting Javascript as a ‘good-enough’ alternative. Since then, Javascript and the community around it has matured quite a bit and now is a key piece in Adobe’s competitive strategy.

Another question: how will a development community that’s got somewhat of a proprietary feel for more open-ended technologies like AJAX and HTML feel about a corporate player stepping in to plug things together on their behalf? If Apollo gains support, it will certainly entail somewhat of a de-specialization or integration of specialization across the RIA dev. spectrum (e.g. bringing Flash designers together with AJAX and Javascript developers). I think that Adobe’s ability to do this will be a critical determinant in Apollo’s success.

One last thing, from a user experience perspective: what is the promise of a fully web-integrated dev stack that reaches right down into the core OS? What will these apps look and feel like? Part of the freedom that a separate web layer on top of the OS has enabled was the ability to re-conceptualize the UI. I’m not sure that the full scope of that promise has truly been realized, and wonder if it ever will as we begin to connect our web-based apps back into the desktop environment and paradigm. At the same time, we’re already seeing how web-based content hooked into the desktop can lead to a multiplicity of experiences (think media center’s UI, widgets and gadgets, etc.) co-existing peacefully. This is the prospect and maybe the promise of Apollo that excites me most.


David Gillis More posts by David Gillis