In an effort to lure more developers to its tools for building RIAs (rich Internet applications), Adobe is making its Flex Builder 2 software available free to students and faculty at educational institutions.

Flex Builder is Adobe's development environment for building applications using Flash and Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), two of the technologies integral to Adobe's strategy for making applications that use rich media available online and offline. Adobe hopes to woo some of the best of the crop of new developers at universities, which are just beginning to offer Flex courses as part of their curriculum.

Beginning next month, qualified education users can begin downloading Adobe Flex 2 at Adobe's Web site. The open-source SDK (software development kit) for Flex is already available free and can be downloaded online. The SDK includes the Flex code compiler and libraries for ActionScript 3.0, which provide the language and programming model for RIAs deployed on Flash.

Adobe also is working on Flex 3, which will extend support to AIR, a new runtime that enables developers to move RIAs to the desktop. Both AIR and Flex 3 are available in beta versions and will be in full release by early next year.

Adobe is seen as a leader in providing tools for RIA, but Microsoft is hot on its heels. The software giant is leveraging the strength of its Windows and .NET desktop developer base to push new tools for Web and multimedia development such as Expression and Silverlight.