March 27, 2006 4:00 AM PST

More than meets the eye in Microsoft plan

A little-known Microsoft project promises to bring advanced graphics to a broad range of devices and set up a potential showdown with Adobe Systems.

Microsoft executives provided technical detail and anticipated ship dates for a product code-named Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E) at the Mix '06 conference last week.

The goal of WPF/E, which should be available in the first half of next year, is to bring a significant portion of the slick look and feel of Windows Vista--the update to Microsoft's Windows client software--to other operating systems and non-Microsoft browsers. WPF/E software can display video, two-dimensional vector graphics, and animations but stops short of the full 3D graphics and document rendering capabilities available in Vista, according to the company.

Microsoft said it will create versions of the WPF/E software for Windows XP, Windows 2000, the Firefox browser, the Mac's native Safari browser, and mobile phones. Microsoft will rely on third-party companies to make editions of WPF/E for Linux and non-Windows Mobile phones, executives said.

The development of WPF/E signals a stepped-up commitment to building software that can run on operating systems other than Windows, analysts said. That's a major shift for the company, which admits it only paid lip service to the concept in years past. "Maybe in the past when we said 'everywhere' we didn't really mean everywhere. Now we really mean it," said Forest Key, director of product management for Microsoft's Expression designer tools. "We want to support the widest breadth of scenarios from the browser to the desktop."

As part of that shift, Microsoft said it will allow developers to use its mainstay development languages, C# and Visual Basic, to write applications for other operating systems and devices, including the Mac.

To run WPF/E applications, machines will need to have software to render the graphical elements. In that sense, WPF/E will be an alternative to Adobe's popular Flash software, which displays interactive graphics, animations and multimedia in Web browsers.

Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere

Although Microsoft is spending plenty of time talking about its front-end development strategy, analysts and industry executives note that the software is not yet available and that some important details are still missing. In addition, Vista itself has been delayed once again and isn't expected in wide distribution until January.

In particular, developers and designers will need to know precisely how WPF/E stacks up to the full-blown presentation capabilities Microsoft is preparing for Windows Vista and Windows XP, said David Temkin, chief technology officer at Laszlo Systems, which sells interactive Web development tools that compete with Microsoft.

"It's interesting to hear that they'll be 'subsetting' or 'de-featuring' on other platforms--that's a little bit of a red flag," Temkin said. "One thing that's been critical to Flash's success is that all the features work everywhere."

In addition, Temkin said it's important to see how easy it will be for end users to get WPF/E on non-Microsoft software, which will require browser plug-ins in some cases. "Fundamentally, they're introducing a new plug-in into the browser market. It's been some time since vendors have done this," he noted.

Still, Temkin said Laszlo may support Microsoft's upcoming presentation software in its own tool set, which right now can generate rich-client applications that run within browsers using Flash or using AJAX by the end of the year.

Developer story
Microsoft's push into the graphics market relies heavily on the strong position it has with mainstream software developers, built up over the years through products like Visual Basic and Visual Studio.

Vista includes a revamped look and feel. Developers write applications that take advantage of the sophisticated graphics in Vista, such as 3D images and vector graphics, through APIs (application programming interfaces). To display those applications, Windows machines need software called Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

WPF will run on Vista and Windows XP, the current version of desktop Windows. With WPF/E, Microsoft is hoping that developers will use its tools to write Vista applications and then alter them slightly to run them on other operating systems and browsers, said Microsoft's Key.

CONTINUED: An enlightened Microsoft…
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33 comments

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Less Functional is the key phrase
Buried in the middle of this piece is the phrase "less functional." No matter what, Microsoft is not going to cut its own throat on this cross platform thing. The only truly cross platform development is, and likely will continue to be, the use of a truly standard language like C++ and a cross platform graphical toolkit like wxWidgets or Qt. As for Microsoft versus Adobe, MS has been picking at Adobe for years with little real effect so far. Remember that reader thing that MS put out a few years ago to try to kill off PDF? Neither do many other people.
Posted by steven.randolph (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
QT? wxWidgets? C++!? That came out of left field...
I suppose the words 'java', interpreted languages, and bytecode just rub you the wrong way or something - qt, wxWidgets, and C++? How in the world did you get cross platform out of an architecture defined language/toolkit/framework??

