I have been a long time Balsamiq Mockups user & fan, having used it for as long as I can remember it existing (about 1.5 years now), and I have to say it’s the best in it’s category. Today, I did some training with Microsoft Sketchflow for Silverlight using Expression Blend 3. This gave me the opportunity to do a comparison between the two products. First off, I might mention that Sketchflow is most certainly an afterthought on Microsoft’s part– it utilizes the complex UI of Expression Blend, without being a seemingly competitive product, as is typical. As I understand, it comes with Expression Studio 3 for free.
While Microsoft Sketchflow is designed for WPF, as well as Silverlight sketching & prototyping, Balsamiq’s design is geared more towards mockups. Does this matter? Is prototyping with mockups (or sketches as Microsoft calls them) more effective than static mockups? Honestly, I don’t think so– I think in a very large, high risk project it might make a difference when considering specific points. First, is the time spent designing this prototype using sketches, which happens to offer zero return when you start the actual development. Prototypes will buy you customer clarity– you can demonstrate animations, workflows, and user interface interaction much better than utilizing static images. However, as I mentioned previously, I believe the amount of projects this applies to is minimal, geared more towards the larger, high risk implementations.
So why is Balsamiq Mockups better? Well, I don’t think the two products are exclusive. They could certainly compliment each other, however, they do compete at similar goals. From my experience with both, in generating mockups quickly & efficiently, Balsamiq Mockups is hands down the winner. Even with ZERO training, you can generate mockups in seconds, provide them to the customer, present them for feedback, or utilize them in a meeting with the customer making the changes. Balsamiq truly is that easy to use, especially considering the ability to make changes to your mockup in near real-time with the customer present! This alone makes Microsoft Sketchflow not worthy of the time required for training and basic use of it.
For instance, I did 4 hours of training with video based tutorials before I could efficiently use Microsoft Sketchflow, while with Balsamiq Mockups I did zero training, yet was able to create both complicated & detailed mockups the first time. That is an important point to consider, especially when running your own business. Overall, Sketchflow looks powerful, but also seems to miss the target… or perhaps I am not the type of audience Microsoft was aiming for.