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'Sparkle' is Back at Microsoft's PDC

Microsoft will show an early version of its next-generation graphics and animation toolset at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) next week in Los Angeles, internetnews.com has learned.

The product, code-named Sparkle, is still in development and it's unclear whether it will be ready to ship with Windows Vista next year.

But industry-watchers say built-in animation and graphics tools could offer developers an alternative to Macromedia's popular Flash MX and Director MX animation tools.

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined comment on speculation of news coming out of PDC. A Macromedia spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

"It's a good concept and the integration with Visual Studio [Microsoft's platform for designing for Windows, Web and mobile device applications] is nice," said the source, who has seen the version of Sparkle that will be unveiled at PDC.

Despite its code name, the toolset lacks polish, the source said. Still, it should be far enough along to give PDC attendees a view of the underlying concept and how it might fit in with other industry offerings.

"I think we'll finally find out [what Sparkle is about]," said Paul Colton, founder and CEO of Xamlon, a maker of application development packages that will have a booth at PDC. "Is it Flash-like, a runtime or animation tool? It's not clear, but definitely it will compete with Macromedia and Adobe in some manner."

Microsoft apparently acquired the building blocks for Sparkle when it purchased privately held Creature House Expression in the fall of 2003 for an undisclosed sum. Besides gaining the Hong Kong company's software, Microsoft added developers with expertise in graphics and animation.

Most of those assets are now part of Acrylic, the code name for the professional graphics tool that is designed to be a complement to Adobe's Illustrator vector-based illustrator tool for designers.

Sparkle is expected to conserve processing power by employing declarative language in Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML, pronounced "zaml," a standard language for online transactions).

While that sounds good, it may not help developers sign on. Most developers are not interested in working with XAML yet, Colton said.

While some industry-watchers have dubbed Sparkle a "Flash-Killer," Joe Wilcox of JupiterResearch (which is owned by the same parent company as this Web site) thinks it's less about competing with other vendors as much as it is about providing users with a reason to upgrade to Vista.

"Microsoft is looking for new ways to generate sales off core products," he said.

Susan Kuchinskas contributed to this story.