First Look: Popfly
Popfly for Silverlight: a beta glimpse.
For nearly a decade, Macromedia's Flash (now an Adobe Systems Inc. product) has been the de facto standard for Web animation. It's in widespread use across the Web. Of course, Microsoft changed the stakes last year when it introduced its Silverlight platform, a competitor to Flash and a few similar technologies. Microsoft also recently unveiled a tool called Popfly, which serves as a gateway to Silverlight in some respects because it requires the Silverlight runtime. Popfly is currently in beta.
In fairness, there are also more practical tools available, such as bar graphs, maps, RSS, etc. All of the difficult coding is done with these modules, so all you have to do to set them up is drag them to where you want them and then fill in the variables.
Easy and Powerful
Popfly's UI is impressive: It offers a good balance between ease of use and power. The source code of your project is there if you want it. The interface is intuitive enough to learn in your first few seconds with it, which is a far cry from the days where you had to read a book or tutorial before you knew how to do anything at all in Flash. Popfly lets you add your own HTML to your project, which is a definite plus. Once you've added a few modules or contributed code of your own, there's an easy way to preview your work.
While Popfly requires the Silverlight runtime to work, such things are typical and forgivable. For instance, Flash also requires a plug-in to work. The Silverlight runtime features decent Firefox support on Windows, which is surprising because I initially expected it to be an Internet Explorer-exclusive thing.
Linux Left Out
The animations are equal to those of Flash in terms of quality. However, Popfly does have one flaw, which is no Linux support. Novell Inc. is developing a Linux version of Silverlight called "Moonlight." Whether Microsoft likes it or not, Linux is here to stay and is a growing force on the desktop thanks to universal-audience distributions such as Ubuntu.
Popfly could help Silverlight garner new users quickly, but the platform still has a long way to go. After all, Silverlight is a first-generation platform, whereas Flash has had eight additional software generations to achieve its market penetration.