Adobe will give developers a free preview of its forthcoming runtime code-named Apollo today by releasing an alpha version of the technology on its Adobe Labs site.
The technology, announced last October, allows rich internet applications to run offline, and could threaten the popularity of programming platforms such as Java and Microsoft's .NET, Adobe said.
Developers can download the technology for free from the Adobe Labs site. The release includes a free software-development kit that provides a set of command line tools to develop and work with Apollo applications. Web developers can use the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) of their choice to build applications for the runtime, Adobe said.
Apollo, like the Flash Player, is a runtime, but one in which applications built using standard internet development technologies - such as HTML, Flash and Ajax - can run offline.
Kevin Lynch, senior vice president and chief software architect for Adobe, said the alpha release will let developers use Adobe Flash, Adobe's Flex tool and HTML to build applications, but won't have all the functionality of the full release, which is expected in the second half of the year.
"There is still some functionality we want to add to Apollo but we feel it's far enough along so people can build on it and experiment," he said.
The alpha release also will include support for Ajax, although the technology will be "refined" before the last release of Apollo, Lynch said.
At least one company, Denver-based consulting firm EffectiveUI, has used Apollo to build a desktop application for eBay. That application lets eBay's auction site run on the desktop without being connected to the internet or accessed through a browser. Unlike other web applications that run in offline mode, those built with Apollo will automatically update to the web any information added to the application while offline as soon as the user reconnects to the internet. No extra action is required by the user.
Apollo won't be the final name of the runtime, although Lynch said Adobe has not decided what that will be yet.
With Apollo, Adobe seems to be making a run at Microsoft by giving users an alternative for building web-based applications that can also run on the desktop, independent of a browser. Microsoft, too, has been ramping up its own strategy to give developers tools for building web applications, but it has been trying to tie those applications to its Windows desktop OS and development environment.
Indeed, Lynch said Adobe and Microsoft are trying to solve similar problems, but approaching it from two different directions.
"What we're really focused on is to enable the web to have a greater presence on the desktop, so as a web developer you can create your application and have it be installable on the desktop," he said. "We're bringing the web to the desktop."
Microsoft, on the other hand, developed Windows Vista with the hopes that Windows applications will be able to get information from the web while they run with a standard Windows user interface. Microsoft also plans to link its Windows Live web-based services more closely with its Windows OS.
"We're coming from two different directions, but converging on the same space," which is to create a bridge between the web and desktop applications, Lynch said.