Friday, April 06, 2007

User experience installing Apollo applications

If you haven't heard of Apollo, it's Adobe's new cross-OS runtime for what is being calling Rich Internet Applications (RIAs, yeah another acronym) built using Flash, FLEX, HTML, and AJAX. That means you use the same skills you have been using to build Web applications to build desktop applications that run on the big 3 OSes, Windows, Mac, and Linux. Adobe released Alpha 1 a few weeks ago.

Sound kinda like Java right, except its more about pushing browser technology down to the desktop. Why should you care, isn't everything going to be all Web x.0? Desktop apps are dead right? I don't think so, they are a bunch of use cases that are too dangerous with the Web right now. I think of this as the Persistant Storage and Local Device Access (PSALDA, wow that even has a nice ring to it, and I just made it up) problem. If we can't even view text, images, and video in a container (the browser) with some interactivity without risk of losing our entire machines with the Web stack right now, prospects don't seem good for solving PSALDA without a serious rethink of the Web platform

Apollo then is about going the other way, leveraging developers investment in Web technologies and making their reach even larger. The value proposition would be: You already have to develop for the Web, everyone does, why not use the same skills for the desktop instead of forking your own knowledge base to figure out desktop development in Windows Forms/WPE/Java/Cocoa and a bunch of other sub technologies to make that work? Use what you know and extend it using the Apollo runtime to create richer user experiencies through desktop applications. Sounds like a very compelling proposition, and one I think may hit the sweet spot for the next deep knowledge dive for a lot of developers. I haven't dug in yet to see how close Apollo's promise is to reality, the first thing I did was install the runtime and then a sample application. Here is what the end-user experience looks like:

Yes, this was running on Mac OS X 10.4.8, and no I wasn't being cute (yet) and running it on Windows in Parallels. Did Adobe lift the Windows Scary Security Shield straight from XP or Vista? I am not sure I like where they going with this. I know, what can you do with this? How can you install applications downloaded from the Internet with any sense of security? It's a tough problem to solve, and I can't be too critical about it since I can't come up with a great solution right now, but having Mom or Grandma evaluate this dialog and make a trust decision is still kind of crazy. Hell, I thought about cancelling when I saw all those Stop signs.

Uh, why didn't I see some of this information on the first dialog so I had a better idea what I was installing instead of just Application: Fresh

You can't see it here, but this took all of 15 seconds to "install", which is great of course.

Hey that is not bad at all. It looks a weird on OS X though with the title bar and jelly beans in "unified" mode, and then the light blueish tones that look more at home on Windows.

I actually haven't used the application much, but is seems to work. Here is the Preferences dialog:

This looks like nothing on any platform, so maybe the main application window feeling like Windows is partially unintentional. The Preference dialog though feels wrong on the Mac, the Close button is in the wrong place, window title should be centered. And what does that other button do? Not minimize, its like a window shade, how odd.

There is definitely a lot of promise with Apollo, and I am going to take a much closer look.