New ARCast.tv Episode: Ward Bell on Building Modular Applications Using Silverlight and WPF

by dboynton 8/17/2009 12:36:07 PM

How do you build line-of-business applications in Silverlight and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) that can be maintained and extended over a period of years? How do you design and code to handle real-world complexity? Composite Application Guidance (a.k.a., "PRISM") from patterns & practices offers guidance, libraries and examples--in small, free-standing, digestible chunks--that you can use to tame the complexity.

In this episode of ARCast.tv, I sit down and chat with Ward Bell to learn how to compose complex UIs from simpler views, integrate loosely coupled components with "EventAggregator" and "Commands", develop independent modules that can be loaded dynamically, and share code between Silverlight and WPF clients.


ARCast.TV - Ward Bell on Building Modular Applications Using Microsoft Silverlight and WPF

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"Devsigners," On Your Feet! Expression Studio 3 Available Today

by dboynton 7/22/2009 4:42:00 PM

microsoftExpresion On July 10th, Microsoft announced the RTM of Silverlight™ 3 and the RC of Expression™ 3. Today, I’m very happy to be able to tell you that the final release of Expression Studio 3 is now available.

This is truly a coming-of-age for the Expression products. They’ve always been solid, but with this release they have the full range of features and functionality that many of us knew could be there but just wasn’t yet. I mean, the SketchFlow™ rapid prototyping tool alone should be enough to get you jazzed about Blend™ 3.

These tools have always been produced for use primarily by designers, but I’ve found that I’ve become very dependent on Blend to layout the interfaces for my WPF and Silverlight applications. This is a growing trend I’ve seen picking up stream over the past few years, creating an interesting hybrid role I like to call “the devsigner.” We all knew it would happen eventually, but Expression has really made this practical since all of the Expression products use the same project and source code files as Visual Studio™, creating a designer-developer collaboration that you just can’t find anywhere else.

If you haven’t tried any of the Expression products before, give them a try. You can download a 60-day trial from the Expression web site. Also, there is tons of information available on the product teams’ blogs.

For more information, here are some good sites to bookmark:

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MIX 2009 Keynote Announcements: Day 2

by dboynton 3/19/2009 6:56:15 PM

What a difference a day makes. Where yesterday’s MIX 2009 keynote with Bill Buxton and Scott Guthrie dropped almost too much information on the audience, today’s keynote was much more balanced, focusing on a particular browser and a great story about good design making a positive change in the world.

Dean Hachamovich and Internet Explorer 8
IE8_logo The keynote this morning kicked off with Dean Hachamovich announcing the RTW of Internet Explorer 8. This has been a greatly anticipated release of Microsoft’s new browser since it was officially shown to the world for the first time at MIX last year (has it really been a year already?!?). To be perfect honest, my reaction to IE8’s launch has been pretty much, “Meh.” But after what I saw this morning, I am actually really looking forward to installing the released version. Here are some of the highlights from Dean’s portion of the keynote:

  • The new browser can be downloaded manually from microsoft.com/ie8. It will also be available via Windows Update as an optional install. The really great news is that Dean said the final release bits will be available for those of us running Windows 7 beta via Windows Update as well. Supported operating systems include Windows XP, Vista and Windows Server.
  • The majority of the the new features in IE8 were driven directly by customer feedback about how they use the web. Using customer feedback to drive product enhancements is not unusual for Microsoft, but you can see a definite focus on making IE8 intuitive and easy to use for everybody. Some of the enhancements include:
    • Both the address and search fields provide comprehensive historical information as well as informational suggestions to get the user more information about the content they’re interested in.
    • The tabbed browsing experience has been enhanced through color coding. As a page opens pages in new tabs, the main tab and additional tabs share a common color, helping the user more easily keep track of the information they’re working with.
    • Pages in different tabs run in their own, isolated space. This keeps a fatal error on one page from taking the entire browser, and thus, other pages down.
    • IE8 seems to render standard web pages as fast or faster than other browsers. This has been my experience as well. However, Dean didn’t address the JavaScript performance issues this morning—I personally think this is an area for the product team to focus on in the next release.
  • IE8 is the most secure browser Microsoft has ever released, and if the information Dean presented this morning is to be believed, it is the safest browser on the market today. A white paper on browser security that provide more details can be found at NSS Labs.
  • There are also some very cool developer features as well, including:
    • Full support of the CSS 2.1 specification
    • A comprehensive rendering test suite with the W3C organization consisting of 7,000+ tests, many of which show IE8 to implement web standards better that other browsers.
    • Web Slices: These are mini applications that drop a button in the browser under the address window and bring content and web applications directly to the user without them having to navigate to the primary web site.
    • Accelerators: When highlighting content in a web page, a smart tag of sorts pops up providing several interesting options, including getting a map relative to the content, searching for more information on the content and even translating the content into another language.

