Adobe joins the cool kids in the Linux Foundation

Adobe AIR, a platform for running Internet applications on your desktop, is now available in early testing mode for Linux. Adobe is also joining the Linux Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes and standardizes the open source operating system.

AIR is already available for Windows and Mac, but this is still an important move. AIR officially launched with great fanfare a month ago, in part because of its “build once, run anywhere” potential — namely, it allows developers to create an application on AIR without worrying about which operating system their customers are using. By making AIR compatible with Linux, Adobe adds some extra weight to that promise.

Of course, I was pretty darn excited about AIR already. Not only is it part of a larger wave of companies working to bridge the gap between your desktop and the web, it also beat competitors Mozilla Prism and JavaFX out of the gate, and it launched with high-profile clients including eBay, NASDAQ and The New York Times.

Adobe says that joining the Linux Foundation will allow the company to accelerate the development of rich internet applications in Linux. A bunch of other high-profile tech companies are already members, including Hewlett Packard, Google and Nokia.

In fact, software giant Microsoft is becoming more and more conspicuous in its absence. That absence isn’t exactly surprising — since Microsoft alleges that Linux violates more than 200 of its patents — but it does mean that Steve Ballmer and friends are looking more and more like John Hodgeman in those Apple commercials. That may not make a difference in the short-term, since I hear Microsoft offers some pretty popular products. It may not mean much to AIR either, since Microsoft isn’t offering any directly competing software.

But it could hurt Microsoft in one area where it’s actually the underdog — the company’s web application developer Silverlight, which Microsoft is pushing as an alternative to Adobe’s market leader Flash. Adobe already has a huge lead here, so Microsoft needs to win over a lot of developers.

Now let’s say you’re a developer — again, the very audience that Microsoft needs to befriend — particularly one with an interest in open source, and you’re choosing between Flash and Silverlight. On the one hand, you’ve got a nearly ubiquitous product offered by a company that just joined the Linux Foundation. On the other hand, you’ve got a product that’s the clear underdog, and is offered by a company widely seen as Linux’s number one enemy. Hmm, tough call.