Adobe Systems (ADBE) has been working on an ambitious new way to view Internet content without launching a browser window, and there are encouraging signs that Web developers might latch onto it. The platform, Adobe AIR, is sort of like desktop widgets on steroids.
Why should anyone care about that? AIR allows computer users to run useful applications without having to worry about what operating system they’re using, and without using a Web browser. Much as Apple (AAPL) is allowing Web developers to write quick and easy programs for the iPhone by tapping writing to the Safari browser, Adobe is letting Web developers write programs that could theoretically work on any platform that supports its ubiquitous Flash. (Here are a few of the apps Adobe is showcasing.)
One of the more exciting uses for AIR surfaced in the past few weeks: Pownce, a social networking/file sharing hybrid nurtured by the folks behind Digg, has embraced AIR as a way to keep a sort of Pownce control panel in front of users. Since Pownce is the latest invitation-only Web indulgence that Silicon Valley is buzzing about, the fact that it’s using AIR gives Adobe some valuable street cred.
Adobe will need it. Software and Web powerhouse Microsoft (MSFT) and Google (GOOG) have their eyes on similar turf – Microsoft’s new SilverLight, while not targeted toward the desktop, is a direct competitor to Adobe’s AIR/Flash/Flex offerings. Likewise, Google Gears seeks to make Websites useful whether you’re online or off, which overlaps with AIR’s stated purpose. Crowding the field further is Parakey, a startup that social networking company Facebook just bought.
When I met with Adobe a couple of months ago, I told folks from Adobe Labs that I thought a key to AIR’s success would be adoption by scrappy, inventive Web 2.0 startups rather than previously announced AIR partners like eBay. So far, it looks like Adobe’s beginning to capture exactly that sort of valuable Web 2.0 street cred through outfits like Pownce.