When Microsoft released Windows Vista and its new Windows Presentation Foundation, XAML Browser applications, or XBAPs, were highly touted as answering a major dilemma for enterprise-level systems. When creating software for use in an environment with more than a few employees, developers are faced with a dilemma – thick client applications are more powerful, but require IT support to install on each user’s workstation, which browser-based applications are less powerful, but require no setup. XBAP, it was said, had the answer.
XBAP applications are “thick client” applications that run off of the end-user’s workstation, but they exist completely contained within a “sandboxed” environment. A “sandbox” is an isolated environment where programs can run, but are prevented from doing anything destructive like modifying files on the drive. The promise of this technology was that it could be seamlessly installed, yet more powerful than a web application..
XBAP, known in the current Visual Studio as the much less buzzword-friendly “WPF Browser Application”, found its usefulness quickly replaced by Silverlight. It finds itself in the unfortunate middle ground of too restrictive to be useful in for business applications and less usable than Silverlight or Flash for entertainment websites. Very few sites currently use XBAP; perhaps the most well-known example is the British Library’s online gallery (which really is a very nifty site – please note that either Internet Explorer or Firefox with the XBAP plugin is required to view the link). The Register named XBAP as one of Microsoft’s misses, along with Code Access Security Policy, JScript.NET, and Rotor (an open-source .NET framework for Unix).
Photo credit: Anders Sandberg
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