We'll beat Microsoft and Sun, says Adobe's chief software architect
And so to Barcelona for Adobe Max 2007 Europe, the company's developer conference, where we caught up with chief software architect Kevin Lynch.
We asked him to explain Adobe's platform ambitions. He was happy to oblige.
“The Rich Internet Application movement was something that we were working on back in 2001. We coined the term because what we saw people were starting to make not just web pages but full applications in the browser. Now we're enabling that to come full circle back to the desktop with AIR [Adobe Integrated Runtime],” he says.
Currently in public beta, AIR enables Flash or HTML applications to run outside the browser. Lynch is sceptical of efforts like Google's Gears, which make browser applications work off-line. “What we've found is that most applications on the web aren't being used in the off-line case, because the user interface around going off-line and getting back to that application is awkward for most users. We think AIR is an approach which will make more sense to people, because those applications are in the normal application area.”
But is an AIR application secure, given that although the runtime prevents any direct calls to native APIs, applications have the same access to the hard drive as the user? Lynch talks about ways in which users are protected. "The application installer is signed, and then the end user is informed about the rights this application is going to have,” he says.
Beyond that, Adobe is relying on brand trust and internet reputation to help users make safe choices. He adds that AIR is not making the internet's security problems any worse. “Intentionally malicious applications are ones that people could do today if they wanted to with any native technology, and try to lure people into downloading them. That is an existing issue with the internet today.”
Why should developers choose Adobe's proprietary technology, rather than open source and open standard equivalents, such as W3C-standard SVG [Scaleable Vector Graphics]? “The technology that we're using for graphics is based on SWF, the Flash file format. That format is published and open to anyone to build around. We haven't seen wide adoption of SVG. At Adobe we actually created an SVG player, and we didn't see a lot of customer demand.
"On the video side, many of the codecs have patent royalties. Our approach has been to make these technologies widely available for free. The technology we've embedded in AIR is the Flash player. It's already working across operating systems and browsers, it's got amazing adoption. With HTML we decided to pick one HTML engine and make that run consistently in all environments.
"The one we selected is WebKit, an open-source and free HTML engine. It's embedded in Apple's Safari browser, and it's also used by Nokia on mobile phones. We're taking an open web approach with AIR, not only following the standards with these technologies but embracing open source as a way of implementing them.”
What is the thinking behind Thermo, a new designer tool previewed for the first time earlier this month? “Designers create mock-ups of user interfaces and they give them to developers who then write the logic. We'd like to enable the designers to express the interactivity. So when you roll over something what happens, when you click on something what happens, how do the transitions happen?
"With Thermo the drawing designers make can actually be turned into a working application, piece by piece. You can select something that looks like a text box and say, 'this is a text box.' The result of that is a Flex application that they can hand to a developer.
For data, Thermo allows you to use placeholder data. The developer can continue working from that very same source code. It also enables iteration so that the designer can get back the file, work on it some more, give it back to the developer. I think it's a radical step forward.”
Microsoft has come out with its own Flash-like browser add-in called Silverlight. How does Adobe's approach compare? “We're enabling the web to come to the desktop”, says Lynch. “Microsoft is talking about their intention to move the .NET Windows community to the Web with Silverlight.
So in a way it's trying to turn the web into Windows, and we're trying to bring the web to the desktop at Adobe. Right now there is no equivalent to AIR at Microsoft. The closest is running native code in Windows, which would only work on Windows. Silverlight is more similar to Flash, though Flash has a big lead.”
Responding to a question later, Lynch is more succinct. Can Adobe beat Microsoft at Rich Internet Applications? “Yes,” he says. Is he worried about JavaFX, Sun's Java-based equivalent? “No.” ®