What is Adobe AIR?

Adobe Integrated Runtime (Adobe AIR) is a software technology that enables web applications to be installed and run locally on a computer. Adobe AIR is also operates cross platform, meaning developers can create a single application that works on different operating systems. These types of programs, which Adobe calls Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), are built with the same techniques used to build web pages and other types of interactive content. Adobe designed AIR to include the best features of both traditional desktop applications and web applications.

Traditional computer programs are built using a variety of computer programming languages, each of which may be unique to a specific platform. This means that a developer who wants to support more than one computing platform essentially needs to create a different program for each platform, a task which might require knowledge of several programming languages. The web, on the other hand, is meant to be universal; a web page should look the same on Windows as it does on a Mac. Web developers have been able to build some very advanced applications, but web applications are limited in what they can do because they are confined to a web browser.

Adobe AIR aims to combine the power of traditional desktop applications with the flexibility of web apps. Adobe calls it a “cross-operating system runtime,” which means AIR is a software environment where applications can run without dealing directly with the operating system. Once installed on a user’s computer, this runtime allows RIAs to be run locally without having to open a web browser. Since the underlying technology is cross-platform, all AIR apps work on any operating system that AIR will run on.

RIAs created for Adobe AIR are built with web technologies like the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and Javascript, which are often easier to learn than other computer programming languages. AIR itself is basically a web browser with Javascript and a few of Adobe’s own technologies, such as Flash. Developers with experience in Flash web development can easily learn to create applications for AIR.

The real advantage of Adobe AIR over applications that run in a web browser is the freedom from restrictions imposed on the web. Web apps that run inside a browser have very limited access to the files on a user’s computer, while apps that run in AIR can save, open, and modify files just like any other program. AIR can also detect a broken network connection and revert to a local database to keep applications running. Drag-and-drop functionality is supported, so a user can drag a file from the desktop directly into an AIR application or vice versa.