Microsoft's Beta Download Center: Bigger, Prettier, And Slower - InformationWeek

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Commentary
1/14/2008
12:13 PM
Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
Commentary
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Microsoft's Beta Download Center: Bigger, Prettier, And Slower

Last week, I took a look at the reasons behind Microsoft's MSDN site being slow. Looking around the rest of the Microsoft site since then, I fear that Microsoft may be making many of these changes to showcase its latest technologies at the expense of speed and usability.

Last week, I took a look at the reasons behind Microsoft's MSDN site being slow. Looking around the rest of the Microsoft site since then, I fear that Microsoft may be making many of these changes to showcase its latest technologies at the expense of speed and usability.One of those technologies is Silverlight Microsoft's answer to Adobe Flash. You can see Silverlight in action at the new Microsoft Download Center, which is currently in beta test. Like Flash, Microsoft's page will require that you download the Silverlight plugin before you continue. It's not a big download, thank goodness.

Compared with the old Download Center, this new one is much more attractive. Yet I don't see that it provides significantly more functionality or information than the old page. There are a few "widgets" on the page powered by Silverlight that provide animated pop-up windows and menus, but they are relatively slow and not completely intuitive.

As with MSDN, my big concern was the performance. This new download center makes 91 requests totaling 525 Kbytes, and the page takes about 10 seconds to load. The old page makes only 27 requests totaling 115 Kbytes, and takes just 3 seconds to load. So, at the moment the new download center is more than three times the size, makes three times the requests, and takes three times longer to load than the old one. And, you must install the Silverlight plugin before you can use the new page.

These problems aren't unique to Silverlight; Flash shares many of the same drawbacks. To me, a company site with a Flash intro page is a sure sign that the company doesn't really "get" the Internet. It's much better to enhance a page with one of the JavaScript frameworks like jQuery, Yahoo Interface Library, or Prototype/Scriptaculous.

Now, we're talking about a beta here; things could possibly change for the better before the new Download Center is officially launched. Yet the MSDN site shows that Microsoft isn't necessarily sensitive to performance issues, and it may only fix the outright bugs. Silverlight's role in the redesign is most likely not negotiable, either. However, Microsoft may not get a lot of response from its beta users; I tried clicking the Provide Feedback link on the new page to point out some of the problems I found, but got a 404 Not Found error.

So are any of you fans of technologies like Flash and Silverlight? I admit they're useful for video players like YouTube, for advertisements, and for games. But do they really have a place on a utilitarian page like the Download Center, or do they just get in the way?

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