Tuesday, December 05, 2006

WPF/e CTP released

The first publicly available CTP for Windows Presentation Foundation (everywhere) (WPF/e) was announced yesterday and the veil has finally been lifted on what WPF/e can do. There are a number of great blog posts from the Microsoft Product Managers detailing what's available in this release, so rather than duplicating the effort I'll give you quick access to their posts:

The value and impact of WPF/e really depends on your perspective. From a Microsoft developer point of view, WPF/e will definitely open up a whole new world of interactive design that utilizes existing platform knowledge and skills (like XAML, C#, and JavaScript). Developers will be able to create rich, platform-independent experiences that embedded video (the most trumpeted feature of WPF/e to date) and do other "neat" UI things without ever leaving the comfort of Visual Studio or Visual Expression Developer. No longer will separate applications and languages (like Flash and ActionScript) be necessary to create these experiences.

From an end user perspective, I don't think WPF/e is going to do much to change the way people interact with the web. All of the existing demos showing possible implementations of WPF/e do things that Flash is already doing and that users are already used to (such as platform-independent web video). Some of the WPF/e demos feature "innovative 3D interfaces"- those that allow users to pick an item from a floating, spinning 3D environment- that remind me of the serious usability errors made by early implementations of Flash. Just because you can do (faux) 3D doesn't mean that you should, and most web usability experts would say you shouldn't. Flash had to learn that the hard way, stigmatized as a bad tool to include on "professional" web pages for many years because of its early gratuitous over use (do we really want our menus to bounce when we click them?). Hopefully developers won't do the same thing with WPF/e.

The real challenge for WPF/e, though, will be the rate at which the WPF/e plug-in is adopted. Like Flash and Flash Player, WPF/e requires the user to download and install a small plug-in to view WPF/e pages. The success of Flash has long been attributed (in part) to its 98% global desktop penetration. Developers can count on Flash player being installed on users' computers and design for it. WPF/e will likely achieve good penetration on Windows PCs, but it has a lot of ground to make up to make the platform as pervasive as Flash.

There is no doubt that WPF/e is a great new tool to add to our developer tool-belt, and it will be interesting to watch how telerik interacts with the new platform. Will it radically change the web as some suggest? I don't think so, but I suppose time will tell. What do you think?