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InfoQ Homepage News Adobe AIR Application: Spaz - a Twitter Client

Adobe AIR Application: Spaz - a Twitter Client

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Last week, published an interview with Ed Finkler, the creater of Spaz – an open source Twitter client written using the Adobe AIR platform. In the interview, Finkler discusses Spaz, how and why he selected the AIR platform, and some of the challenges of upgrading Spaz to the latest AIR beta 2 release.

Twitter is a combination of social networking and blogging, allowing users to publish messages sent via SMS, instant messaging, and email. Twitter boasts of notable users like Barak Obama. The Spaz client uses the Twitter API’s to provide a desktop interface for using Twitter.

The most interesting part of the interview was Finkler’s discussion on choosing the AIR platform. Finkler describes himself as primarily a web designer and developer. He started the project as a hobby with the desire to “revisit desktop app development.” The first version was built in RealBasic and according to Finkler left a bit to be desired:
I don't think it was much to look at, it was functional (not sure I could say more than that).
Finkler describes struggling to do things on the desktop that are quite simple within the context of a web application:
One of the things I discovered early in making desktop apps is that certain things that are simple to do on the web are enormously difficult in a desktop app. Getting user pics to display next to posts was a great challenge, because you can't just say "grab the image from this URL." You have to do all the heavy lifting the browser would do for you on a web page…
The struggles and roadblocks caused Finkler to give up for a few weeks, before trying “Apollo,” the code name for Adobe AIR at the time. Finkler describes his experience of building the initial prototype:
My first proof-of-concept was an AIR app built on Beta 1 that just loaded and displayed the Twitter public timeline, auto-refreshing every minute. Getting that working was surprisingly easy, in part because I was using the Spry JS framework from Adobe, which makes grabbing data from various sources and displaying it in HTML a piece of cake. That early prototype looked much better than the original Spaz, and it was much, much faster to develop.

… Once I got up to speed with JS, AIR was a huge win both in terms of speed of development and flexibility.
Finkler does allude to a notable limitation with AIR. In comparing Spaz to other Twitter clients, he touches on the common AIR pain point of not being able to natively interact with the OS.
Spaz cannot as easily integrate with OS X-specific technologies (no non-insane way to do Growl integration, for example), although AIR Beta 2 does open up things like interacting with the Dock icon.
He also details some of the recent challenges of upgrading Spaz to the latest beta release of AIR:
Recently, I've just been getting Spaz up to speed on AIR Beta 2. Version 0.2.6, which was really a compatibility release, was rougher than I usually like. There was a huge shift in the security model for HTML apps between AIR Beta 1 and Beta 2, and it came little more than a week before the public Beta 2 release.

… We're now currently on 0.2.7, and expect to release 0.2.8 within a few days.
The Spaz application seems to be an ideal use of AIR, and Finkler's overall experience with AIR sounds positive. There are a handful of intriguing AIR applications now, but it will still be interesting to see if developers working on applications with more robust business requirements have similar experiences to Finkler with Adobe AIR.

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