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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Using Third-Party Plug-Ins

With the limitations of DHTML, various third-party additions to the web browser have been created with the explicit intent to enhance the user experience. The most notorious technologies are probably Java applets, ActiveX controls, and Flash applications. This section reviews the advantages and shortcomings of these technologies to understand better how Silverlight compares.

Using Java Applets

Java applets were extraordinarily popular for a short time and then became unpopular. While some web pages still use the Java technology, their number is decreasing. The main problem with Java is that the runtime is very slow to start. When you load a page with a Java applet on it, the initial loading time makes it a painful experience.

On the plus side, Java is a great programming language. It paved the way for .NET, and many of the best features of C# are greatly inspired by the Java language. It also enables advanced graphical effects, such as the famous ripple effect.

Limited Java-to-JavaScript and JavaScript-to-Java communication is possible. However, the interface used for this communication is not supported by all the web browsers that Java runs into. Also, the syntax is not easy to learn, and communication is awkward.

Java makes it possible to open alternative communication ways to the web server. For example, it enables the server to “talk” directly to the client, which is impossible with classic web communication. While this can be a huge technological advantage in certain scenarios, it can also, under certain circumstances, represent a security threat. Because of this, the acceptance of Java applets by big, security-sensitive corporations has been slow and has pretty much “killed” Java in the web browser.

Using ActiveX Controls

When Microsoft introduced the COM technology in 1993, it also made it possible to create so-called ActiveX controls, “packing” pieces of software and communicating with the external world using the COM interfaces. With this, it is possible to develop controls using classic Windows technology (including fast C++ code), and to place it in a web browser. It is even possible to have some limited interaction with JavaScript and through this to the web page.

The major shortcoming of ActiveX is that it uses an obsolete, almost 15-year-old technology. Also, ActiveX controls can only be used in Internet Explorer on Windows.

Using Flash Applications

Adobe Flash is probably the most popular third-party plug-in currently available. On the plus side, it allows advanced graphical effects, and it’s not rare to find websites programmed entirely in Flash. While Flash content is often called “Flash movies,” it’s probably fairer to call them “applications.”

Flash’s major shortcoming is that it is difficult to program. A (commercial) editor is needed to create the front-end user interface. Additionally, the code-behind can only be programmed in a language called ActionScript, which is a subset of JavaScript. The fact that Flash has been created primarily for graphics designers makes it difficult for software developers to use the tools and to create compelling content and functionality.

A limited interaction between the Flash application and the containing HTML page is possible through JavaScript. Some interaction between the Flash application and the containing HTML page is possible through JavaScript.

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