Apollo has lift-off!

Version 1 of Apollo will allow applications to interact with the Clipboard and drag-and-drop from the operating system: the intention is for Apollo to offer more desktop features in the future, but current support for file system access and application window control makes it useful right now. Perhaps Apollo’s main problem is that while it’s easy to describe what it does, it’s harder to say how it will be used in practice. It’s the sort of technology that excites creative people by opening up a whole new area for development, and although example applications do exist, I have the feeling they’re only scratching the surface of its possible uses.

Apollo has lift-off!

Adobe supplies several suggestions and example applications, but what most interests me is that Apollo has the potential to free Flash from web dependency. Ever since Adobe acquired it from Macromedia, Flash has been firmly marketed as browser-based technology, and until relatively recently Director was recommended instead for cross-platform desktop development. However, Director has remained almost entirely unimproved since the 2003 release of MX – and I doubt we’ll ever see a new version – whereas Flash has been completely transformed over the last three versions from simple animation tool to sophisticated web application platform. The problem is that while it’s possible to create a Windows EXE or an OS X runtime from within the Flash Authoring environment, Flash’s functionality remains a browser-based plug-in. The Apollo runtime gives Flash access not only to the local file system and network connections, but also to its own appearance – the bland Flash Player EXE window becomes a thing of the past, superseded by Apollo. The same applies to any web application front end, as the application’s interface can now be transferred to the desktop while its back-end remains on the server.

Apollo enables the client-side interfaces of existing web applications to be transferred to the desktop with a minimum of fuss: the end-user gains the convenience of not having to open a browser to access their web application, and the developer can build new features to take advantage of the richer environment. In my PassYourTheory example, I enhanced the income-monitoring app, so that every few minutes it queries the database of orders and updates a running total. There’s an obvious application for developers of Flash games where an Apollo version could download new levels, software updates or high scores and save them to the local file system. However, I believe Apollo will have most impact when it’s used to enhance the capabilities of web applications, playing to the strengths of both client and server side. For example, developers can use the greater sophistication of Desktop interfaces to enhance a companion web application.

One of the best examples is a companion program under development by Ebay to showcase Apollo features. Anyone who uses Ebay will know that the process of adding a listing or bidding on multiple items can be time-consuming and confusing, partly because Ebay is limited to using web forms. By using Apollo, along with Flash and/or HTML and JavaScript, it’s possible to assemble multiple sales (for example, by dragging and dropping their photos onto the application) while offline and then to upload the batch in one go. Apollo’s network-monitoring functions allow it to keep an eye on the bidding process for buying and selling. Since it’s a desktop application, this Ebay companion can save and load the details of sales and purchases to your local file system, making it possible to work on your Ebay business in a similar way to a Word or Excel document, bit by bit. Compare this with the tortuous process of adding an item via web forms. No wonder Ebay is so keen to support Apollo, since it will certainly make the process of buying and selling simpler and more efficient.

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