Deborah Adler and ClearRx
When the launch of IE8 was complete, Bill Buxton returned to the stage to introduce Deborah Adler. Deborah is a graphic designer who used a near tragedy in her family to make an extremely positive change for people.

ClearRx Deborah told the story of how one evening several years ago, her grandmother accidently took her grandfather’s prescription medication and nearly died. Deborah realized that the reason this incident happened is because both her grandparents were on the same medication, but they were on different doses, and the prescription medication bottles used by all pharmacies at the time are extremely difficult to read and understand. Her grandmother was lucky. Unfortunately, many people die each year by taking taking their prescription medication incorrectly or accidently taking the wrong medication.

As part of her Master’s thesis, Deborah setout to use her design skills to make a prescription medicine bottle that would help avoid these incidents from happening again. I won’t recount the whole story because it’s already been told in detail elsewhere.

However, Deborah’s talk was very thought provoking because, ultimately, what she did wasn’t beyond what most of us are capable of doing. She simply identified something that was obviously wrong, looked at practical ways to to address the issue through better design and found a company that was willing to help her bring her vision to life, that company being Target and the ultimate product being the ClearRx prescription bottles used at their pharmacies.

As software professionals, we see poor design everyday and choose to live with it, choose to accept it. I enjoyed Deborah’s talk because it inspired me to look at software I use all the time and try to find better, more intuitive ways to enhance it. I don’t think I will ever save lives like Deborah did with her design, but all of us can clearly have a positive impact on our users’ daily lives by developing technology that actually helps them do their jobs better.

So that wraps it up for the MIX keynotes this year. Of course, MIX is still going on and we’re all working through what all the new technology we’ve seen over the past couple of days means to us. I’ve personally had several really interesting conversations with people about Silverlight 3, but I am absolutely stoked about Expression Blend 3. I’m working on getting the bits downloaded so I can start building some Silverlight applications. Of course, everything I learn will eventually end up here, so stay tuned.

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MIX 2009 Keynote Announcements: Day 1

by dboynton 3/18/2009 6:40:11 PM

MIX 2009 kicked off in Las Vegas this morning with a bang. There was a virtual avalanche of announcements made about key products and technologies that will have a lasting impact on web and interactive developers and designers over the next year. Bill Buxton and Scott Guthrie tag teamed a very full keynote session, and while I’m personally still trying to digest everything we heard, I wanted to provide you with a summary of all the announcements made this morning. I’m sure this will prompt many follow-ups over the next few days and weeks as I get a chance to dig deeper into Expression Web and Blend, Commerce Server 2009, Azure and, most of all, Silverlight 3.

Bill Buxton
BillBuxton The theme for MIX this year is “Return on Experience,” and that is precisely what Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research focused on during the opening minutes of today’s keynote. Bill began by presenting a new and far more compelling discussion about why user experience (UX) matters (or should matter) in all the software we build. He talked about the history of industrial design and pointed out that some of the most innovative and successful products ever created address the needs of individual people and provided unparalleled simplicity and intuitiveness in their design. Bill also showed that there is a long history of companies and products being very successful during times of economic strife, mentioning several companies founded just before or during the Great Depression which are still in business today.

