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IE Development: XAML

October 24, 2003

Looks like the covers are slowly slipping off - a glimpse of Microsoft’s browser strategy focussing on web applications has turned up overnight, courtesy Simon and Eric.

What all this is about: XUL, or XML User Interface Language was developed by Mozilla as an XML-based language for web applications. More simply, what XHTML does for web pages, XUL does for web applications. And this is all very important, largely because of the XML foundation and the implications for business.

Now what Microsoft has done is effectively developed their own version of XUL for Internet Explorer, which they’re calling XAML. Remember the browser wars? Remember custom-coding DHTML libraries for two different platforms? Remember how ridiculously redundant that was even in an era when people had a stupidly casual ability to throw around bags of cash? It won’t happen again.

The operating system lock-in created and perpetuates the browser lock-in. Now the browser will give that extra boost to the OS. “Our application only works on Windows, using IE. No, sorry, extra development costs are too much. You’ll just have to use a Windows desktop.”

Apple has a tremendous amount of momentum right now, and about three years to innovate and compete against an OS that was released two years ago tomorrow. If they embrace a development platform like XUL and actually make inroads with the customers who will be deploying applications using it, will it be enough?

All this can be somewhat negated by the opportunity that exists for Microsoft to play fair. If, as Simon postulates, XAML can be transformed server-side to XUL (using XSLT), then we all win. But Eric remembers his history, which suggests we shouldn’t rely on that happening. I’ll throw this into the ring then: even if it’s possible, will it be cost-effective? For organizations to spend an extra 20% of a development budget to support a 3% share of the market is a bit of a stretch. But it’s obviously do-able, seeing as how many still bend over backward for NN4.x.

The end result is still anyone’s guess. A lot can happen in three years. This is an encouraging step forward for the web in general; at least the current stagnation is starting to show signs of ending. Whether the final outcome means an impenetrable hegemony is unclear. The only for sure thing is that the web landscape in 2008 will be radically different than what we see now.

That can’t be a surprise to anyone.

Reader Comments

jgraham says:
October 24, 01h

> And why again did ActiveX fail?

Hpw many companies are locked into IE/windows because they have ActiveX on the intranet?

Tom Poston says:
October 24, 01h

“What we really need is OS X for x86 architectures.”

Regardless of the wisdom, necessity, or desirability of this premise (or lack thereof), it would not necessarily solve THIS issue.

Microsoft’s web strategy is working only because it is ALLOWED to work. Companies (and individuals) will do anything they think is in their own best interest, so long as no one with the power to stop them says “no”. Microsoft is the biggest gorilla in the business world, has monopoly power in the desktop market, and is once again attempting to leverage that power to dominate other markets and destroy rivals.

Microsoft is so big and so powerful that there are only two entities with the power to effectively say “no” to them: the governments of the US and the EU. The US has not shown much inclination to enforce its own anti-trust laws, and the EU has yet to be fully tested against the force of Microsoft. If either would place real, enforceable strictures on the way Microsoft uses its monopoly power (in this case, perhaps giving official backing to W3C standards once they’ve become ratified and MANDATING their usage for applications used by governmental bodies - with real enforcement power and penalties to back it up), it would curb SOME of the attempts by Microsoft to control the internet.

THAT is what we truly need: a system where people are free to use whatever browser on whatever platform they want, and have confidence they will get the same user experience regardless of the choice they make because the same standards are used everywhere.

kami says:
October 24, 02h

All right, all right, I *want* OS X for x86.

I can’t afford all-new hardware…

Daniel R says:
October 24, 02h

There are other alternatives to Redmond for x86 and they are every bit as functional as OS X and you can make them look just as good. Granted, it does take a bit more work, but it’s worth it.

Dris says:
October 24, 03h

Barely resisting the urge to join the ‘OS X on x86’ topic, here I go…

Government laws regarding accessibility should have a fail-safe for situations like this. The W3C should be granted official recognition, and should be made arbiter over web standards and XML (not federally funded or staffed, however). Then, companies which release browsers, especially with such influence as Internet Explorer, should be required to fulfill the W3C recommendations with the penalty of directing users to alternative browsers when the browser comes across content it cannot parse (due to lack of support for the standard).

Further, corporations that run websites should be discouraged from using proprietary serving functions that are meant to be viewed by the general public. They should be encouraged to use standardized protocols and recommendations.

