Packet Rat: It'll take all that glitters to make your Windows Sparkle

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

The Rat tuned into the chatter from his intelligence agents at the recent Microsoft Professional Developers' Conference (PDC) in the City of Angels. And nearly all he could get out of them was how blown away they were by something called 'Sparkle.'

The technology code-named like a toothpaste is a new killer user-interface builder for the upcoming Windows Vista (nee Longhorn) environment, and reportedly is Microsoft's effort to build a 'Flash killer.'

Considering that the proposed Adobe/Macromedia merger'referred to by some of the cyberrodent's friends as 'Macrobe''could give the company something of a stranglehold on the minds of Web developers, Microsoft's goal might be a bit ambitious from a company that seems to be having trouble keeping employees from fleeing to Google.

'They're gettin' all gangsta in Redmond,' the Rat's hip-hop hip eldest offspring told him one morning. 'Ballmer's throwing chairs and trash-talking about Google; the next thing you know, he'll have Snoop Dogg teaching him how to hang his blue hankie on the Crips side.'

The cool part of Sparkle is that designers can build a lot of the interface logic without writing code. All of the coolness gets rendered into XAML, the Extensible Application Markup Language.
Never heard of it? Well, then, you haven't been reading any Microsoft blogs or Vista docs, because XAML is at the heart of the new Avalon graphical user interface (GUI) for Vista.

So, the idea is that by using XAML to build forms for applications, or for Web pages, designers can build in things like animated objects that act like the interface elements we old-timers are used to'radio buttons, check boxes and grids. Just how long it takes for these applications and Web sites to load is a function of how fast Avalon runs on the user's PC, and how big a bandwidth pipe runs to his desk.

It's all part of Microsoft's Big Plan for Conquering the Web Again.

At first, it sounded vaguely to the Rat like ActiveX Controls all over again. Remember those, the things that used to run in Internet Explorer and were the target of a nasty patent lawsuit by intellectual-property farm Eolas?

Apparently Microsoft wants XAML, Avalon and Sparkle to be bigger than just Windows Vista, because the word out of the PDC was that Microsoft is working on porting Avalon to, get this, Mac OS X, and also to 'Web devices,' using something called Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, or WFP/E.

The latter move may be a good thing for the Rat and his peers in the government IT world, because having to upgrade to Vista to take advantage of any of this nifty new stuff is going to be a bit hefty. The system requirements for the current beta of Vista are rather large in the graphics and memory department. 'Most current Fed desktops won't have the junk in the trunk for Vista,' the wirebiter's son opined.

'If you want the Sparkle on Windows,' the whiskered one said to his department head in a recent budgeting meeting, 'you're gonna have to give up some serious bling-bling. As they say out in L.A., Vista's all about the Benjamins, baybee.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at

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