General Speaking

Flash vs Silverlight part 2

Here’s the recap from part 1:

  • I turn up to Mix07
  • Eeek loads of scary net developers! Booo.
  • They’re not that scary! Hooray!
  • Shiny buttons. Soooo shiny.
  • Oooo cool 3D in Blend! Yay!
  • Oh it doesn’t work in Silverlight. Booo.
  • Why use Silverlight? Streaming video.
  • But Flash can do that!
  • But not as cheap.

So what’s going to happen? Have I been drinking too much of the green tinted Koolaid? Read on my friend, and all will be revealed.

.net developers

It seems pretty clear that the .net developers are completely and utterly won over. They seem to hate Flash, the early skip intro atrocities have scared them off forever. And add to that years of fairly weird programming environments and they’ve just gone screaming for the hills. Adobe’s recent excellent efforts with AS3 and Flex are probably too late to win the .net programmers over.

But what about designers?

But what about the creative types; Graphic designers, animators and illustrators. They have a long history with Adobe products and have invested many years into learning these tools. And there are some truly awesome creatives whose skills are well and truly embedded in Flash or Photoshop.

Will the Expression suite appeal to these people? Looking at how Blend is arranged, it certainly seems to be a lot more technical than Flash. For example the hierarchy of objects is much more explicit, with a tree structure on the left. This means that items at the bottom of the tree appear on top of everything else. Which is completely intuitive to a programmer, but not necessarily a designer.

And does Blend have the same animation features as Flash? It looks like all of its animation is produced using keyframes and tweens. It certainly doesn’t seem like it’d be very easy to do stop-frame animation, and it doesn’t seem to have anything like onion-skinning, so critical to our animators.

But even if it does, creative types are generally more afraid of new software than programmers are, it’ll definitely be difficult to persuade them to move away from their beloved Adobe software.

Oh and the best bit is that Microsoft have no plans whatsoever to produce the Expression suite for Macs. Thus alienating a significant percentage of the design community.

But does this matter?

Is it really the designers and developers who decide which software they use after all? Who’s driving the technology? Is it the creative innovators or is it the business men that they work for?

There are valid business reasons to start encouraging the delivery of Silverlight content, particularly if you want to work closely with a large number of .net developers. And the Expression suite will certainly make sure that the design team work in a way that more closely ties in to what the programmers are doing.

But will this encourage the most creative content? I don’t think so. My company, Plug-in Media, strives to find the most excellent illustrators and animators there are. And this is a tough job. If it’s hard enough to find excellent Flash and Photoshop illustrators, then it’s surely going to be even harder to find quality illustrators who can use the new MS tools?

So to answer the earlier question, who drives the technology? Is it the business men or is it the creatives? The answer surely is: it’s a bit of both.

So who will win the war? Flash or Silverlight?

Well it seems to me that Blend is currently immature. I gather that there are some glitches, one important one being that it’s complicated to create an text input field. And the people demoing it seem to be getting very excited about things I’m not especially excited about. For example, one session where the presenter created a vector drawn iPhone. And he zoomed right in, to show that it never degraded! And it’s only 10k!

Well I guess it’s nice that people are so easily pleased. But where’s all the cool stuff? Alpha video? Particle systems? Games? Realtime 3D? All aspects of the current Adobe keynotes. But I’m sure, given time, MS will have ironed out all the little gremlins to create a perfectly usable suite of software.

And the winner is…

…well does there actually have to be a winner? Surely MS will ensure that Silverlight penetration rates will match Flash within a couple of years. And at that point everyone will have both players, unless Microsoft plays a dirty trick and stops including the Flash plug-in with Internet Explorer. (That would be dirty!)

So ultimately, developers will be free to use tech that they are comfortable with. And to all the .net developers, that tech will most definitely be Silverlight and XAML. Which probably means that the drier online applications will more likely be built for Silverlight, and the more creative content will continue to be made for Flash.


As if to answer the question, which is cooler? The culmination of the keynote? The killer app that will once and for all convert the Flash community? The awe inspiring online experience that will signify my undying allegiance to the big green giants : A Tax Return application.

And… you’re back in the room. Nice try MS. 🙂

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