Searching for monkeys in Cyberspace

Loading .... 10% .... 20% .... [close]

clock December 4, 2007 12:14 by author offbeatmammal

In the last few days I seem to have visited an inordinate number of sites that instead of engaging with me in the 2 seconds they have to get my attention they've shown me a Flash plug in that sits there going "Loading" and has a percentage bar crawling across the screen.

These sites had all sent me email inviting me to come and learn about a wonderful seasonal opportunity or great offer. They'd managed to engage me enough to click the link in the email (note - this isn't an invite for Spam. Even if you get through Spamcop and the other blocks I've got in the way I'm not likely to click unless you've managed to target me accurately with something I actually care about).

Then they blow it by assuming I want to watch a progress bar for 2 minutes simply to watch an ad.

Now, the smart ones feature a prominent "skip intro" button I can click and get to the main course. Others actually optimize their Flash experience so that they do display something useful within a couple of seconds that I can interact with and continue my journey (while they finish loading stuff in the background).

The dumb ones (and sadly they seem to be in the majority) suffer the unintended consequence of totally disengaging me (and put me off returning because I assume I'll get the same gatekeeper).

Oh, and I'll add news sites that show me an interstitial advert before I can even get engaged with their homepage. It's just my daily reading workload down!

Now Microsoft have unleashed Silverlight on the web and so we can expect to see a new wave of creative, imaginative splash pages. Even if the creators of those don't do anything totally earth shattering they will make the web a better place if they think about the first 2-5 seconds of engagement.

And maybe just use Silverlight to spice up a page rather than force me to do everything in a RIA where I can't deep-link to content or navigate with the keyboard.

In the meantime... I'll keep clicking [close] - I wonder how many analytics packages report that sort of behavior and flag it as something site owners need to correct....

Converting from SWF to XAML for Silverlight (or WPF)

clock November 27, 2007 14:59 by author offbeatmammal

So, you're got a Flash project that you want to convert to Silverlight because you've seen through the marketing hype and realize that a nice human readable source like XAML is the way of the future, or you just want to play and see how the performance or feature-set compares.

Now you know that the Expression Suite is a really good design environment to start from scratch in, and Visual Studio is, of course, the ideal coding IDE for Silverlight but ... you don't want to start from scratch. You just want to have a look and see if Silverlight can render your magnum opus with some degree of fidelity before you talk a client into using it.

Well.... thanks to TheConverted there's a solution that, if you can drag'n'drop a file in Explorer, gets you started in a couple of clicks of the mouse (and even though it's really cheap, there's a 30 day trial you can use to check it out)

SWF to XAML converter

Silverlight in XULRunner

clock May 17, 2007 06:00 by author OffBeatMammal

Now I'm not sure if this is useful, or even clever but it seemed like a good idea at the time...

There's a lot of words about the different RIA platforms at the moment and everyone has their own idea of what's going to do what and how it's going to do it - which is funny given they're all in alpha/beta right now and got a lot of evolution to go. Personally I like the goals and capabilities in Silverlight (but then again even though I'm a pragmatic evangelist - I'm biased!)

One of the earliest frameworks out there was XULRunner (used in Firefox, Thunderbird, Songbird etc) - it supports applications designed in XUL (and XML markup language) and scripted with Javascript.....

It reminded me of Silverlight. Now, although SIlverlight is browser based the philosophy appears to be complementary rather than competitive (I'm sure there must be a word that combines the essence of both. Update: This is. It's Coopetition!) so I started to wonder how well the two would play together....

So I dived in feet first and dumped a sample project into a framework XULRunner project.

Big fat zero :(

The background appeared, but no Silverlight goodness. So time for debugging.

First problem was the Silverlight browser check... it looks for "Firefox" in the UserAgent, and XULRunner returns a pretty sparse UA. Now I know I've seen somewhere that there's an option to override the US that XULRunner produces, but it was quicker to tweak the Silverlight.js to look for Gecko ;)

That little hiccup out of the way, it still didn't want to load the external XAML, so the easiest approach was to drop it inline in the main source file.

Success! The clock sample happily running in XULRunner :)

Have a look at the sample SilverlightXUL project here (it assumes you have XULRunner already installed in the directory above where you unzip this sample - have a look at the .bat file to make sure the path is right)

Okay, so it's cool... but does it help? It actually opens up a bunch of questions around what's actually possible

  • Can we embed a Silverlight control in the midst of XUL UI elements?
  • Can we fire events from the XUL layer into the Silverlight element and vice versa?
  • How do I fix the UserAgent string so the Silverlight detection works right?
  • How can I get the Silverlight control working with external and dynamic XAML
  • How can we make these two things place nice together to do some really cool stuff!

So now I just need to find someone who knows XULrunner, and spend some more time experimenting with Silverlight in the framework ;)

RIA frameworks as gaming consoles

clock March 19, 2007 23:44 by author OffBeatMammal

I've been trying to get my head around the three most interesting players on the Rich Internet Application front, and in a conversation today a really good analogy surfaced. Compare them to game consoles.

So, who are the players:

First comes XulRunner from the Mozilla foundation. This often overlooked environment is ticking along quite quietly but gaining quite a following out there. Unlike it's two main competitors it's actually got some real world applications built with it (even though, like the other two it won't be at a production release until the end of the year). Open and fairly approachable it's got a lot going for it.

Next if Apollo from Adobe. This all singing, all dancing behemoth builds on the underpinnings and learnings of Flash, ColdFusion, Flex and Photoshop. Sadly it's legacy may make it rather hard (and expensive) to develop with.

Third contender in the ring is WPF/E (Codename) from Microsoft. Surprisingly given it's parents track record this is probably the easiest of the three to get started with. Cross browser and platform support, an open object model that's addressable from Javascript in the browser (it's as easy to work with as the basic browser DOM) and an XML based vector markup language (XAML) that shares a lot of heritage and maturity from it's Windows only cousin WPF.

Just discovered a fourth entrant worth having a look at. Dekoh is a Java ased platform supporting everything from JSP to ASP.NET to Flash on Windows, OSX and Linux. It's free and Open Source.

So ... what consoles do these guys match up to, and why (and I expect the fanbois to abuse me over some of these) .

XulRunner has to be a Wii - it's lightweight but surprisingly powerful and a real underground hit because of its no-nonsense all-round solid performance.

Apollo is, IMO, the PS3 of the space. It will probably look great but it's expensive and some would say over-engineered. The barriers to entry (from a developer perspective) are high and the legacy of some of its components (Flex for instance) raise some questions about how much fun it's going to be.

WPF/E is, almost by default, the Xbox360. Popular, great capabilities, fairly approachable (eg with the arrival of XNA the Xbox became the most open of the consoles. In a similar manner the open XAML based model of WPF/E makes development easy).

Dekoh is harder to pick a platform to compare it to but I think given the portability and wide range of options but I think it's closest match is to the DS Lite. Fairly frill and pretension free but ballsy enough to do well in the game..

Oh okay, so maybe there's a fifth but Java, like the Atari 2600, while ground breaking at the time is no longer state of the art or fun to develop for.

Wonder what RIA platforms would be if they were cars....



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