the last castleWhen 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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One Comment

  1. Phong Hoang

    In general, I agree with what you wrote but the part about “found its usefulness quickly replaced by Silverlight” is a bit of an overstatement.

    In term of features gap, Silverlight and XBAP (WPF) are not on the same ground yet, including what’s coming in Silverlight 5. There are still too many things you can do in WPF that you cannot do in Silverlight today. For a specific example of an XBAP app that would not fit the Silverlight bill, check out the ILINX Content Store product.

    That said, if I were to develop a new application that can be coded in both Silverlight and XBAP, I would choose Silverlight. In the long run though, both Silverlight and WPF will be folded under one common framework so the decision to choose one over the other today should be based on your business requirements.

    Cheers!

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