Bill finished his portion of the keynote by restating Microsoft’s commitment to delivering exception user experience in all of our products, citing that growth in user experience professionals at Microsoft has grown by 150% over the past 7 years.

Scott Guthrie
Scott_Guthrie “The Gu” came on stage after a particularly funny video which featured him, among other things, disco dancing and getting his hair teased, and started right in with Microsoft’s state of the art in what he termed “the standards-based web.” Major announcements in this space include:

  • The preview of Expression Web 3 is available for download today!
  • SuperPreview is a new tool that is part of Expression Web 3 that will allow web developers to comprehensively test their web pages for cross-browser compatibility before publishing them online. If the designer is working from an image mock-up of a page, they can do a side-by-side comparison of the mock and their designed page. They can even overlap them to get a better idea of who close they’ve come to implementing the intended design. Even more cool than that, they can preview the page in many different browsers. SuperPreview will render the page in any locally installed browser and will even connect to a cloud service to render the page in a browser you don’t have on your machine. For example, if I have IE8 and FireFox 3 installed on my machine, but I want to see how my page would render in Safari, SuperPreview will pull a Safari instance from the cloud to show the output. This is going to make SuperPreview invaluable to web designers.
  • The ASP.NET MVC 1.0 framework shipped this morning and is available for immediate download for free.
  • A series of improvements for ASP.NET 4.0, including:
    • Enhanced web form development
    • Integration of ASP.NET MVC and AJAX
    • Distributed caching
  • Enhancements to Visual Studio 2010 for web developers, including:
    • New and enhanced tools for JavaScript, AJAX and JQuery development
    • SharePoint developers become first class citizens in the IDE with new development tools for MOSS
    • New publishing and deployment tools, including the ability to keep multiple web.config files specific to a deployment environment, i.e. development, test, staging and production
  • General availability of the Microsoft Web Platform Installer 2 beta. This awesome little application provides you with the ability to get all the tools and technologies for developing web applications for the ASP.NET platform in one place—no more jumping from web site to web site trying to find the installers. Just click on a check box, hit the Install button and you’re there!
  • Microsoft Commerce Server 2009 available today.
  • Customer-driven enhancements to the Windows Azure Service Platform, including:
    • FastCGI/PHP and .NET full trust, allowing applications to share data and resources much more easily
    • SQL Data Services will adopt a more familiar ADO.NET interface, making a true relational database in the cloud
    • Windows Azure is schedule to ship this year!

As if this wasn’t enough, Scott moved into his talk about Silverlight 3, the preview of which is available today. Here are the highlights:

  • There are over 10,000 web sites in the world today using Silverlight, and there are over 300,000 developers and designer actively developing with Silverlight.
  • A new Silverlight version of the World Wide Telescope, previously available only in WPF, is going live today.
  • A new SDK for integrating Microsoft Virtual Earth into your Silverlight applications will be available for download this week.
  • Silverlight 3 will provide cross-platform support for hardware acceleration.
  • Silverlight 3 will include the H.264, AAC and MPEG-4 codecs; it will also include a raw bit-stream audio and video API which will allow developers to create custom codecs in managed code if they need/want to.
  • Silverlight 3 includes enhanced logging capabilities for managing application access analysis
  • IIS Media Services
    • This will be a free download that will enable any IIS7 web server to provide smooth video or audio streaming services
    • Media Services will provide advanced logging, bit-rate throttling and edge caching
    • Media Services applications will be developed and deployed using Expression Encoder, so the experience will be familiar and seemless
  • There are several enhancements to Silverlight 3 in graphics, including:
    • GPU acceleration and hardware compositing
    • Perspective 3D, essentially moving 2D objects in the UI in a 3D space
    • An API for bitmap images and pixels
    • Shader effects
    • Hardware acceleration for Deep Zoom
  • There are also several new features in Silverlight 3 that will make RIA development even easier, including:
    • “Deep linking,” which is the ability for a user to link to a specific place inside a Silverlight application
    • Navigation and search engine optimization
    • Improved text quality
    • Library caching support
    • More than 100+ controls available from Microsoft, not counting those made by partners
  • Silverlight 3 will ship with the native ability to run outside the browser. A Silverlight application running outside the browser implements the same security model as Silverlight in the browser, and even has built-in automated update abilities. Yep, drop a new version of the application on the web server and the Silverlight app on the user’s machine automatically updates. Say goodbye to complex deployment issues for desktop applications!
  • The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be streamed live and on-demand using Silverlight
  • And, in what was possibly the most incredible news I heard all morning, with all of these new, incredible features, the Silverlight 3 installer package is actually 40k SMALLER than the Silverlight 2 installer. I guess there really is something to rigorous code review practices!

