On sabbatical in 2001 from Macromedia, software developer Kevin Lynch was frustrated he could not get to his Web data when he was off the...
SAN FRANCISCO — On sabbatical in 2001 from Macromedia, software developer Kevin Lynch was frustrated he could not get to his Web data when he was off the Internet and annoyed that he could not get to his PC data when he was traveling.
Why couldn’t he have access to all his information, like movie schedules and word-processing documents, in one place?
He hit upon an idea that he called “Kevincloud” and mocked up a quick demonstration of the idea for executives at Macromedia, a software-development tools company. It took data stored on the Internet and used it interchangeably with information on a PC’s hard drive.
Kevincloud also blurred the line between Internet and PC applications.
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Ready for debut
Seven years later, his brainchild is about to come into focus on millions of PCs.
Lynch, new chief technology officer at Adobe Systems, which bought Macromedia in 2005, will today release the official version of his project, called Air.
The software-development system will power potentially tens of thousands of applications that merge the Internet and the PC, as well as blur the distinctions between PCs and new computing devices like smartphones.
Adobe sees Air as a major advance that builds on its Flash multimedia software.
Flash is the engine behind Web animations, e-commerce sites and many streaming videos. It is, Adobe says, the most ubiquitous software on Earth, residing on almost all Internet-connected personal computers.
But most people may never know Air is there. Applications will look and run the same whether the user is at his desk or his portable computer, and soon when using a mobile device or at an Internet kiosk.
Applications will increasingly be built with routine access to all the Web’s information, and a user’s files will be accessible whether at home or traveling.
Air is intended to help software developers create applications that exist in part on a user’s PC or smartphone and in part on servers reachable through the Internet.
To computer users, the applications will look like any others on their device, represented by an icon. The applications can mimic the functions of a Web browser but do not require a browser to run.
The first commercial release of Air is today, but dozens of applications have been built around a test or beta version.
eBay has an Air-based application, eBay Desktop, which gives its customers the power to buy wherever they are.
Adobe uses Air for Buzzword, an online word-processing program.
At today’s event in San Francisco, new hybrid applications from companies including Salesforce, FedEx, eBay, Nickelodeon, Nasdaq, AOL and The New York Times Co. will be demonstrated.
Air is free
Like Adobe’s Flash software, Air will be given away. The company makes its money selling software-development kits to programmers.
Lynch and a rapidly growing number of industry executives and technologists said they believe the model represents the future of computing.
Moreover, the move from PC-based applications is likely to get a significant jump-start in the coming weeks when Intel introduces its low-cost “Netbook” computer strategy, which is intended to unleash a new wave of inexpensive wireless connected mobile computers.
“There is a big cloud movement that is building an infrastructure that speaks directly to this kind of software and experience,” said Sean M. Maloney, Intel’s executive vice president.
Adobe faces stiff competition from companies with the same idea.
Many small developers like OpenLazlo and Xcerion are creating “Web-top” or “Web operating systems” intended to move applications and data off the PC desktop and into the Internet through the Web browser.
Mozilla, the developer of the Firefox Web browser, has created a system known as Prism. Sun Microsystems introduced JavaFX this year, which is also aimed at blurring the Web-desktop line.
Google is testing a system called Gears, which is intended to allow some Web services to work on computers not connected to the Internet.
Finally, there is Microsoft. It is pushing its competitor to Flash, called Silverlight.
Three years ago, Microsoft hired Brad Becker, one of Lynch’s crucial software developers at Macromedia. Becker, who helped create Silverlight, was a leading designer of the Flash programming language.
Much software will have to be rewritten for the new devices; Lynch said it will be the most significant change for the software industry since the introduction in the 1980s of software that can be run through clicking icons rather than typing in codes.
This upheaval pits the world’s largest software-developer groups against one another in a battle for the new hybrid software applications.
Industry analysts say there are now about 1.2 billion Internet-connected personal computers. Market researchers peg the number of smartphones sold in 2007 at 123 million, but that market is growing rapidly.
“There is a proliferation of platforms,” Lynch said. “This is a battle for the hearts and minds of people who are building things.”
Battle of developers
The battle will largely pit Microsoft’s 2.2 million Net software developers against the more than 1 million Adobe Flash developers, who have until now developed principally for the Web, as well as a vast number of other Web-oriented designers who use open-source software development tools.
Up to now, it has been a low-level war between Microsoft and Adobe. Silverlight, for instance, got high marks from developers for its ability to handle high-resolution video, but Adobe quickly upgraded Flash last year in response.
With revenue last year of $3.16 billion, Adobe is large enough to fight Microsoft.
Adobe, the maker of Photoshop, Acrobat and other software, also has a strong reputation as a maker of tools for the creative class.
“Adobe’s known for its designer tools, but they realize that development — for the browser, for the desktop, and for devices such as cellphones — is a huge growth market,” said Steve Weiss, executive editor at O’Reilly Media, a technology publishing firm.