Flash has been spreading across the Internet like animated kudzu in recent years, powering dynamic applications in everything from traditionally staid banking sites to digital photo tools. Earlier this year, Adobe made a big stir by acquiring Macromedia, and it has been argued that the purchase was so that Adobe could acquire Macromedias Flash.
Flash, it seems, is delivering on the promise of the interactive Internet. And all the while, it has appeared that Microsoft was too focused on search, XML and .Net to notice this revolution.
Yesterday at Microsofts Professional Developers Conference (PDC), the company announced a new product called Expression Sparkle Interactive Designer. Sparkle is one of three products in the Expression suite of graphics tools.
"Our goal is to redefine what is considered a good enough user experience," said Microsoft senior vice president Eric Rudder.
"Sparkle Interactive Designer is a bridge between the graphics illustrator, who is creating drawings using Expression Graphics Designer, and the application developer building solutions using Visual Studio 2005," said Microsofts Forest Kay, who manages the Acrylic product and also contributes significantly to Sparkle development.
Through Sparkle, designers can create graphically pleasing interactive experiences in a common format shared with the programmers. The common format is XAML (pronounced ZAM-ALL) an XML schema at the core of Microsofts new Windows Presentation Foundation.
So, is Sparkle a Flash-killer?
The Flash Effect
When you look at the new applications created with Sparkle you can not help but be reminded of Macromedias Flash. The controls, layout and use of vector paths for the design all look like Flash applications.
Many of the tools built into Sparkle you will recognize from Macromedias Flash 8; such as animation timelines, vector and bitmap image support, drawing tools, event-driven interactivity, drawing tools, support for video and audio, and more.
There are, however, key technologies supported in Sparkle that separate it from Flash. One of the first things that will impress you with Sparkle is support for 3D. Macromedias Flash loosely supports 3D through complex scripts or animation created with products such as eRains Swift 3D. Flash does not have the capability to support 3D models. Sparkle gives you this ability and to stunning effect.