Finally, The Gu finished up the keynote this morning with a look at Expression Blend 3 CTP. Here are the highlights:

  • Blend 3 will include a new tool called SketchFlow, which will allow you basically create a digital “cocktail napkin” design of your application, visually mapping interactions between different application windows, share these drafts with customers, enter feedback directly into the form and send the feedback to designers in Blend. From where I was sitting, this looked a lot like the work item management tools in Visual Studio Team System. You’ve heard of Application Lifecycle Management (ALM)? How about DLM: Design Lifecycle Management!
  • Support for Silverlight development in Eclipse, both for Windows and the Mac OS.
  • New data-binding tools in Blend 3 support the ability to connect to sample data or generate sample date. You can also edit the test data right in the design environment, giving designers unprecedented testing capabilities.

Every bullet point above could easily be a separate post, and I intend to do as many as I can. Anyway, that’s the summery of this morning’s announcements, and there are more coming tomorrow. The links to many of the products above are not live yet. I’ll do follow-up posts with links to the goods as they become available. Until tomorrow…

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XamlFest St. Louis is Wicked Cool!

by dboynton 2/2/2009 12:56:00 PM

This past week, a veritable bomb of XAML-related info exploded in the Microsoft offices in St. Louis as XamlFest came to town. This two-day training seminar featured John Pelak, a Microsoft Architect Evangelist from Boston and a whole lot of XAML coding.

XamlFest1 XamlFest is a training program that was created to introduce developers and designers to eXtensible Application Markup Language and the Microsoft technologies that use it, namely Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Silverlight 2. More so than other technologies, this kind of program is necessary because designing and building applications using XAML is very different from previous UI technologies. XAML is extremely powerful and getting your hands around what it can do and how it does it can be intimidating. Thus, the XamlFest agenda takes you through an introduction to the XAML language and how it is used in WPF and Silverlight. It also shows you how you can use Visual Studio 2008 and Expression Blend 2 to develop more quickly and efficiently.

The event was attended by approximately 60 people both days, filling the training room at the Microsoft office to near capacity. Those who attended were primarily developers, but there were a few designers in the mix as well. John kicked things off on Thursday morning by showing some demonstrations of WPF applications, giving the attendees a solid feel for what can be done with the technology. After that, it was all WPF. We focused on laying out an interface in XAML using containers and controls, and then how to use .NET managed code (in this case, C#) to implement functionality for those controls. Right after lunch, I did a walk-through of Expression Blend 2, a designer-centric tool for doing visual XAML design. This talk covered productivity tips and tricks in the Blend UI, custom style and resource management, custom control development and UI animation using storyboards and the timeline tools. Finally, John took us home on day one with a great overview of databinding in WPF using custom collections and lists.

Day two was completely focused on Silverlight. We started off with an overview of Silverlight 2 and moved quickly into building a Silverlight application. We worked through the basics of how Silverlight applications are built inside of a web page and moved quickly to showing how we could pragmatically port the WPF application we worked on the day before to Silverlight 2. While not everything works the same, we were able to, over the course of the morning, replicate all the functionality of the previous day’s application and even add a few additional features. John finished up right before lunch, so I took over for the afternoon session.