While I agree 100% with your point, the semantics of it are the antithesis of what I believe you were trying to get across. :)
Posted by Cash_Coleman (6 comments )
Link Flag
Less Functional - So Why Not Flash?
One has to wonder here why a developer who wishes to make a
cross-functional application would choose to use this new
technology when non-Windows platforms will be (again)
marginalised while a mature platform that delivers full
functionality across platforms is available today in the form of
Flash. I really am sick to death of these attempts to make me
use Windows so I hope that the development community takes
one look at this and develops in Flash instead.

Seriously, why hamstring a platform so that it is less functional
on non-Windows computers? It will require additional testing
and design if the developers are interested in supporting other
platforms so they might as well save themselves the trouble and
use Flash.
Posted by kelmon (1445 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft... What idea do you want to steal today?
Just amazing... MS had a good push a while back. IE5 was a good browser (when it came out), Windows 95 was a good step forward... Now everything seems to be blatantly stolen from someone else and is arriving on the market several years late. Guys, just focus on the Xbox 360. No one needs another version of Flash, Google, etc.
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Haha. So true!
Microsoft can be a great company if it can focus of innovation instead of imitation. So much of their "new" "improved" stuff are just attempts to duplicate someone else's success.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Seems like MS sees little growth in the PC market...
.... and now is looking for other playgrounds to keep the money
coming in..

Time will tell, like in a year so so.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
and NOW is looking?
MS has been looking at other markets for years. They know their
dominance on the desktop won't last forever and are wise to
diversify.

Eventually the OS you run on your "internet device" won't matter,
and spreadsheets, word processors, etc. will be commodities (or a
service) that interact with each other seamlessly.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Link Flag
Let's hope this will fail, otherwise it is back to 1998
The effort put in by so many people is to make the web an open platform, where everything works no matter the platform used.

Flash does deliver that in the sense that Flash players work the same way on every platform (though it has its disadvantages, but that is not important right now).

Microsoft 'sort of' embraces an open web, which effectively does mean that they want to put their stamp on the web, yet again and tie it into the Microsoft platform; like they tried before when they pushed Netscape out of the market.

Let's hope this will fail miserably, otherwise progress on an open web (rendering conforming to the standards set, and agreed on by Microsoft too!, by the W3 will slide back once again, like in 1998.
Posted by tennapel (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Adobe could use some competition
This will hopefully put a fire under Adobe to improve the speed of the Flash player. Despite all the recent updates the inefficiency of the Flash player will bring a 3GHz with a butt kicking video card down to the speed of a Commodore 64.( only a slight exaggeration ) My loyalty to any company extends as far as what have you done for me lately and at what price.
Posted by banegool (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's wrong with SVG?
Scalable Vector Graphics (based on the XML language) was once
an alternative to Flash and was pushed by Adobe before they
bought Macromedia. Why doesn't MS pick up the ball and move
SVG forward as they embraced XML. After all, the XML support of
MS Office is a step forward. A real Flash-killer would be SVG
export for PowerPoint animations, for example and everybody
would benefit from an existant open standard (see <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://" target="_newWindow">http://</a>
www.w3c.org).
Posted by baquiano (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
SVG is not an appliation platform
Well, maybe because SVG is only about drawing and animation.

WPF/E is a true app platform, complete with managed code and other app-centric features.

SVG is dead. It's time to let it go, man.
Posted by (127 comments )
Link Flag
Remember Liquid Motion?
Remember Liquid Motion?

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.microsoft.com/office/previous/liquidmotion/" target="_newWindow">http://www.microsoft.com/office/previous/liquidmotion/</a>

Another one for the recycle bin.
Posted by Pete Saman (99 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Remember Liquid Motion?
Remember Liquid Motion?

