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Mike Chambers interview Part 2 - about AIR

Mike Chambers interview Part 2 - about AIR

Mike and Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) goes way back. About 5 years ago, Mike worked on the Macromedia Central project. It was short lived, but the lessons learned went into what is now known as the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR). In Stockholm, we talked about the history and future for AIR.

FM: Why did you switch from the Flash team to the AIR team?
MC: I worked on the Flash community, then there was a period where [we were not] as responsive and listening to the community and we had a release in there that really wasn't the best release...

FM: ...did I hear MX2004?
MC: Yeah. We saw how bad it was, we saw the problems with it and how the community was responding to it. So I actually went and worked on the Flash Team for the Ellipsis updater which was the second update for it. We were really focusing on getting this right, fix these problems and we really had to re-engage the community. That went actually really well and we got some trust back. After that, Kevin Lynch asked me to work on Central and be part of the Central Team.

I think Central was a little before it's time? You know, the player wasn't ready, but we learned a lot from that. That actually directly led to AS3 and the rewritten AVM. But anyways, after the Central Team, I worked a while doing developer relations stuff, community stuff and some of the stuff that I do today. Then the AIR team started coming together, once the Adobe stuff came through, and they asked me to work on the team and really make sure that we're connected and understand what developers want and that they understand what we are trying to do. I don't work directly on the AIR team any more, although I'm focusing on AIR at the time.

FM: So you left Mike Downey there?
MC: So I was actually Product Manager on the team through 1.0. I'm not Product Manager on the team [any more] I actually got a promotion so I'm like "Principal Product Manager" now, anyways, I work a little bit higher now so I can work with the Flash Player team and the AIR team. Downey actually works on this thing called "The Lighthouse" program and it's a program where we work really closely with larger companies that make products that make millions of people install that really helps drive adoption of the runtime. He works with that program and then we work really, really closely with those companies, Ebay was the first one actually.

 

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Mike C and Mike D

FM: So who's the AIR product manager right now then?
MC: We have two: Luis Polanco, who has been on the AIR team from the beginning and the new one is Rob Christensen who is actually from Macromedia. They're doing a really good job, they're actually traveling around the US now doing these customer visits for future versions of AIR. They call them like SPEEDY or SPD or something. It's this whole process...

FM: ... that was initiated after the MX2004 release?
MC: Yeah, actually it was around that time, cause that's a good point! That came directly from those releases and it wasn't just Flash, it was also Dreamweaver. That process - institutionalizing communication with developers and users - that was where that [process] came from.

FM: Yeah. Before this you only interviewed a few users and that would be from big companies in the US?
MC: Before we were really active in the community and we'd meet with customers but it wasn't a structure so it was very easy to just start ignoring some of that stuff and that's what happened with MX2004.

FM: How do you feel the response to AIR has been?
MC: We're really happy with it. We've been really open about AIR and maybe we're a little too open because we talked about it really early? I think we're in a space now in the industry where there's some changes going on about how apps are made and where they live. I think the browser is getting a second wind with some really cool stuff in the browser, but there are just times where you have a better experience from the desktop. So taking advantage of all those web technologies will make it really easy to accept.

We've seen that in the Flash and Flex community, it's really strong. Especially in the Flex community it's very natural cause in Flex Builder it's very easy [to build AIR apps]. For the tour and these events we aim for about 30% new and javascript developers and we've been getting about 40-50% so that response have been really good. We're seeing some really cool apps out there thats just HTML / JavaScript from people playing around with it, so it's still really early. The thing I'm the most excited about, especially on the tour, is seeing a lot of interest and excitement from JavaScript developers to be honest.

I'm not going to kid you, it's a 1.0 product so we're not anywhere near the features we want. We're just starting with distribution, so it takes a while.

