A question at recent events was… Flash or WPFe?

I’ve attended a number of events over the last few weeks, Designertopia, WebDD, Media Technology Day at Microsoft and the Future of Web apps. During these events a couple of questions have cropped up more than others, firstly isn’t WPF/e just the same as Flash, should I use WPF, WPFe, or XBAP and finally the more general, which technology should I use?

The first question is the one I’m expecting to hear most as we continue talking to the general designer community and in many respects it reminds me in some regards to the old isn’t Flash just the same as Director discussions from many years ago. The end content looked similar, yet the journey to produce that end content was totally different.

In reality I think this is what is happening with WPFe and Flash today.

Designers who have lived with Flash for the last 10 years are picking up WPFe, kicking the tyres and recreating the same kind of work you can create in Flash… from an external point of view for someone looking at the finished work there seems little or no difference, but the journey to get there is totally different.

Well if we ignore the fact that as of today there is no IDE for WPFe which tends to put the brakes on the design process (watch this space though), when you talk to those designers and developers already experimenting with WPFe the difference between WPFe and Flash is stark.

Taking a simplistic view Flash provides a wonderful environment for building self contained applications or widgets, essentially self contained interactive web real estate. It’s a binary file format that recreates a lot of the same functionality as HTML, drop down menus, scrollbars, etc, and it needs to do this as Flash is an island of interactive content within the HTML page. Flash has a robust development language; ActionScript which enables some truly amazing experiences to be produced, but Flash remains something that exists as an element on a page rather than existing as an integrated part of the page.

WPFe tackles the same area of rich content but from a different direction. WPFe could be considered as an extension of HTML and AJAX rather than a standalone technology like Flash. It’s not a binary file format and instead exists as a combination of XML and Javascript. WPFe content is blended into the page in addition to the technology and therefore doesn’t replicate the functionality of the technolgies that already exist.

Flash replaces parts of the page to provide a richer experience, and WPFe extends the page to provide the richer experience.

The end result of both technologies is a richer, and hopefulley better(!) browser experience.

So, when it comes to the wire which technology is better Flash or WPFe. Well I work for Microsoft and left Adobe/Macromedia after 7 years to be here so it’s obvious which direction I prefer. But that decision was a personal one.

It’s all too easy to cloud pragmatic judgements in the real world of end users, deadlines and clients; there is no black and white, right or wrong, it’s all shades of grey and it’s about using the right technology for the right project to deliver the best experience for the user.

For the developers and designers the choice in the long run will probably fall to the technology that fits in with their production model better.

The one thing that we should never forget is that for the client and particularly the end user they don’t really care about the technology – they only care about the experience.


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