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.microsoft.com/office/previous/liquidmotion/" target="_newWindow">http://www.microsoft.com/office/previous/liquidmotion/</a>

Another one for the recycle bin.
Posted by Pete Saman (99 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The three Es have always been Microsoft main strategy
This is a little bit of a reverse on the old embrace, extend, and extinguish philosophy that Microsoft has used in the past. In this case its more like ECE - Expand, cripple, extinguish. It works like this. Microsoft releases WPF/E out to *nix and OS X. If it takes off Microsoft will support it for a year or two. Once it becomes a standard they will cripple future versions of WPF/E so it runs slower on non-windows system. Or simply delay a new release by 6 months with some BS excuse like they are having problems with [http://insert some excuse here.|http://insert some excuse here.]. Microsoft has done this in the past. They will do it again. Its a part of their culture to use underhanded BS tactics. A slap on the wrist by the DOJ did NOTHING to change this.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly
I don't trust them one bit. I prefer to build for the Web, not Windows. The Web is a much bigger and rich platform than Windows and you can't have the mat pulled out from under you, like you can with Windows.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Link Flag
cross platform
"The only truly cross platform development is, and likely will continue to be, the use of a truly standard language like C++ and a cross platform graphical toolkit like wxWidgets or Qt."

Yeah, this whole web thing is just a fad. ;-)
Posted by wanorris (226 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who cares about Windows?
MS is trying to make Windows relevant when the Web is the biggest platform of all. On the Web there are many different technologies that one can use.

I don't care much for Windows anymore, it is so small and limited in comparision. I can access the Web from any connected device with a browser. Windows is just one client among many. The biggest client in the future will be the cellphone.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Answer me this:
Why would anyone in their right mind who is using any other OS besides Windows be interested in installing some plug-in from MS that is trying to do what FLASH does? I wouldn't. Also, why would I install something that would possibly leave me with a graphic/animation/app or whatever that isn't in it's full form just because I'm not running Vista?!?!? Just to try to lock me into to buy Vista? Fat chance, MS!!

Why is it that MS has to put their freakin' hands in everything?1?! Don't they have enough projects running behind?

I think here before too long MS is gonna implode under their own massive agendas. There are only so many coders that can only do so much!

What next MS?

Refrigerators?
Toasters?

How about fireworks?

Those at least are purdy!!
Posted by theoscnet (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Adobe 'Flash'
Isn't Flash made by Macromedia?
The article cite's WPF/E as competition for Adobe's Flash - am I missing something here?!
Posted by ukpm (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yep Adobe purchased Macromedia
nt
Posted by Charleston Charge (362 comments )
Link Flag
The problem is XAML
XAML is a Microsoft specific technology. Unless it will be accepted as a UI expression standard versus XForms and the others already out.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
XAML is not a "problem"
First of all, it's an XML standard, and it's extensible by any third party who wishes to do so.

Second, it's not just a UI language - it's an object serialization format for any CLR class.

Things like XForms are 100% visualization. XAML goes way beyond that.
Posted by (127 comments )
Link Flag
first half of next year
This is MS code for 2008
Posted by (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Link to the WPF SDK
This has a ton of free MSDN articles for developers to get started using WPF: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms754130.aspx" target="_newWindow">http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms754130.aspx</a>
Posted by snoutholder (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Security in Silverlight?
From Mike Harsh's blog: "So what is WPF/E? It is a cross-platform, cross-browser web technology that supports a subset of WPF XAML. WPF/E also has a friction-free install model and the download size we?re targeting is very small. WPF/E supports programmability through javascript for tight browser integration. The WPF/E package also contains a small, cross platform subset of the CLR and .NET Framework that can run C# or VB.NET code. Yes, we are bringing C# programming to the Mac."

The bit I'm concerned about is this: "WPF/E also has a friction-free install model".

Microsoft's "friction-free install models" have been a big-time security problem for the past decade. When they started down this road in 1997 the number of viruses and worms effecting windows increased by orders of magnitude, and became harder and harder to stop, because of their hard refusal to build a solid sandbox into their security model. They repeatedly poohpoohed sandboxed extensions like Java because of teh performance cost, and have continued to develop systems with "soft" sandboxes like the .NET framework since.

And, look here, "The WPF/E package also contains a small, cross platform subset of the CLR and .NET Framework that can run C# or VB.NET code."

I predict that this will prove a true windfall for malware authors.
Posted by Leechman (7 comments )
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