Vista vs. members of the "Silly" party

Vista is officially being released today. That might explain why last week a group named ECIS that has represented European competitors to Microsoft before the European Commission "sounded the alarm" about Microsoft's supposed intention to replace web programming linchpin HTML with XAML / WPF.
Written by John Carroll, Contributor

Vista is officially being released today. That might explain why last week a group named ECIS that has represented European competitors to Microsoft before the European Commission "sounded the alarm" about Microsoft's supposed intention to replace web programming linchpin HTML with XAML / WPF. Ignore for the moment that you probably haven't heard of them. I know I didn't, but I've seen the sentiment expressed enough times in Talkbacks (the world would be better if Microsoft simply backed ODF exclusively, only made browsers that supported recognized standards, only supported non-Microsoft developed video formats like H.264, etc, etc) that I figured it was worth picking on them. Also ignore that no one is screaming that Adobe is trying to conquer the Internet through its Flash product even though it, too, is an alternative to HTML (and more widely used to boot), or that Microsoft has a cross-platform version of XAML / WPF, called WPFe (WPF "Everywhere"), which was announced as far back as 2005. Quoting from an article on BetaNews...

"Vista is the first step in Microsoft's strategy to extend its market dominance to the Internet," the statement quotes Awde as saying. The statement then goes on to say, "For example, Microsoft's 'XAML' markup language, positioned to replace HTML (the current industry standard for publishing language on the Internet), is designed from the ground up to be dependent on Windows, and thus is not cross-platform by nature."

Hunting around the Internet, I found this article by another group, named CAAI, which sounds a similar alarm, but this time in the auto industry.

Citizens for an American Auto Industry have started a letter writing campaign to members of Congress to inform elected officials of Japanese automaker Toyota's plot to overthrow the American automobile industry through its sales of energy-efficient motor vehicles. These vehicles compete with an American automobile industry that relies heavily on gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs to shore up their bottom line, thus threatening the livelihood of an industry that has existed in America since its earliest days.

Okay, that last paragraph was made up. The point is, however, that there are different assumptions made regarding what is considered "valid" conduct by businesses when the issue turns to software markets. Few doubt that Toyota lacks an interest in overthrowing the American auto industry...at least if it results in more sales for Toyota. Any company in any industry will hope that their technology or products will overthrow a competitor. The Colts would like to crush the Bears in next Sunday's Superbowl, and vice-versa. That, however, is competition, and few people who really understand what markets are supposed to mean would begrudge Toyota for trying.

HTML / CSS / Javascript-based applications compete with desktop applications developed for Windows. Microsoft finally responded to that challenge by updating its Windows development APIs so that it becomes easier to develop high-function, UI-rich applications on Windows. In so doing, they borrowed many good ideas from the web world, such as the ability to define layout in a XML-based language, while adding something that HTML / CSS / Javascript lacks, such as mapping tags to a clean object library that I have a hard time believing any self-respecting object-oriented programmer would dislike.

How is that any different than Toyota's offer of new vehicles that manage gasoline usage better as part of that company's competition with GM and Ford? Quite simply, it isn't. Microsoft has merely responded to the benefits of web development by making their Windows development interfaces (which aren't so Windows oriented anymore, hence WPFe) better. To say that Microsoft shouldn't do that is like saying GM should not try to compete with Toyota by changing its products to better meet consumer demand.

Developers have many choices available to them. They can write HTML applications. They can find browsers that are as rigorous about HTML / XML standards as they want them to be. They can write XAML / WPF applications, either tied to Windows (thus providing more functionality) or not (thus providing cross-platform support on a common WPFe base). Or they could write "something else," such as an application that uses Trolltech's Qt development APIs.

What seems to bug those sounding alarms about XAML (or Microsoft's use of internally-developed document standards, or custom video formats, or, or, or) is that developers and companies might actually CHOOSE to use a Microsoft-developed technology. Those pesky customers, always screwing up the plans of people blessed with knowledge of the right way to do things.

If you want to write cross-platform HTML, write cross-platform HTML. If you want to write applications in XAML / WPF (cross-platform or otherwise), write applications in XAML / WPF. If you want to write cross-platform rich client UIs in Qt, then do it. But at the very least, stop whining to governments about the fact that others might not choose to do things the way you might like.

I like XAML / WPF. I find HTML / CSS / Javascript application development a comparative pain in the posterior to develop, because I think rich client / AJAX-style web applications have moved far beyond what HTML / CSS / Javascript was ever intended to support. But that's my OPINION, one that I use in the making of a CHOICE, just as it is the CHOICE of someone else to use a different development technology than I would.

The existences of choices yields benefits. Imagine a world where everyone used the same technologies. No one veered from the HTML / CSS / Javascript pure standard. Everyone used the same document technology for Office documents.

Such a world would be pretty boring, in my opinion, because there would be less innovation due to the lack of the competitive churn which drives various technologies forward in the first place. Besides, such a world would be pretty unstable, like exotic substances derived from the collision of subatomic particles that collapse almost as soon as they appear. The whole consensus would fall apart in about a month, as different companies, faced with the fact that they have little real way to stand out from the crowd, decide to make something that DOES distinguish them, however far from the standard it causes them to deviate.

HTML / CSS / Javascript is not the epitome of the client development art. Daniel Glazman, a member of the CSS Working Group, had this to say in a past blog regarding future developments in web standards (again, quoted from BetaNews):

"The future W3C format will 'be based on an existing application/UI format, such as Mozilla's XUL, Microsoft's XAML, Macromedia's MXML or Laszlo Systems' LZX, provided the owners of the format are willing to contribute."

That shouldn't surprise anyone who understands how standards work. The market experiments with various implementations of a new technology. Once the domain is well understood, people sit together in smoky rooms and assemble something that is consistent and universal. The cutting edge, however, is always occupied by non-standardized software, because that's the only way to figure out what works.

XAML / WPF, among others, offers some interesting ideas vis a vis the way to make UI-rich networked applications in a world where the Internet permeates every area of our lives. You can choose to learn what those good ideas are, or "sound an alarm" as if the gateway to hell has been opened on planet Earth with its mouth located in Redmond, Washington. That's a surefire way to get nothing out of the competitive churn that Microsoft frequently creates in areas of the market most considered unassailable bastions of very large companies (Windows Mobile, SQL Server, XBOX, to name a few).

Did I mention that I'm in Redmond today? As it turns out, hell is quite cold. Plus, in honor of today's release of Vista, an interesting promotional video for Windows 386 showing how far Microsoft has come from a marketing standpoint. It gets surreal around minute seven.

Oh, and if you don't know what my "silly party" reference pertains to, watch more Monty Python.

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