Adobe has launched the first official version of their new Air platform. Its goal is to bridge the divide between online and offline applications, something Google experimented with in Google Gears, though Air is on a larger, more open, scale. Installation was a breeze, with a small file to download and completing in moments. Anyone can develop applications that run on the Air platform and a couple of dozen are available now. Cream of the crop are undoubtedly eBay desktop, Google Analytics Reporting Suite and Spaz (for twittering).

eBay desktopThe advantage to this method is that only the data is pulled from the web, meaning snazzy user interfaces can be implemented without causing any speed issues. In addition, data is cached so that when offline I can, say, browse through the last 100 eBay items I have viewed. Usability is key and each application appears just as any other software installed on your machine and is run in the same way and in its own window, not through a browser. In some cases the functionality of these apps is superior to their online counterparts, such as Analytics’ use of a fully scaleable map interface. I have noticed a few bugs with the foreign shipping in the eBay application, but otherwise it provides a fantastic mechanism for searching and sorting auctions, as well as running in the background to provide alerts. Obviously any changes you make when using these applications are stored online and accessible as normal from anywhere.

The idea is not revolutionary and I was unsure what Adobe expected to achieve with this project. The result is really impressive, with even the early crop of applications featuring some gems that have a really professional polish. I have long been sceptical of the online-only applications that claim to replace traditional office suites. However this compromise — online service with offline application and access to data — seems ideal. Whether Air takes off as a platform depends on the applications, of course, but Adobe seem confident with their SDK. The early releases bode well so I’m keen to see what else emerges.