Appcelerator launches open source platform for desktop apps

Appcelerator, a Mountain View, Calif. startup that that builds open source tools to ease the development of web applications, is now offering a platform called Titanium for creating hybrid web/desktop applications for your computer and mobile phone. The company also announced a first venture round of $4.1 million.

The obvious precedent here is Adobe AIR, a technology used by companies like The New York Times to build desktop applications that pull data from the web but also work offline. Adobe has the bigger name, plus the advantage of offering the first real product in the field, but Appcelerator chief executive Jeff Haynie isn’t ducking the comparison. He specifically pitches Titanium as a way to build applications with AIR-like capabilities — but rather than using Adobe’s platform, developers can use common web languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

It’s hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison between AIR and Titanium without seeing some applications, so hopefully I’ll get a better sense of how Titanium stacks up in coming months. Appcelerator says its features include direct file system access, desktop notifications, geo-location and more. (You can watch several demo videos here.) To illustrate the platform’s openness, Haynie noted that Titanium supports applications built in Adobe Flex, as well as videos in Adobe’s Flash format, and is working to make Microsoft’s Flash competitor, Silverlight, work too — something that probably won’t happen with AIR.

“This is a preview release,” Haynie says. “We’re not going to be at parity on day one, but we will be [there] pretty quickly.”

He adds that Appcelerator plans to earn revenue from “cloud-based application services” launching next year. The company isn’t offering many details about that, but Haynie says he definitely won’t be pulling a “bait-and-switch” by offering a free, open source version, then charging for a better product that uses proprietary code.

The round was led by Storm Ventures. Larry Augustin, a leading open-source investor, also participated.