If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know I was quick to jump on the AIR trip. I do still very much like AIR, have seen some good AIR apps and believe it has some good potential. I’ve played with a couple of AIR apps, have seen several AIR presentations (even presented one) and made numerous blog posts about it. So I feel I’m justified in my opinion that I’m not completely convinced that this is the best next step for RIAs, or at least not the best place we can end up.
I mentioned “played with a couple of AIR apps”, why only two? To be honest it’s probably slightly more, but still only very few. I’ve downloaded and installed the Pownce AIR app, now uninstalled as I didn’t use it. I downloaded and installed the Finetune AIR app, now uninstalled as I don’t keep much music on my computer and so it didn’t offer me much more than the in-browser version. I’ve also downloaded a couple of other apps out of interest but only was looking out of my interest in AIR and not so much because of the usefulness of the app. All gone, I currently have zero AIR apps installed.
The fact I uninstalled them isn’t really the point i’m trying to make, for me, those apps just didn’t add much value so I removed them, that could be the same as on any platform. The thing that bothers me about AIR apps is how few I can be bothered to try. I generally am not that inclined to download and install the applications in the first place. This is because breaking out of the browser breaks up my user experience. I love RIAs, I love the ease in which I can access, use and share them. These things just aren’t as good when I have to download and install the application I want to use, I just want to use it.
Okay, so the features that AIR offers aren’t available to the Flash player and I do think those features are hugely valuable. I just don’t think running an RIA as a completely separate entity to the browser works too well. A large draw for an RIA is simplicity and availability, both of which out-of-browser RIAs restrict.
Take Buzzword, which is a truely remarkable RIA and in my opinion is superior to any other online AND offline wordprocessing tool. I’ve not seen the AIR version of it which I believe is on it’s way and I can already see that what AIR offers will be a great addition to it. But wouldn’t it be even better if all the connectivity detection, local file storage, drag and drop etc were available to the in-browser version? If installing AIR gave me all those capabilities as an in-browser resource as well as a stand-alone runtime? Okay so no custom chrome for in-browser. Big deal! Apps like Buzzword already stamp such an impression with their branding and interface you really easily forget you have some boring browser buttons up there. We now have full-screen in Flash Player, let’s work out those secrity issues and make more use of that.
I know it’s not so easy with all the security sandbox constraints of running in browser but is there really that much difference to me saying “yes let this application i’m installing have access to the nether regions of my PC” vs “Oh, I tried to do something in this online app that wants access to my PC? Oh go on then let it”.
Security gurus can tell me that what i’m asking for isn’t possible and why it shouldn’t be, but I feel as long as I ultimately make the decision on what does and doesn’t have access then it shouldn’t matter whether this is in or out of browser. Am I alone in thinking this? Is this something that will be possible in the not-too-distant? I’ve not done enough homework to answer that but it certainly makes more sense to me as in some ways AIR feels like we’re taking a step backwards.