Microsoft released public betas of its various “Sparkle” tools (publicly known as Microsoft Expression). This is the proverbial “Flash killer” and it should probably be taken seriously by graphic and front-end designers alike. I don’t know too much about this, but I think these are the tools that generate the XAML (Microsoft’s XML-based front-end markup language) and the scripting code that lives behind them. Publish.com has an excellent overview of the releases.
If you look at the screenshots in that article, you can’t help but note the eerie similarity between these tools and Adobe’s Flash (the timeline snapshot is a dead giveaway). The lines are being drawn folks. Both Adobe and Microsoft are shooting way past AJAX and such to deliver far richer interactive experiences that will not only live in your browser but on your dekstop as well. The engine to drive these tools on the Microsoft side will be built into Vista.
To counter, Adobe is working on a project called Apollo that seeks to integrate PDF and Flash. For me, that’s not the exciting part of Apollo. The exciting part is seeing Flash land on the desktop and tap into services over the wire. Couple this initiative with Adobe’s Flex Builder (now in alpha at Adobe Labs) and you’ve got Adobe’s and Microsoft’s guns aiming right for each other.
So who’s gonna win? In my oh-so-humble opinion it’s the player that:
- delivers a toolset that is easy for developers to pick up and play with;
- leverages pre-existing skills and knowledge;
- doesn’t require a massive development environment and the stars to line up to whip something together and throw it out there;
- allows others to see an app, view the source, poke around and learn on their own;
- can somehow gradually integrate into existing experiences. It’s a lot harder for a software group to stomach a full migration to an entirely new platform than an incremental one that gains wins in small steps. AJAX allows that today.
Microsoft is notorious for unloading way too many levers and switches on people. The result is a higher barrier of adoption. Adobe has it’s own challenges. They have to work hard to reshape the perception of Flash as a real development platform.
In any respect, it’ll be a lot of fun to watch and hopefully we’ll see some great applications come out of all this.