Sparkle vs. Flash : Here We Go

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. 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.

8 Comments Sparkle vs. Flash : Here We Go

  1. Rich Ziade

    Believe it or not, for most of the reading public, a “battle” between Sparkle & Flash is hardly sensational. Heck, in some circles, it’s branded as “dorky.”
    That Said, I track JD’s blog and enjoy it a lot. He makes a great point: these are just tools. End-users could care less. Good technology hides the insides and just does it’s thing (see iPod). My post is really about lowering the barrier for developers so we can get this stuff out. Not who will win.
    In the end, I think it’s hard to deny that they’re aimed for similar goals…

  2. JesterXL

    AJAX? Dude, wtf? Pre-existing skills & AJAX don’t mix. Have you ever actually got HTML to… you know… work like intended? I have have. In one browser, on one OS, in single versions of each… HTML’s is ridicolously challenging to get working like you want. While JavaScript is cool, prototype languages don’t scale on larger projects. While asyncronous processing is nice if you have an event structure preventing page refreshes, actually utilizing that into a working design pales in comparison to Flex.

  3. Rich Ziade

    Excellent point.
    Here’s really what I was getting at:
    How do you draw a form in Flex/MXML?
    How do you draw a form in MS/XAML?
    How do you give these things color/style?
    Adobe was smart to include a subset of css support in Flex. It gives people a head start. The same goes for markup; the same goes for scripting.
    I agree these are different beasts, but leverage what you can I say.

  4. JesterXL

    True dat. Flex was aimed at providing developers a way to creat RIA’s using Flash Platform since a timeline and a Java developer usually don’t mix.
    …of course, my argument holds little water up to scrutiny. My wife, for example, is an excellent web developer, and if she read this blog, she’d call bs on me since HTML works just fine for her.
    Either way, leveraging existing skillsets is a must; true dat!

  5. dave

    Glad to learn more about the differences of the two programs.
    I’d like to see Flash gain the ability of Swift3D ( and Moho (
    With AS3, PDF and the suggested above… Flash would definitely become the tool of choice. Presently, Sparkle’s big advantage seems to be only the 3D.

  6. zeh

    Similarities within the tools (particularly when editing something) will be plenty, I’m sure, but when you start looking at where both of them are used (web, desktop), you start to notice why there won’t be such a thing as a direct clash between the two – at least for a few years, if ever.
    Yes, of course, we’ll probably see more of a convergence of these mediums on the feature, but would someone consider using Sparkle for a web-based RIA that should be cross-compatible? Not a chance, no matter how cool the IDE currently looks, or how full of generic management-selling jargons their presentation videos are.
    How long will it take until that changes? Will MS create a a linux/windows/osx compatible lightweight player and distribute it? These are the real questions right now.
    To me, it looks like sparkle et al are just designish alternatives to visual studio – because they think Vista apps should be hip.

  7. juan mendez

    I would like to comment that based on the features of sparkle, one weakness of flash is 3d animation. I view flash player as a more compatible plug-in for different OS. I dont’ know how mac users will view sparkle content but I bet they will need to download some plugin. well great for microsoft. I think Flex is a great supporter of flash-player based applications that might ignite a wider presence over the internet as Flex is very friendly and easy to build applications and also its upcomming release will have its sdk free of charge.


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