Prism and XUL Could Have Been A Silverlight And Adobe AIR Killer

Rich Internet Application are the future of Web Based Applications and we have seen a number of competing technologies come up in the last year namely Silverlight, Adobe AIR and Prism. In the future we will see a tighter integration between desktop applications and the web. I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between XUL, Silverlight and And Adobe AIR. A few common similarities that I immediately noticed are.

  1. All of them use a some form of Proprietary XML (A super set of HTML) to define the User Interface.
  2. The emphasis on the use of existing Web technologies like DOM, JavaScript and CSS.
  3. Cross Platform. (Silverlight for Linux called Moonlight is under development and Adobe AIR will run on Linux once version 1.0 is out)

Some people like to point out that XAML is a ripoff of XUL. I don’t fully agree with them, but I am sure Microsoft did borrow some ideas from XUL, but that’s technology my friend, ideas are meant to be copied if someone can do it better then they deserve to win.

One thing that differentiates Silverlight and Adobe AIR from XUL is that both of them come with a runtime engine based on their own advanced Proprietary technology and programming languages i.e. .NET and Flash which greatly enhances their capabilities. And this is where both Silverlight and AIR beat Prism /XUL hands down.

Its interesting to see that Mozilla is pushing Prism as an answer to Silverlight and Adobe AIR. I frankly feel its a rather poor attempt since I don’t see much difference between FireFox and Prism, i.e, Prism is just a stripped down version of FireFox.

XUL had a very good chance at taking a shot at Silverlight and AIR long before they had even come out. XUL, Canvas and SVG could have made a really powerful combination.

Some of the key reasons why XUL fails to compete

  • Lack of proper documentation Examples.
  • No marketing.
  • No advanced programming capabilities.
  • Inability to package as a Offline desktop Application.
  • A Good IDE. (You can’t expect Web Developers to waste time programming in Notepad)

Out of the three I feel Adobe AIR holds a lot of promise, Silverlight is too tied in to Microsoft own platform and they don’t seem committed to making it work on Linux (if they were they would have developed it they selves instead of giving off the work to Miguel de Icaza and the Mono developers) also it is not possible to native develop desktop applications. Prism/XUL is too raw and unfocused to be considered a worthy competitor.

6 Responses

Prism and XUL won’t make it that interesting. While XUL is flexible, it’s an absolute b*tch to work with, and mozilla’s very poorly documented in my opinion. While there’s some code to start writing an extension, i really don’t see where people get their information to write such advanced extensions.

Anyways, XUL needs an IDE, and if it’s opened up and done well enough, it can replace msft’s xaml and can be used to develop flexible applications of tommorow. It won’t be long however, before XUL goes into mainstream applications.

AIR and silverlight both won’t be able to change the stronghold on flash. AIR has some potential though. I’m watching flex closely, there is something good in store for that.

I have just started on a XUL project and I have so far been facing the same issue regarding the availability of ‘proper’ XUL documentation. So, just out of interest, where do you guys get your XUL information?

It’s a shame.

I’ve been disappointed about the lack of documentation.

Try XUL Explorer :

I don’t find that XUL itself is hard to learn. It’s what you do after your GUI has been created. Integrating process interaction, file I/O, and server interaction is a nightmare.

There are a lot of site where you will find XUL examples and documentation. If you want to make standalone XUL applications you can use xulrunner. A very nice XUL desktop application is songbird see more applications on

Anirudh » You are absolutely right. I forgot to mention that XUL is very hard to learn and work with. Like I mention XUL has a lot of potential but Mozilla seems pretty blind about it.

Yep AIR has a lot of potential.