Business Software

Running on AIR: Great Office Apps You Can Get Now

The release of Adobe's AIR runtime platform was supposed to inspire the development of sophisticated business applications to take advantage of its media-rich capabilities.

AIR is a tool to build rich Internet applications that can be connected to your desktop and use Adobe's Flash player. Some six months after the release of AIR 1.0, what little there are of these applications -- we're talking things you can really use to help your productivity -- remain mostly limited to simple widgets or work-in-progress prototypes.

Keep reading, though, because we've found some good ones. Almost all are free or free to try before buying.

But why aren't there more?

"What's curious is that the mainstream population hasn't fully latched onto the AIR concept quite yet," said Ronald Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink. "There aren't as many AIR-based enterprise applications as there should be. Perhaps it's just the complexities of introducing a new language, as well as a development paradigm. Adobe has huge in-roads with the creative part, but not as much with enterprise application developers."

James Governor, a principal analyst at RedMonk (of which Adobe is a client), said AIR "will receive a boost through a partnership with SAP Business Objects. Other third parties, such as BMC, are also standardizing some of their console technology on an AIR front end to Business Objects analysis and reporting tools. Some modern health care software players are also building on AIR. The fact that AIR is being bundled in these new markets indicates it can become an ecosystem play, which is always a great way to tackle the enterprise."

Besides partnerships, a compelling application is needed, experts agree. "As long as Adobe keeps pushing the platform, and as long as they continue to show the merit of moving to a new approach for distributed application development, someone will build the 'killer app' that will move this whole industry forward," Schmelzer said. "It might come from the major enterprise app developers -- SAP, Oracle, etc. -- putting forward an AIR version of their UI. Once that happens, things will snowball."

Adobe plans to roll out its own potential killer app: an AIR version of Web-based word processor Buzzword. "Our objective is to develop the Buzzword AIR version so that a user's documents will synchronize between the Web and the desktop without user intervention or management," said Tad Staley, a senior evangelist at Adobe.

Sounds great. When is it coming out? Unfortunately, "we can't say publicly, but we are actively working on it now. It's our highest priority," said Staley.

Nevertheless, here are 10 AIR apps that have the best potential for use in the office that you can download and try now.

No. 1 -- Doomi and MiniTask

These two are simple to-do list apps. But you shouldn't expect either to offer a multitude of ways to organize and prioritize tasks, or other enterprise-level to-do management features. The idea behind both is to allow you to spend more time doing your tasks rather than managing them.

As Felix Raab, one of the developers of MiniTask, sums it up: "MiniTask is an alternative to complex and bloated task management systems; it lets you organize tasks really fast and stays out of your way."

"Doomi is designed to be dead simple, easy to use, and look damn good on your desktop. It doesn't really do much else than what you would expect it to do; I think that's why so many people like it," said Doomi's creator, John Giannakos.

Still, Giannakos plans to add more features. The most intriguing will be syncing Doomi's to-do list data with cloud computing services.

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