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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.

According to Adobe, Apollo applications will combine the rich interface of online applications with the ability to hook into internet-based services, applications and data sources through use of XML APIs and protocols such as SOAP - Simple Object Access Protocol.

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.

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.

Pam Deziel, director of Adobe platform business unit product marketing, told The Register: "There will always be applications that are better suited to being pure desktop applications, [but] the lines between browser-based rich internet and traditional applications will be blurred... that's great for developers."

Of course, we've got a long way to go before then, and much will depend on how much functionality developers add throughout this year's alpha and beta - the latter due mid-year.

Apollo's use of web services APIs means it could initally lack integration with an install base of hard-core personal productivity and business applications from Microsoft and other software familiar to most business users.

On email, for example, Apollo will depend on developers using protocols such as POP3 and SMTP for integration with popular email systems, with Apollo's socket APIs talking to servers. End-users, though, will be able to drag-and-drop files into Microsoft Outlook from an Apollo application, Adobe said.

Adobe is also investigating whether to support launching a default email client from an Apollo application.

In the meantime, Adobe will have to hope that bigger desktop contenders don't cast their shadows over Apollo. Apple, with a new OS pending, could like what it sees and upgrade Widgets.

And Microsoft - once rumored to be buying Macromedia before Adobe swooped - is less of a threat in the short term, as it's only just shipped Gadgets with the PC client upgrade. But it could step up with updates to Windows Vista. ®

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