Embrace, enhance, eclipse?
The clash between Microsoft’s XAML and Adobe’s SWF formats for the Rich Internet Application (RIA) development space is only part of a larger struggle over the humble web page itself. When Tim Berners-Lee devised the World Wide Web in 1989, he deliberately downplayed its design aspects to make writing and displaying web pages as simple as possible – jot a few HTML (HyperText Markup Language) tags in Notepad and the page’s text flows in a single column with all typography delegated to the browser. It was this simplicity that enabled the explosive development of the web.
Microsoft was notoriously late to spot the web’s significance because it believed that Word, with its rich DOC files, already provided a superior universal electronic document format. In 1995, having almost missed the boat, Microsoft snapped up Spyglass’ Mosaic, to form the basis of Internet Explorer (IE), and Vermeer Technologies to provide a proper HTML development package. The result, FrontPage, tried to make HTML authoring similar to that in Word: column-based layouts were out of the question, but Word-style tables enabled a degree of page control, while the toolbar let users apply fonts as in Word.
Adobe came late to the party, too – believing its PDF was a superior electronic document format – and, also in 1995, it recognised that HTML was here to stay and began the development and acquisitions that led in 2000 to GoLive. As with Adobe’s PageMaker DTP application, GoLive enabled you to place textboxes and graphics on a blank page, then converted your layout to an HTML table behind the scenes. GoLive also supported DHTML-based animation and QuickTime movies, and would even automatically convert short sections of text to bitmaps for enhanced typography.
Microsoft and Adobe raised the design standard of web pages by reinventing HTML in their own images – web authoring as WP or DTP – but they both shared the same fatal flaw: the code they output. Translating