Talkin’ About a Revolution

Revolutions may be enabled by technology, but they are driven by people. Adobe’s recent announcements about Flex, Flash, and Adobe AIR on Linux are the most recent technology enablers for the software revolution that is currently underway.

Usually I’m one of the first to post about Adobe’s Linux related announcements. My trip to Bangalore, India, however, made me a little late to the party this time. In case you haven’t seen the announcements, on March 31, 2008 Adobe released an alpha version of Adobe AIR on Linux and an update to the alpha version of Flex Builder 3 for Linux (which supports building AIR applications on Linux). On the same day Adobe also announced that we joined the Linux Foundation.

In a post about the announcement, JD points to one of my old blog posts, which still accurately echoes the significance of this announcement - “… for the first time EVER, nearly everyone in the world has access to a FREE, ubiquitous application runtime, and a FREE application development toolkit for that runtime! Of course I’m referring to Flash Player 9 and the free Flex 2 SDK.” Now I can update this statement “For the first time EVER, everyone in the world has access to a FREE, ubiquitous web runtime, a FREE cross-OS desktop runtime, and a FREE, open source, and mature development toolkit for those runtimes! Of course I’m referring to Flash Player 9, Adobe AIR, and the Flex 3 SDK.” This is huge. We can now build real software once and have it run on every major OS and in every major browser – and we can do it using open source tools!

Why the excitement? Haven’t we had this for years - with Java? QT? GTK? True… in theory. We’ve had the technology; but we always lacked a critical mass of people that were actually using it for wide reaching, real software. There are now countless companies - including Oracle, SAP,, Intuit, E*Trade, eBay, AOL, NASDAQ, Yahoo!, and numerous startups – that are using Flex to build real software for Flash Player on the web and Adobe AIR on the desktop. This kind of software revolution is reminiscent of the transition from client-server to web applications. The movement is real. The technology is mature (even the new Adobe AIR desktop runtime consists primarily of mature, proven technologies like Flash Player, Tamarin, SQLite, and Webkit). Software is changing for the better, especially for those of us on Linux.

I now have several desktop applications installed on Linux - such as the eBay Desktop - which I would never have had before AIR worked on Linux. Most companies simply do not invest time and money building or porting their software for such a small customer base. With AIR it doesn’t matter. Companies build the software once and it works on the web, on the desktop, on Windows, on Mac, on Linux. This is a software revolution not because the technology exists, but because people - lots of people - are actually using it.

Today we call the products of this software revolution “Rich Internet Applications”. In ten years it’ll just be “software”.