Last week I was at the Web Directions South 07 Conference. It was a blast and learnt a lot from our customers and non-customers in the field. It was the closing party and I was asked a simple question around "AIR" - in that "What's Microsoft's response to AIR?"

My response is usual, WPF. I then get thrown a rebuttal - "but that doesn't work on X-Platform does it" to which I respond "No, but why do you need your solution X-Platform".

I do not kid, but I usually get 7/10 times "Oh.. no reason" style responses. Amazing how the X-Platform discussion has a sense of elegance about it, but realistically most generally use it as "Potential vs Reality" discussion point.

The response I got from this one guy was different, he wanted to reach out to his fellow Apple audience with his application, to which I responded "ok, you have your answer - all the best". As I was giving him the polite "is that all, ok, onto the next person waiting" I got thrown a remark "typical Microsoft, always forcing people to be locked in, that's why Adobe's going to beat you guys".

Now... it's at this point, where I feel like breaking about 46 Microsoft HR Violations but in a calm voice, I responded - "oh? disagree but respect your opinion, all the best again.."

He rambled on about Open Source of Flex 3 and so on, but one thing hit home was how "interoperable" AIR was to use, in that it gave his fellow web developer market the ability to create desktop rich applications.

hmm...

Yes and No. Yes AIR will let you write things to your hard-drive, it will give you the ability to put a shortcut icon on ones desktop and lastly it will give you the ability to create "icon tray" popup's or design your own window, but that's it (aside from the Adobe Flex extensions or AJAX basics).

image If you were to load up the Silverlight Halo3 site via AIR, you'd get a requirements message regarding "Where is my Silverlight runtime". If you want to interact with anything but Flash 9* or Adobe Acrobat (via JavaScript Bridge) you'll be busily looking for some other alternative approach than direct access via the runtime. Point is, Adobe AIR does have a lot of positives about it, but make no mistake, you are locked in just as if you were in WPF land. As like us, we have a set of basic requirements that need to be put in play, to ensure security first and foremost is kept intact.

image*I also loaded the http://halo3.com/believe site in "Scout" and got the "wrong flash player version installed" message (even though via Internet Explorer I can load it fine?)....

AIR is a hard discussion to have, as most of the time it's about what it potentially can do for you, yet little of the time is spent on "what it actually does for you or your customers today". I say this as, at heart I'm also a marketer and I always think of the X-Platform discussion around a thing called "Target Audience".

When Coke gets up in the morning and decides to pitch it's brand at it's target audience. They are very specific on whom they are targeting, they reconnect with their audience all the time and that's why you'll usually see Coke at rock concerts instead of bowls tournaments. Sure they could go after the seniors, as that potentially could grow their market further right? Yet they don't.

Summary is this, acknowledge that Adobe AIR has wonderful ideas behind it and is exciting, but also respect the fact that it's got a prescribed format and the difference between WPF and AIR is in reality the X-Platform argument.

The other missing point of the discussion is that Silverlight is here to stay, it will be here tomorrow and it's gaining momentum. Now if one is to create YAB (Yet Another Browser) style AIR applications, you're now ignoring your Silverlight market share and if you're ok with living in a Flash / Acrobat Reader access only solution - cool, all the best.

It may change post MAX 2007, Adobe are likely to announce some new goodies around AIR but for now, I'm not sold on it what it can do as being an absolute elegant story - more work is ahead of it and ignoring runtimes such as Silverlight is going to be costly to them.

What if tomorrow Zinc were to release compatibility to Silverlight? hmmm...