(Originally posted 2008-06-25.)
Many of you will have, by now, installed the Adobe AIR runtime. Most probably it will be to run something like Twhirl.
At this point many of you will be asking “what’s Twhirl?”
If I said it was a nice desktop application that makes using Twitter so much easier I hope you don’t ask “what’s Twitter?” 🙂
So, we’re beginning to see these desktop applications coded using Adobe AIR, which stands for “Adobe Integrated Runtime” (formerly “Apollo”).So, what’s special (if anything) about AIR?
In my experience, two things:
AIR applications run across Mac, Windows (and in Alpha form) Linux.
(In fact I installed the Linux AIR alpha plus Twhirl on my ASUS EEE PC some months ago. (Nice machine that EEE, by the way.) It worked fine within the limitations of the AIR alpha code.)
It’s entirely possible to code up AIR applications using just a text editor. (in fact that’s precisely what I did.)
My editor of choice, for whatever that’s worth, is Notepad++ on Windows. (And I’d rather not start an editor war here, thanks.) 🙂 And the EEE comes with the Kate editor, being built on Debian Linux.
I like environments where there is little, if any, in the way of barriers to entry for programmers.
So what does an AIR application consist of?
In principle one can do fancy things with Adobe Flex Builder and .SWF files but that requires expensive tooling. But there is another way:
You can write an AIR application of arbitrary complexity with two files:
- A small XML file.
So I really think the “this builds on what you already know” point makes it attractive to an awful lot of people.
This isn’t an AIR tutorial so I’m not going to give you samples of the small XML and html files. You can easily find those on the Web. I just want to leave you with the impression there isn’t much to it. And there is an O’Reilly pocket guide for AIR. (But there isn’t a “For Dummies” book for it – so that’s alright.) 🙂
There are alternatives – such as Mozilla’s XULRunner (whose user interface is based on XUL rather than HTML) and, I suppose, Microsoft’s Silverlight. But neither is as easy and “I just need a text editor and the SDK to do it” is pretty enticing.
I mentioned the SDK. It’s free (but it doesn’t run on Linux and I’ve not heard any suggestion that it will). It comprises two useful tools:
- ADL – which you use for testing
- ADT – which you use for packaging up your completed application. This involves signing the resulting .AIR file – and the ADT tool has the capability to enable you to be “self certifying” so that gets round the cost of getting a certificate from a more formal authority. But it does require users to trust you. 🙂
Both are simple to use.
So, I got a “Hello World” application up and running in about twenty minutes, and that even with typ(o)ing in the XML and HTML files from the O’Reilly book. Swiping from the Web would probably be quicker – but you’d learn less.
Note: IBM doesn’t appear to have any commercial interest in AIR. And I certainly don’t. So I’m just telling you how I see it.