Et tu, Adobe? Dropping Adobe AIR support for desktop Linux

Adobe cuts off Linux's AIR supply

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Folks can quibble about the market share of the Linux desktop, but Adobe has read the tea leaves and said it's not interested in pursuing desktop Linux with Adobe AIR. But things look good for Android.

Dave McAllister, director of open source and standards (OSS) at Adobe, once had high hopes for desktop Linux. More specifically, in 1999 he predicted a "significant market" for desktop Linux — around the 10-15% range. If McAllister is feeling sheepish, he's at least able to admit that he was wrong. (If it makes McAllister feel any better, I'd have agreed in 1999 that Linux would have a better showing by 2005 — and in 2005, I still had high hopes.

Those days, however, are over. According to the statistics that Adobe is paying attention to Linux is still hovering in the 1% range. If that's not enough, Linux accounts for only 0.5% of Adobe AIR downloads. But Android and iOS are not. McAllister notes that "The market is shifting to a mobile client, increasingly focused on the delivery of rich experiences and applications that travel with us via phone or tablet."

So Adobe is doing what makes sense for business — dropping support for Linux. Well, sort of. Adobe is no longer releasing its own version of AIR for desktop Linux — but is making it possible for partners to do so with a porting kit. Existing apps will work on Linux if they target AIR 2.6 or below.

But another name for Linux desktop is Android. Well, perhaps not desktop, but Android phones and tablets are increasingly doing service as client computers for millions of users. Android tablets are still struggling, but I suspect it's only a matter of time before the Android OEMs finally start getting it right enough that Android tablets take off. And when they do, Adobe will be there with AIR.

Linux desktop enthusiasts have to be disappointed, if not surprised, by the news though. It's true that Adobe AIR is probably a bad indicator of the health of the Linux desktop. I'm hard-pressed to think of many applications that require AIR, aside from Tweetdeck — and that's not exactly a "must have" application for many Linux users. What the Linux desktop needed from Adobe was not AIR, it was Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver, and the rest of the Creative Suite.

Still, it's a vote of "no confidence" from a major player in desktop applications — and pretty much ends all of the hopes and speculation that we'll ever see a Photoshop release out of Adobe for Linux.

It is, and has always been, a Catch 22. Companies like Adobe want to see evidence of mainstream success before porting applications to Linux — and mainstream success requires companies like Adobe to port applications to Linux. But the Linux desktop has simply always been a target that required more effort than companies wished to expend.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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