Adobe released the public beta of its Adobe AIR runtime environment (previously codenamed Apollo) about a month ago. The software is designed to allow the development of rich Internet applications that work on any operating system. I'm sure that there are technical differences, but it seems a lot like an amped-up widget engine to me.
Needless to say, AIR apps aren't nearly as ubiquitous as Adobe Flash apps (yet), but there have been a few interesting recent developments. The most-polished AIR application so far is Adobe Digital Editions, software for reading, downloading, and managing e-books. To learn more about it, check Seth Rosenblatt's First Look video for Adobe Digital Editions.
While Adobe Digital Editions might be the most powerful AIR app so far, the one with the most buzz is definitely the Pownce desktop client, a tool for sending content to your Pownce buddies and the Pownce Web site. (Pownce is currently in private alpha; jump down to the bottom of this post for info about how to request an invitation.)
Pownce--cofounded by Digg frontman Kevin Rose--is essentially a "microblogging" tool, or Twitter on steroids. In fact, Rafe Needleman examined the differences between Twitter and Pownce on Webware.com last week.
Once you create an account on Pownce, you can add friends and then post messages, links, files, or event invites to your entire group of Pownce friends, specific people on your list, or the entire Pownce public at large. It's only in alpha release right now, but it's already a very slick service.
The Pownce desktop client essentially works as a front end for the Web site. You can read all of your messages or post your own links, files, or invitations, but that's about it. I was actually disappointed that you can't do much more than that. Again, it's important to note that it's still in its early stages, but I was looking for more functionality in the desktop app. For one thing, you have to manually refresh your messages, rather than have them appear in real time. Also, there's no way to manage your Pownce friends or your notification settings. It will certainly improve but right now it's more of an accessory for the Web site than a full-blown software client.
As for other Adobe AIR apps, most of them are either sample apps from Adobe, corporate marketing tools, or still in development. The most attractive of the programs so far is FineTune Desktop, a desktop client for the online music service FineTune. The AIR app lets you access your FineTune playlists and artists, search for music, and listen to playlists or radio stations. In order to add songs, edit your profile, or tag favorite artists, you'll still need to access the FineTune site via browser.
Also worth mentioning is the Twitter companion app Tweetr, which also runs on Adobe AIR. It's about as basic as an application can get, but it does its job as advertised. You can post messages to Twitter, check replies to your posts, or read your own messages in a rather drab, little gray box.
There's a little more than meets the eye with Tweetr, however. A "camera" button lets you submit any Webcam image instantly. If you send your Webcam image into Twitter, you'll be posting a link to that photo on Tw3t.com, which also keeps a running roll of photos from everyone who submits an image using Tweetr. I uploaded a snap of my favorite Picasso postcard, but you can also find my grimy mug on there if you look for it.
Some of the first practical applications for Adobe AIR (back when it was still called Apollo) were created for the community-news Web site Digg, which likely explains why Pownce is such an early adopter of AIR. One of the best AIR apps so far, in my opinion, is the Digg tool DiggTop. This little widget sits on your desktop and provides you with Digg news and videos based on categories or keywords that you select. You can even create notifications for whenever an article with a specific keyword is posted. You can't actually watch videos in the player, but that would certainly be a cool feature.
Another AIR application developed by Adobe is Kuler, which blends the features and functionality of a Web service with a complementary desktop client. Kuler lets users create and submit "themes," or what I would call color schemes. After registering for a free Adobe account, you select a base color, then choose your secondary colors using a variety of tools and settings. Your themes can use up to five different hues. Once you save a color theme, other users can download and rate them.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Kuler desktop application is the most limited of all the ones I've discussed today. You can view RSS feeds of the most popular, newest, and highest-rated Kuler themes, or search for themes by tags, title, or creator. Once you find a theme you like, you can copy the HTML color attributes or visit the page on the Kuler Web site, but you can't access any of your own themes, add your own customized RSS feeds, or even rate other designers' themes from the AIR client.
Again, it's important to note that Adobe AIR is still in beta release, and it's only been out for a month. Auction site eBay has an Adobe AIR application codenamed San Dimas that is in private beta, and I'm sure that the number and quality of Adobe AIR apps will improve as more sites and developers become familiar with the new environment. The development tool Aptana already supports Adobe AIR, and Web site Scale Nine has an impressive gallery of AIR apps.
On to the invites!
As I mentioned above, Pownce is in alpha release and only available by invitation. However, a few generous editors at CNET have volunteered to share their invitations with our audience. If you would like to receive an invitation, please fill out this form I created on Wufoo (covered previously on Webware.com), and ask politely.
Note: Please be patient and please be nice. Remember that we are doing you a favor. Realize that today is a Friday and that a late request today might not be fulfilled before the weekend. We only have a limited amount of invitations and once they're gone, I will post an update here. Also, I created my Wufoo form using a free account, so it can only receive a maximum of 100 requests. If you're unable to submit a request using that form, please leave me a comment.
Update: The Wufoo form is full! It reached the limit over the weekend and it won't accept any more entries. I've already corralled invites for the majority, but I'm doing to do my best to place the rest of you, so please be patient. If you don't want to wait, you can always check out InviteShare for other generous people with Pownce invites.