Microsoft is finally making real efforts to woo the designer community who have traditionally worshipped the Adobe and Mac product ranges. One new product that addresses this previously overlooked community is Silverlight, which uses the XAML technology and is touted as Microsoft’s Flash killer. For anyone who is keen to listen, Microsoft proposes that Silverlight will achieve similar results to Flash, but it does so in an entirely different way and has different aims. So, the big question is, will Microsoft be able to break the dominance of Adobe’s Flash platform, that is available on the PC, Mac and mobile devices alike? I’m sure the jury is out on that one, but it can be said it is an uphill task.
So what is Silverlight and XAML proposition? How does it vary from Flash?
Microsoft Silverlight is a proprietary runtime for browser-based Rich Internet Applications, providing a subset of the animation, vector graphics, and video playback capabilities of Windows Presentation Foundation. The runtime is available for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X, with Linux support under development via the third-party Moonlight runtime.
Not much difference to Flash so far…
Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) is a declarative XML-based language used to initialize structured values and objects. XAML is used extensively in the .NET Framework 3.0 technologies, particularly in Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), where it is used as a user interface markup language to define UI elements, data binding, eventing, and other features, and in Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF), in which workflows themselves can be defined using XAML.
Not much difference to Adobes’s MXML…
A frequently asked question is which browsers and operating systems will it run on? If XAML is limited in this area, its usefulness in the web world will also be significantly limited. Previous encarnations of XAML, were limited and justifiably criticised as it would only work with an ActiveX control. However, this has now been resolved with support for Firefox, Opera, Safari and Netscape, Windows and OSX alike. Support is provided by a downloadable plugin, much like Flash!
Silverlight enables web developers to create visually rich user interfaces and animations, play video clips and stream media within the web page, again, much like Flash! But it is different! The comparison doesn’t end there. Animations are organised using timelines and frames within the tool…how else would you organise an animation without timelines?!
Like Flex…but not!
Where things differ from Flash are the tools used to develop the Silverlight applications. Silverlight is supposed to be a way of designing and building rich user interfaces. However, standard HTML elements are missing. The way you design a particular interface is to build a standard HTML form in your favourite editor, e.g. Dreamweaver CS3, and then open this page in Silverlight to add the visual enhancements that your design requires. This sounds complicated to say the least. In comparison, Flash has a brilliant tool and framework called Flex that does this far more gracefully and with the development of Thermo, designers can really feel comfortable in the web application development mix.
Silverlight applications will also run on mobile devices, but the plan is for the applications to only run within a mobile web browser. This is unlike Adobe who are feaverishly developing the AIR runtime to allow Flash applications to run independently of the browser environment and offline.
So, Web 2.0 and beyond with Silverlight and XAML may be somewhat jumping the gun. You may say that there is nothing new or innovative with the Silverlight offering. It does, however, serve to emphasise how important the Rich Internet arena is becoming or indeed has become.