While Flash Player got most of the attention at Adobe' design and development conference this week, the company also announced an update to Adobe AIR, a runtime environment that allows Flash programs to run offline on the desktop.

The first version of AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) has been used for a handful of well-known applications, such as the TweetDeck tool for Twitter, the BBC's iPlayer media software and the New York Times Reader, which makes it easier to flip through news articles on a PC screen.

AIR can be useful to Flash and Flex developers because it lets them write programs that run outside the browser, on the desktop of any computer with the AIR runtime installed. The technology is only 18 months old, however, and is competing for attention with Microsoft's Silverlight, Google Gears and others.

Adobe hopes to move it forward with a new version that will be released in beta later this year, it said at Adobe Max this week. The software aims to address shortcomings identified by some developers, especially the limited access that AIR provides to local PC resources.

AIR 2.0 will add the ability to access mass storage devices, which means an application will be able to detect when a user plugs a Flip video camera into a PC, for example, and then save the files to a local hard drive or offer to upload them to the Web.

It also gets a native process API (application programming interface), which will allow AIR programs to communicate with applications installed on the desktop. An AIR directory program could call up information about a customer stored in an SAP application, for example, said David Wadhwani, general manager of the Adobe Flash Platform group.