Adobe Systems is not quite in the same corporate league as Apple or Microsoft, but in terms of influence, it is a giant. The company has been instrumental in the development of page description language (Postscript) that dominates the printing and design industry, typeface formats (Type 1, and in conjunction with Microsoft, OpenType) used on tens of millions of computers, and the ubiquitous Portable Document Format (PDF) used to create platform independent documents. Hence, when Adobe strikes off in a new direction, many will take a keen interest.
Adobe Air was launched in 2007, and is described as a "rich internet application". While programs that use Adobe Air are installed to a user's computer and can run offline, they also add functionality via the Internet. For example, the Adobe Air-powered New York Times Reader allows users to download the entire paper, then access it even if offline. Adobe encourages software developers to write applications for the Air environment, and the Air Marketplace contains several hundred offerings. Productivity oriented examples include a job time log, task managers, software shortcuts for all Adobe packages, Colour combination finder, and a surprisingly addictive graphics program specialising in dynamic brushstrokes.
Adobe Air will have to build up a significant user and app base in order to survive. Web technologies need to have a critical mass behind them, or they tend to fade very quickly. Adobe claims 100 million downloads for Adobe Air apps, so perhaps the technology has a bright future.