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MIX 09: Microsoft Announces SilverLight 3, Expression 3, ASP.Net 4, Web-PI, Web Galery and More

by Jean-Jacques Dubray on Mar 18, 2009 |

This morning Bill Buxton from Microsoft Research and Scott Guthrie, corporate VP of the .Net Developer Division, delivered the introduction keynote at MIX09 in Las Vegas.

Bill made the case that we are in one of the best professions possible despite the current economic downturn. In his opinion, this is also a good time to be focused on experience. He development an argument to think in terms of "Return On Experience". He explained that during the last depression "Industrial Designers" emerged, today he believes that a new profession will emerge focused on user experience.

The lesson from the industrial designers is that they not only survived the depression but, they are still around. In his view today both Experience and Design must be considered as key elements of a product.

Bill notes that it is not easy to represent experience like physical things, experience is about timing. User Experience professionals often use state/transistion diagrams to describe the user experience. Bill believes that transitions are the most important element in the UX. He envisions that we will soon have tools based on state and transition. They will help us transition from "ideation" to "usability".

Bill then explains what Microsoft is doing about UX:

Microsoft gets design, when we talk about Return on Experience, we are not just talking the talk. The UX headcount has grown 150%, there are about 800 UX designers and researches. We created a culture and have the management in place. MP3 players like the Zune and the iPod are not about the device, they are about the software and the ecosystem. All Microsoft products are now singing the same song, get the ultimate Return on Experience: thin clients, over the web, surface, win 7... We want a unified way to deliver this experience. It is not just real, it is critical in the current situation.

Scott delivered the second part and explain the how of User Experience. Microsoft sees this space in three different areas:

  • Web
  • Media
  • RIA

Web

In this space the tools are Visual Studio and Expression.

Scott announced Expression Web 3 which will support both ASP.Net and PHP, it also supports Secure FTP deployments, a better CSS diagnostic tool and a way to quickly visualize how a design is rendered by all major browsers (SuperView).

Erik Saltwell demoed the SuperView features. It supports side-by-side and overlay compares. But a key innovation is that SuperPreview talks to an Azure cloud Service to provide the rendering of Safari on the Mac, even though this platform is not running on your PC. 

SuperView supports hovering and lets you track back the code associated to a particular area.

The key is that you can do cross-browser development on a single machine and no VM.  A standalone version of SuperPreview will be available. The Free beta is available immediately.

Scott also announced the release of  ASP.Net MVC 1.0. Key features include:

  • Full control of the HTML Markup
  • SEO (search engine optimization) friendly with URL routing
  • Test driven development workflow
  • Easily extensible

It shipped today and it is running on top of .Net 3.5.

Scott announced ASP.Net 4 and VS 2010.  Web forms will provide more control over view state and the HTML markup rendering, it will support client side IDs and databindings will be improved. It will also implement clean URL routing.

There will be significant improvements with AJAX which include support for JQuery and Client side data binding.

It will use velocity for the Distributed Caching Engine and support caching of data in the middle-tier.

VS 2010 will see a lot of "Code focused" features with for instance a new JavaScript/AJAX/jQuery tooling and SharePoint authoring support, directly from VS.

Publishing and deployment are greatly improved with support for Staging, Test, Production servers. It is now possible to define a Web.config file for each stage. There will also be an improved database deployment support

New Web Server Extensions are coming. They are at the core of IIS 7's design. They feature an FTP server, Web Dav capabilities,... all extensions are available for free, and integrated with the administration console.

Microsoft has also released the Web Platform Installer (Web-PI). Web-PI includes the latest versions of tools, server, database and framework. Web-PI is available for free.

Scott announced the Windows Web App Gallery. This is an app store for ASP.Net. It features free web applications that can be downloaded (both .Net and PHP) and deployed instantly. The tools manage the deployment of the necessary components too. All applications are available free of charge.

Scott talked about the Azure Services Platform and mentioned that it was still on track for a commercial release this year.

Microsoft is also announcing the BizSpark program. This program is designed for startups and gets them up and running quickly while providing access to Microsoft software, free of charge for a period of 3 years.

Jeff Atwood, Joel Spolsky who recently founded StackOverflow.com spoke about the program. Their Web site helps developers with common problems that are not well documented. This is social networking site, i.e.  it is a wiki that lets users make questions and answers better. This is a kind of wikipedia for developers.

They often get the question of whether it is built on Ruby on Rails. obviously, not, it is build on .Net, yet it already supports -on a couple of servers:

  • 600,000 page views per day
  • 200,000 unique users per day

For them Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was critical and which they could only achieve with clean URLs. The key success factors of their architecture include:

  • Web Standards
  • OpenID
  • jQuery Ajax
  • MVC let people use clean findable URLs (ASP.Net routing gives full control on what the URL look like).

Media

The keynote then focused on SilverLight which was launched 18 months ago. SilverLight 2 was released 6 months ago. So far, there are 350 M installed plugins and 300,000 developers and designers and over 200 partners. Today there are tens of thousands of Web site using SilverLight including NBC, CBS, NetFlix...

Kevin McEnee, VP of Web Engineering at NetFlix demoed their new player. They have 10 M customers and 12,000 movies available online.

They replaced their old plugin with SilverLight. First it was to support streaming on the Mac, but they realized that they could get a lot more benefit by customizing their player. They went on and built and adaptive plugin that adapts constantly at the quality of the connection.  Kevin also pointed out that content protection was built in SilverLight.

In addition, the NetFlix player is now released every 2 weeks, as the users don't have to install anything.

Scott then announced officially the release of SilverLight 3 beta. It features:

  • GPU hardware Acceleration
  • New codec support H.264 AAC MPEF-4
  • Raw bitstream audio/video APO
  • Improved logging for media analytics for monetizing

 

Combined with IIS Media Services it also supports:

  • On demand smooth streaming
  • live smooth streaming (pioneered with the olympics)
  • edge caching
  • Web Playlists
  • Bit-rate throttling
  • Advance logging

RIA

SilverLight 3 offers also a host of features for Rich Internet Applications

  • GPU acceleration and hardware compositing   
  • Perspective 3D
  • Bitmap 7 Pixel APO
  • Pixel shader effects
  • Deep Zoom improvements

In terms of application development it also offers new capability such as: deep linking, navigation and SEO (new navigation and page framework, for monetization via links)

There is an improved text quality and Multi-Touch support not to mention over 100 controls available.

Scott also demonstrated Expression Blend 3 which feature a SketchFlow and SketchFlow player to help clients and designers collaborate over the design of a Web site.

It offers an Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator import. It also supports behaviors and live data (designers no longer need to use Visual Studio for that) as well as Source Control. It also features XAML, C# and VB Code intellisense.

In terms of data is supports:

  • Data binding improvements
  • validation error templates
  • server data push improvements
  • Binary XML networking support
  • Mulit-tier REST data support

It also supports "Out of browser" scenarios to extend media experience and enable the development of companion applications for web sites. It also enables "Lightweight data snacking" applications.

The out-of-browser capability supports:

  • simple consumer friendly experience
  • Safe, secure, sandboxed environment
  • build-in auto update support
  • build offline-aware applications
  • yet, integrates with the underlying operating system

Microsoft has made Major investments to address the challenges and opportunities of the an increasingly connected web of rich information. It sees User Experience and Productivity as key success factors of its product lines.

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