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New York Times Dropping WPF/Silverlight for Adobe AIR

by Jonathan Allen on May 13, 2009 |

In a rather unexpected turn of events, Microsoft’s WPF and Silverlight platforms have lost another early adopter. Back in 2006 we reported on how the Times Reader was based on WPF. Since then the New York Times has also added a Silverlight-based application for OS X users.

Unfortunately the Silverlight version has been plagued with problems, both political and technical. The biggest hurdle was the lack of cross-platform support. Though based on WPF or Windows Presentation Foundation, Silverlight only has a subset of WPF’s capabilities. This makes writing code that works on both difficult and most developers seem to end up maintaining two separate code bases. Silverlight 2.0 is designed to run within a browser, a limitation not found in WPF. Apple users, who tend to be sensitive to such issues, rightfully complained about not having all the same features as Windows users. Silverlight is also known to produce blurry text at times, a major issue for an application dedicated to displaying news. Finally, the Times Reader has some compatibility issues with Safari 4.

To address these and other issues, the New York Times is abandoning both WPF and Silverlight. Rob Larson writes,

Next week we’ll be introducing Times Reader 2.0. This version is powered by Adobe AIR and will run equally well on Windows , Mac and Linux computers. With this latest release, Times Reader resembles the printed paper even more closely, and it updates every five minutes with the latest news from the Web.

The Times Reader 2.0 is now available; and with Microsoft promoting its New York Times Silverlight Kit, the timing couldn’t be worse.

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Wonder if they knew about Appcelerator and Titanium? by Frank Cohen

Interesting news about Silverlight adoption and issues. I got to attend the Mix conference and no one I spoke with would say anything bad about Silverlight.

With JavaOne - and Oracle's Java developer conference, how do you like that?!#@ - just a few weeks away, I wonder what JavaFX details will emerge.

And at the same time, there is Appcelerator's Titanium. The open source answer to AIR.

I guess with all this JavaScript and custom new scripting languages running desktop apps that maybe we don't need a real object oriented programming language on the client side? I've noticed lately that the older I get the harder it is to ready JavaScript!

-Frank Cohen
www.pushtotest.com

Re: Wonder if they knew about Appcelerator and Titanium? by Jonathan Allen

That is an interesting question. I've done nothing but OOP for my whole career so I'm not sure how I would react to using something like JavaScript to do my desktop work.

/https*:\/\/([^\/:]+)/ Re: Wonder if they knew about Appcelerator and Titan by Chris Peterson

Flash and AIR's ActionScript 3 (AS3) is not "your father's JavaScript". AS3 is based on the version of ECMAScript that would have been ECMAScript 4 if Microsoft and Yahoo hadn't killed it. AS3 is practically Java: it has advanced OO and packages, static typing, and graphical debuggers.

Re: /https*:\/\/([^\/:]+)/ Re: Wonder if they knew about Appcelerator and T by Marcelo Lopez

One more reason, in my opinion that sticking to javascript ( and I know I'm painting a big red O on myself ) anymore is like using a "fancy band-aid" on the ever-expanding balloon that are web applications today.

Steward Stremler ( www.stremler.net/javascript.html ) has a pretty good synopsis that I came across a few years ago. I happen to agree practically 100% with his points, although the situation is a little different today in that now there are even MORE ajax frameworks ( some interoperable, some not so much ). And still, one of the strongest points is his first. Why strengthen the underlying platform ( browsers ) when we can simply defer ( i.e. punt ) to de-facto requiring javascript for any "real enhancements".

To really reach out and put deeper interaction into the user's hands, and expressiveness into the developers fingers, would require a "clean break" from javascript, and while I don't see that happening anytime soon, it's the 800 lbs gorilla in the room that will have to be addressed eventually. Hopefully sooner than later.

As for Silverlight, it's got issues of it's own, but version 3 will come with several enhancements to truly make it more viable. Nicer text rendering will now be supported through ClearType in release 3 along with a number of things I've seen as principle complaints.

See: timheuer.com/blog/archive/2009/03/18/silverligh...

Personally, I wish the Appcellerator and Mono guys a lot of success, because with open source alternatives to AIR (Titanium) and Silverlight (Moonlight) it's a couple of more step towards a javascript-free web.

Ok, you can begin firing your arrows now.

Re: Wonder if they knew about Appcelerator and Titanium? by Roger Voss

Don't worry, ActionScript3 adds very Java-like OOP features to JavaScript. Default compile mode is to support static typing like Java and C# do. However, can at runtime program dynamic objects in a JavaScript like manner. Can still do a dynamic object where the object class is devised or extended at runtime via prototype. Of course these objects are not as efficient as the static type classes, but they need only be introduced where they're dynamic nature is advantageous.

Plus, the typing around AS3 closures is relaxed to where they are very clean and easy to use, even when the bulk of the code is written on static type compile mode. So closures in AS3 are are joy.

My typical approach is to build hybrid RIA apps. Build a Flex app that can run in a browser, and then also build an AIR app that loads the Flex app from the web server into a remote sandbox using new Flex SDK 3.2 subapplication feature.

The AIR version can then extend the experience of the Flex web app core to take advantage of AIR feature set and overall make the app seem very much like a full-featured desktop app.

Using Google MDI library and AIR transparent native window with nochrome attributes, it's possible to do really cool MDI AIR apps in this manner. They behave like Mac OS X apps in that all the child windows exist on a layer. So even in Windows, when the app is minimized, it minimizes all the MDI windows at once in a single layer behavior. Yet the transparency feature is such that can still click through to other underlying windows.

This manner of web-app/desktop-app hybridization using Flex and AIR is the bees' knees. There's nothing really else quite like the combination.

The only downside is that up to this point, the AIR transparency feature hasn't been well supported on Linux. But that is supposed to be getting addressed. So pretty soon this manner of app will run well on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

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