 

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Mike and the A-Team relaxing and working between sessions at the OnAIR event in Stockholm

FM: You don't feel that you are saturating the developers with yet another thing that they should know and learn?
MC: Well, no. I think we're providing this as another solution. If you're building a Flex app that sits in the Browser, that does not mean it makes sense as an AIR app, right? You got to really look at how much does the user interact with this, how often, what does the app need to notify him about, how "close" do the app need to be to him. For a lot of apps, the browsers completely fine. It's a lot easier for users a lot of the time just to go to a webpage, but IF you need your app to be a lot closer to your user or if your user wants to be closer, then AIR is a really easy way to take what you already know and make that transition.

A really simple sample are all the Twitter apps. Twitter is something where you want to get in there all the time and you don't want to go through all of the tabs in your browser and you want to get the notifications? If you look at the most popular Twitter apps, they're all AIR apps. I think that's because just the timing some of it. You have all these Twitter's in the web developer world and for the first time they can use their skills to build this desktop stuff. This is just an example, but the question is really how close do you want to the application.

FM: The killer app is kind of missing?
MC: You know... Yeah, although I don't know. I think it's really early. I don't think that Twitter is the killer app for AIR, but the Twitter apps have really been driving a lot of awareness and we watch al the twitters where people talk about AIR and it's amazing how many we see every day. Every single day people say "trying out this new Twirl app. It's on AIR and it's pretty cool". Some people don't even know about it and maybe they had some misconceptions?

I think that if we had a mini-killer-app for 1.0, its the Twitter apps that have been driving a lot of awareness. But what the killer app is? I don't think the industry knows. Not just for AIR, but you know there's all these changes going on and people are still trying to understand them. Someone is going to understand it a little faster and that's what the killer apps going to be.  Hopefully it'll be built on AIR or at least take advantage of AIR if it makes sense.

FM: What kind of apps do you think we'll see going forward? For now it's been a lot of Widgets and that kind of stuff.
MC: We are starting to see some larger apps come out, but a lot of [what's out now] is people playing around with a new technology and experimenting so they tend to make smaller stuff. I think what you'll see for 1.5 and over the next few years to the 2.0 release will be more enterprise level apps. A lot of that, like salesforce.com, allow you to manipulate a lot more data. The Google Analytics app by Nico is a good example. I think we'll see a lot more of that kind of apps, more complex that can take the data and do a lot more richer stuff to it. And you know - the more complex apps take a lot longer [to develop].

FM: 1.0 is out and 1.1 is just coming up and it's got just one new API feature?
MC: There are a couple features, but they're some minor API things. This is just a small release, solidifying the 1.0 release. The main thing here is additional language support. You can build an AIR app in any language, but some of the AIR dialogues and the installer are not localized. You'll be able to localize those now and we also have a Japanese version of the SDK.

FM: You also gave away the roadmap going forward from here?
MC: We're doing the SPEEDY process now, so 1.5 is again more of a maintenance release. There'll be a lot of bugfixes and there is a lot of bugfixes in 1.1, especially on memory. For 1.5, the main thing is going to be synching up with Flash Player 10 which will be really, really cool. There will be a lot of bugfixes as well, but it's really about solidifying 1.0.

FM: Can you say a little bit about what you are thinking of adding for 2.0?
MC: It's really early for that since the teams out validating some ideas and getting feedback, but the type of stuff we've been hearing questions about are debugging when you're developing JavaScript apps. Right now it's not the easiest to do as you can't debug so looking closer at the Javascript developer workflow. Things like USB support? communicating directly with USB would allow you to write your own little drivers for like a GPS device or something? Some thing that comes up a lot is being able to launch applications.

FM: but that has side effects as well, right?
MC: Yeah, that's stuff we look at really closely and of course we're also working on Linux at the same time. Linux will be in the 1.5 timeframe, so that will be before 2.0.

 

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Mike and Ted Patrick at WebDU07

About Jens C Brynildsen

Jens has been working with Flash since version 3 came out. Since then, he's been an active member of the Flash community. He's created more than a hundred Flash games (thus the name of his blog) but he also creates web/standalone applications, does workshops and other consulting. He loves playing with new technology and he is convinced that the moment you stop learning you die (creatively speaking). Jens is also the Editor of this website.

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