Monday, March 19, 2007

Is Adobe's Apollo the "Real Deal?"

Adobe has been working on freeing flash and web development from the browser for a while now, supplementing or even replacing rich web clients, and Apollo is their solution:
Adobe Systems is opening a new phase in the rich client wars, releasing code that could help developers change notions of what a PC interface looks like.

The company is posting early code and a software development kit (SDK) for Apollo, its runtime engine for web-like applications running on a desktop without a browser. Apollo launches at the end of the year.

We've seen the claim before. A 4GL-ish based system that will put software development in the hands of everyone, and Apollo is another of these, I think, but will someone get it right this time? I always wonder at claims something can make anyone a "developer." OK, it can make you one, but it doesn't make you a good one necessarily. Look at all the terrible flash-based web interfaces out there.

While conceptually similar to Widgets in Apple's OS X, and Windows Vista's oh-so-originally named Gadgets, Apollo goes a step further, Adobe says. It can run on the desktop, is capable of accessing data on the local hard disk, and of integrating with other applications - such as Adobe's PDF.

Adobe wants developers to build Apollo-based desktop applications using existing tools and expertise, such as Flash, Flex, HTML, CSS and AJAX.

This is probably one of the biggest risks around Apollo, that Apple and Microsoft, the owners of the desktop, are already doing something similar, though both are confined to their own respective "sandboxes" right now and Apollo isn't. There isn't anything to really stop, say Apple, from making it so Dashboard widgets can run outside of Dashboard. In fact, there is already a way to do it.

Apollo gives developers a way to customize the desktop, and move away from the cookie-cutter Microsoft-defined look and feel that's defined the PC market for 30 years. This could come in quite handy for banks, telcos and other brand-conscious organizations that want a customized interface to be the first thing users and customers see when working, instead of the Microsoft logo and standard Windows front-end.

Apparently, the Mac/PC user interface is dead, or at least a lot of people are trying to kill it, to make it disappear into the background, replaced by task specific UIs, all different and all branded.

I think to really see the potential benefits and uses of Apollo you need to watch this demo video. It shows some of the interactions between an Apollo "app" and a web site, in this case I think that rather than replacing traditional desktop apps, Apollo has the potential to create a whole new class of web-aware applications. While it won't make every web designer a software developer, it does potentially open up new ways for those of us that do develop software to build web-aware applications, and that could lead to a lot of new ways to present and manipulate data.

Read more: Adobe targets developers with Apollo
More information on Apollo: The Apollo wiki

(Note: I haven't actually had time to download and evaluate Apollo yet.)



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