Adobe will soon launch technology that could threaten the popularity of programming platforms such as Java and Microsoft's .NET.

A beta version of a new Adobe runtime that will enable rich web-based applications to run offline, called Apollo, will be released later this month.

The release of a developer preview of Apollo will coincide roughly with ApolloCamp, an event Adobe will hold in San Francisco on 16 March, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

The company said that Apollo delivers on the promise of technology that Macromedia introduced in 2003 called Macromedia Central. Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005. Macromedia Central was an environment that allowed Flash-based applications to run offline so they didn't need to make continuous calls to back-end servers, allowing them to run more efficiently.

"Macromedia Central was an early [version] of Apollo," said Pam Deziel, director of Adobe's Platform Business Unit. Apollo will allow developers to take applications built not only in Flash, but also in HTML, AJAX and other web development languages and create them to run locally on a user's desktop, she said.

According to Sean Christmann, senior developer at EffectiveUI - a Denver-based company that has had an early look at Apollo - the technology acts as a wrapper, which makes it easy to take code from an existing web application, wrap it in Apollo and transfer it to the desktop. Developers would use Adobe's Flex Builder tool to wrap their code in this way, Christmann said.

The Apollo runtime must be installed on the desktop or embedded direct in the application to enable it to run locally, similar to how the Flash player runs Flash applications in the browser, Deziel said. Apollo will be available for free to both users and developers.

Anthony Franco, founder and managing partner of EffectiveUI, said Adobe plans to use Apollo to promote revenue-generating products such as Flex Builder and Flex Data Services, which connects the Flex application framework to back-end data and business intelligence.

It also could lure developers away from Java and languages used to develop .NET applications on Windows, Christmann said. "A lot of users start learning programming online and now they don't have to learn a new language when they want to go to the desktop," he said.

Though Apollo has not been publicly released yet, EffectiveUI has used it to build a desktop application for eBay so auctions can run on the desktop without being connected to the internet or accessed through a browser, Christmann said. EBay will not confirm or deny the existence of the application.

There are several benefits for companies with popular web sites to also have a desktop version that can run in Apollo, Christmann said. It allows companies to interact direct with their users without having to access a browser, and it also takes a load off their servers if users can access their applications offline.

Users benefit from running applications on Apollo, too, he said. If they want to put new products up for an eBay auction, for instance, they can type all of the information about the items and post photos of them while they are offline, then access the internet later and have the information automatically uploaded to the site, Christmann said.

Franco said Adobe plans to release a final version of Apollo in the third quarter, and eBay likely will go live with its desktop application then. Adobe's Deziel would only say that the company plans to release Apollo in the second half of the year.