This is all a pipe dream, but it would force Microsoft to either die or comply.

Then again, I’m no expert on law (even accessibility law) or civics, so much of what I said may not be thought out thoroughly, but it’s a suggested solution.

October 24, 05h

dris, good point about accessibility…but here’s a thought: what if MS simply create something that they claim is so revolutionary that it can’t be called “the web” anymore ? similar to the leap between radio and television, they couldn’t be forced to make it backwards compatible…it’s a completely different beast, hence you can’t listen to the audio portion of tv broadcasts on radio.
just playing devil’s advocate…

Andyed says:
October 24, 08h

Lots of folks betting on a XSLT conversion layer… not likely to be successful in my view. IE’s javascript is impoverished with a crippled event system compared to the w3c standard (and Mozilla). Sure, you might be able to translate the UI and get a well behaved tree widget in xul and msblahxml, but what good does it do you if the logic and glue don’t translate?

ceejayoz says:
October 24, 09h

“There are other alternatives to Redmond for x86 and they are every bit as functional as OS X and you can make them look just as good. Granted, it does take a bit more work, but itís worth it.”

While technically possible, getting Linux to look and work as well as OSX isn’t feasible. There isn’t any Linux distro anywhere near the polish OSX has. Nor is there an applications suite that compares to Apple’s iTools programs.

Plus, OSX can run things like Dreamweaver and Photoshop natively, no WINE required.

kami says:
October 24, 11h


What we really need is OS X for x86 architectures.

That will never happen, but I can dream…

October 24, 12h

From Ryan’s article:

“Since this will be built for Longhorn, .NET will be on every client”

Statements like this are emblematic of my frustration with MS. Why should they bother using an open technology like XUL when everyone will run .NET?

I wonder if XAML will fall to overtake XUL in the same way ActiveX failed to replace Javascript.

And why again did ActiveX fail? Oh right, because it only worked in IE and there were lots of security holes.

October 25, 09h

dris, i doubt that MS would be so innovative as well…what i meant (and cunningly forgot to write in my previous posts…d’oh), is that they could claim it’s not the web, AND provide client software that connects to this closed system (yes, much in a similar way to the AOL model, as something separate from the web of today). as long as their client software is accessible, their standard could remain as closed as they want…(in the same way that their OS needs to comply to accessibility rules, but they don’t have to distribute the Windows source code as a free, open commodity).

Dris says:
October 25, 12h

That’s right. The government would have no control over what powers the Microsoft web thingy, because only Microsoft knows what’s inside it.

However, I would perceive it to be only as threatening as AOL in terms of how much capability there is to replace the web as we know it.

Dris says:
October 25, 12h

Well, Patrick, I highly doubt that Microsoft is capable of innovating such a thing as a “new web”, but I digress.

If that were the case, accessibility laws wouldn’t apply to the new medium. And, as with any new medium, experimentation must take place to allow for it to flourish.

Whatever the case, the government should soon organize a standardization organization (no rhyme intended) which would have the same arbitration responsibilities as the W3C has for the web. Same thing would apply, but on such a radical new medium, we’d be starting from scratch.

Indeed, no for-profit organization should have complete control over the protocol of a medium, for the same reasons that a company shouldn’t have sole power over the distribution and sales of an entire industry.

Of course, this wouldn’t apply if Microsoft were to release it as a Microsoft proprietary product, similar to the way AOL has their own online content separate from the web. However, doing that would steal content from the new technology, and it would probably flop. Even Microsoft could see that, I’m sure.

To summarize, the same rules would apply; they would just be rewritten to apply to the medium, and a different organization would form the standards.

October 27, 02h

I’ve been digging through the XAML documentation and posting my thoughts on how it compares to HTML, XUL, CSS, etc.. on my blog.

Call this innovation, embrace and extend, or ripoff, but either way it’s a pretty nice UI language which I am looking forward to using.

October 27, 04h

Just found More XAML docs (Tutorials and Tasks) here:

Paul says:
October 28, 09h

Am I correct to assume that the XAML everyone here is talking about is NOT the XAML referenced in this page, from Oct. 2000?

Dave S. says:
October 28, 10h

You would, Paul. Microsoft’s naming convention obviously didn’t take into account prior standards. See Alan’s links for what XAML is, according to Microsoft.