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Lift-off for Adobe's Apollo

One giant leap for webapplicationkind...

Build a business case: developing custom apps

As Apollo is a new tool, and a new way of working for anyone who's used Flash to build web applications, Adobe has provided plenty of documentation. The HTML-based documentation walks you through several simple applications, adding more and more complex functions with each worked example. There's also plenty of set up information as you can build your first Apollo applications in an HTML editor using JavaScript. HTML code requires hand-built XML files to control how your code is packaged in a .air file.

It's certainly well worth spending plenty of time looking through the sample code provided with the Apollo documentation. This will help you get started and shows you some of the tricks and techniques you'll need when working with Apollo. Once you've finished with the basic tutorials, the weather station sample shows many of the more advanced features, including coloured transparent windows and irregular window shapes.

One key feature that Apollo offers developers is cross-platform window controls. On a Windows machine, an Apollo application can look like a Windows application, or like OS X code on an Apple Macintosh. Alternatively, you can use Apollo's own chrome tools to build irregular windows – and even add transparency and alpha-blending effects. Apollo windows can mix vector and bitmap graphics, so you can experiment with your own UI. This is a similar approach to Microsoft's WPF – though here it gives you a lot more cross platform capabilities than the browser-hosted WPF/e. The alpha does have some limitations – including no support for drag-and-drop, and issues with using Flex components in multiple window applications.

The file system tools are an important feature, but if you've used JavaScript you'll find the basic ActionScript commands familiar. There are also a set of Flex filesystem controls, which will help simplify developing applications that need access to a host systems file system. Adobe has done a good job of abstracting Apollo's file tools so that it can work with both Windows and OS X file systems.

There's still a lot of work to be done. Apollo's PDF support is currently missing, so we'll have to wait for future releases to see just how we'll be able to use PDF in our Apollo applications. While Flex makes an excellent host for the development platform, it's not as designer friendly as the rest of Adobe's creative tools. With a major refresh of its web development suite due next week, there's probably not much scope for Apollo development features to appear there – though there is the possibility of extensions and future updates (and, of course, a version of Flash that - hopefully - will work with ActionScript 3.0 and will also play well with Flex).

A video demo of the Apollo alpha.

This is definitely alpha code (so perhaps you may want to look at the video demonstration of a rich eBay-branded Apollo application here).

Even so, it's going to help you get to grips with what promises to be an interesting – and useful – alternative to the traditional web application. The learning curve will be shorter than you might expect, especially if you already have experience with building CSS/HTML/JavaScript applications – and, of course, if you're using Flex you'll have a head start.

The next few test releases are going to be interesting as Adobe adds features and controls and gets rid of some of the nastier bugs. However, by the time the code ships we should see something akin to the original promise - a new way of bringing internet experiences to the desktop.

Download the Apollo Alpha here (registration needed). ®

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