Adobe’s Apollo Project: Taking the Webtop Beyond the Browser

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  moon walk 
  Originally uploaded by coolskipper.

A couple weeks ago, Adobe announced at a conference for developers that it is going to invest $100 million in new startups that build products on top of its software.  Adobe is known for its Flash player that, among other things, powers so many Web video sites today (like YouTube and Brightcove).  But Adobe is about to make a play to become an even bigger software platform company with a project it calls Apollo.  There are already more than two million Web developers who know how to create Websites based on Flash. With Apollo, they will soon be able to use the same basic software development tools to create standalone and hybrid desktop applications as well. 

Web and desktop applications are fusing together, and Apollo is Adobe’s play at making emerging Webtop applications more powerful and engaging.  When I met with Adobe’s chief software architect Kevin Lynch this past summer, he explained the evolution of the Webtop to me this way:

At first, the browser was treated as a dumb terminal.  Then with Flash, you could start to run things locally on the client [i.e., your PC].  You can also do that with Ajax.  The next step is to enable Web applications to run outside the browser. That’s what Apollo does.

Web applications that run outside the browser.  Lynch believes that there is just too much computing power on thedesktop to ignore it and have all your apps run on the Web. EvenGoogle, he points out, is trying to get a stronger presence on ourlocal machines with the Google Desktop.

Apollo, though, is aimedstraight at Microsoft.

If it takes off, it could potentially disruptMicrosoft from the low-end. Apollo apps are not going to be as fullyfeatured as Windows apps (which also increasingly are pulling in datafrom the Web), but they are going to be easier to make. Any Webdeveloper who knows how to work with Flash will soon be able to makepretty desktop apps that can run both online and offline as well. Thiswill include downloadable Flash videos, which today you can only watch while you are online.  As Lynch put it to me:

Thereis this chasm between the desktop and the Web. Right now, Webdevelopers are trapped inside the box [i.e., the browser]. This givesWeb developers an opportunity to create desktop apps. It also keepsthose applications from becoming all Windows applications.

Makeno mistake about the scope of Adobe’s ambitions with this project:trying to displace Microsoft on the desktop—that certainly is amoonshot. No wonder it’s called Apollo.

Update: Adobe’s announcement that it will contribute code to the Mozilla project (which powers the Firefox browser) is yet another indication that it wants to court developers.

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