Adobe AIR launches — a flood of web/desktop hybrids to follow?

The wall between the web and your computer continues to crumble with today’s launch of Adobe AIR, a runtime environment that allows you to deploy Internet applications on the desktop. AIR has already been available in public testing mode for several months, but the official launch should lead to greater usage — and, if we’re lucky, a flood of innovative web/desktop hybrids.

In what may be the first big wave, several companies are also launching their AIR-based applications today. eBay and NASDAQ will use Adobe AIR to keep customers up-to-date about market news and account status, cable TV children’s channel Nickelodeon has created a video jigsaw puzzle application and The New York Times is using AIR to build the desktop component of ShifD, which will allow Times readers to move newspaper content back-and-forth between their computers and their mobile devices. (For a full list of today’s launches go here.)

AIR offers a “best of both worlds” approach, says Michele Turner, an Adobe vice president of product management and marketing. Web developers can use the technologies they’re used to, such as HTML and Ajax, and the applications can be built quickly and accessed remotely. But, like a desktop program, AIR apps can also read and write local files, as well as work with other applications on your computer.

AIR’s official launch puts it ahead of competitors JavaFX and Mozilla Prism, which are still in development or public testing. (Many think of Microsoft Silverlight as a competitor, but that’s a misconception, Turner says, because it’s a browser plug-in, not a desktop runtime environment.)

Adobe is also releasing Adobe Flex 3, a tool for building Flash applications. Like AIR, Flex was previously available in public testing mode. Components of the Flex software developer kit were already open source, but the release means the Flex SDK is now completely open.

Start-ups are already making use of AIR too. For example, Unknown Vector used AIR to build its desktop video player (our coverage), and Acesis, which launched at last month’s DEMO, based parts of its medical records software in AIR (our coverage).