Adobe Puts $100M VC Funding Behind Apollo

The move was a splashy way to spotlight Apollo, a developing project that Adobe sees as the linchpin of its effort to remain at the Web development vanguard.

"We believe [Apollo] will truly revolutionize the way the world will interact with the Web in the future," Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen said in a keynote address Wednesday.

Scheduled for a preview release this year and a full launch in mid-2007, Apollo is a new runtime that marries HTML, PDF and Flash. The platform is designed to help developers link online functionality with the rich-client features of desktop applications. As with its Flash Player and Acrobat Reader, Adobe will offer the Apollo runtime as a free download.

Adobe demonstrated early previews of a handful of Apollo applications, including a digital music player that incorporates Flash video and a video slide show culled in real time from Flickr. Another app featured a snazzier interface for eBay. Adobe envisions Apollo apps working as elegantly offline and they do on the Internet, allowing users to work offline and synch their apps later.

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Critics of Apollo say Adobe is reinventing the wheel. At a time when software developers are scrambling to make applications available as hosted, Web browser-accessible services, Adobe is banking on demand for dedicated desktop-app interfaces for online services. And as write-once-run-anywhere portability goes, that's what Java tries to deliver.

Adobe Chief Software Architect Kevin Lynch said Apollo will be easier to use, easier to install and more elegant than rival technology. Adobe is already skilled at ensuring consistent, cross-platform experiences, he said, pointing to the broad adoption and availability of Adobe's PDF and Flash software.

To that end, Adobe threw some red meat into the waters for the developers attending Max. A long-awaited preview version of Flash Player 9 for Linux emerged from Adobe's labs last week, winning hosannas from Linux users who had been frustrated by the two years that Adobe has let lapse since its last Flash for Linux update. Adobe also released a beta version of its Flex Builder 2 development platform for the Macintosh, bringing Mac users closer to parity with Windows users, who got their version of Flex 2 in June.

ISVs and other partners will be key to Adobe's efforts to make Apollo as much of a desktop standard as its Flash Player and Acrobat Reader, since Adobe needs compelling applications to drive demand for Apollo. The $100 million VC commitment is one of Adobe's vehicles for building a broader market around its entire development platform, according to Pam Deziel, director of product marketing for Adobe's platform business.

"We've had the VC fund for a number of years, but this is a shift in focus and engagement. What we're really talking about here is becoming more active in building our own ecosystem," Deziel said. "This is [for] funding entities that we believe are going to help us drive and proliferate the Adobe platform."

Because the initiative is new, Deziel couldn't point to any examples of companies in line with Adobe's VC vision. But she offered some pointers for developers eager to draw Adobe's attention.

"We're going to look for synergy in terms of our business interests and strategy -- and the 'wow' factor," Deziel said.