Looks like the busy bees at Adobe are making the most of their decision to swallow Macromedia whole in 2005. In a move highly anticipated by the interactive programming and design community, Adobe releases the alpha version of Apollo, a cross-OS runtime that acts a little like the hot-headed lovechild of the dull but handy Acrobat Reader and bells-and-whistles Flash Player. In short, Apollo provides the ability to run Web apps both online and off.Loftily designed to bridge the broad divide between Web apps and the average user's desktop, Apollo applications function like regular online applications but otherwise act like local software, which means they can run even without a connection to the Internet. Apps accessed offline create unique icons on the computer desktop and automatically reconnect when a user gets back online. Apollo alpha includes the following: * Complete HTML functionality in Flex- and Flash-based content * Multiple window chrome modes, including native and custom/transparent * A partially implemented native windowing API * Icon support * Full file I/O API * Flex components * JavaScript/ActionScript script bridging A few head-smacking exclusions from alpha include PDF support, top-level HTML app support, drag-and-drop/copy-and-paste support and online/offline APIs. However, enthusiasts won't have long to wait. 1.0 is slotted for release in the last half of 2007 and should possess all these functions stock, among others. Kevin Lynch, chief software architect and SVP of Adobe's platform business unit, calls Apollo alpha "[a] great runtime environment for [Web] applications [...] used more frequently or where people want more interaction with local data." Creating opportunities for interaction in the "collaboration is key" days is no joke, particularly now that Web architects have so many options, including Flash, OpenLaszlo, Ajax and Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere. Apollo plays nicely with all these applications. Lynch also points out that the upcoming Creative Suite 3 is Apollo content-friendly. To ensure the program's staying power Adobe created integration between other apps as well, like their Illustrator and the Dreamweaver Web development program. Apollo alpha is available for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems, with Linux operability to follow in the near future. Unlike a typical SWF file, Apollo doesn't operate out of an EXE. Once alpha has been refined, users will be able to download a runtime to their desktop PCs for running Apollo applications in the same way they can download Flash Player for Flash animation. The still-rough alpha is a free download aimed at programmers and graphic designers. It includes a software development kit and runtime software for Apollo apps. Beta is expected this summer, with 1.0 to follow shortly. Long-seeded hype suggests a future release will support mobile devices, a definite leap out of the browser pan for on-the-go creative architects. Read more about Apollo alpha at ZDNet or at Adobe Labs. For those who can't imagine going another morning without Apollo, download it here. And if you're not certain what to do with it once you've got it, check out a demo of how Ebay's using it to build customer engagement.