XamlFest2As it was a Friday, I thought we’d have some fun and work on a “real” application using the skills presented over the previous day-and-a-half. I laid out a project to build my band, Lake 32, a media management application for our web site. Basically, I wanted a Silverlight 2 application that would bind to an underlying data sources for music, video and pictures, as well as a means to let people sign-up for our electronic newsletter. I encouraged everyone to form into groups and work together to develop a visual concept and collaborate to design and develop the application. The kicker is that the teams have a week to submit their application to a Live Mesh folder I setup for them and the best designed application, to be judged by the guys in the band, will be put on our home page. I was excited that most of the group stuck around and worked on this, the final team packing up three hours later. I can’t wait to see what all these teams come up with!

I had several conversations with XamlFest attendees over the course of the two days and everyone seems to have enjoyed the training and got a lot out of it. John did a fantastic job engaging the group and getting them to code along with him. I know I speak for many that the words, “This is wicked cool! Ship it!” spoken in a thick New England accent will stick with me for a long time to come. I mean, I said it to my kids this weekend when they rearranged some furniture in my library. They didn’t get it, but I don’t care.

While this XamlFest is over, John and will be working together to try and put this event on in other cities throughout the central region of the country, and hopefully XamlFest will be coming to your town soon. I’d like to personally thank all the folks in St. Louis for coming and participating in this event. It never ceases to amaze me what a vibrant and engaged community we have here in St. Louis. Until next time, XAML ON!

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Barack Obama's Inauguration to be Immortalized by "We, the people" and Photosynth

by dboynton 1/19/2009 11:05:00 AM

Regardless of your political affiliation or perspective, tomorrow, Tuesday, January 20, 2009, is going to be truly historic as Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. Officials in Washington D.C. estimate that as many as three million people may be there in person tomorrow to witness the event, with hundreds of millions more watching on television and via the Internet. Because of the historical significance of this event, Microsoft and CNN are partnering to capture it for all posterity using one of the coolest technologies around, Microsoft Photosynth.

microsoft-photosynth-logoTo review for those who aren’t familiar with Photosynth, it’s a technology from Microsoft Research that takes a collection of digital photos, analyzes them and the stitches them together to create a three dimensional representation of the space in the photos. To illustrate, imagine setting up a camera on a tripod in the middle of a room. Then you start rotating the camera slowly and shooting a picture every three to four degrees until you go in a complete circle. Then you take the camera and shoot close-ups of objects in the room like pictures, artwork, furniture, etc. When you upload all these photos to “the synther,” they are organized and put back together to recreate the room digitally, allowing you to step into the space. The close-up photos are also included in the synth, allowing you to zoom in and view them in detail. Reading about Photosynth is one thing, but actually seeing it in action is another. Here is a synth of the Sphinx in Egypt done by National Geographic. Note that you will need to install the Photosynth viewer for this to work.

What does this have to do with Obama’s inauguration tomorrow? Well, CNN will be collecting digital photos being taken by both professional photographers and regular citizens in attendance and using them to create a synth of the event. That’s right, people just like you and me will participate in documenting the moment when Obama is sworn-in. Anyone with a cell phone camera standing on the Mall tomorrow morning will be able to contribute to capturing this historic event. Here’s how it will work:

  1. Take a photo of the moment when Obama takes the Oath. If you have a zoom or telephoto lens, then take three pictures, wide-angle, mid-zoom and full-zoom.
  2. As soon as possible, email your photos to themoment@cnn.com. Please be aware that you can only send one photo per email and the size limit for the photo is 10MB. Also, be sure to include your name if you want to be included on the list of contributors.
  3. All photos used in the synth will be posted at http://cnn.com/themoment.

InauguralConcertSynthThe synth will be constructed as photos start coming in from the event and will be posted on the CNN web site URL above, as well as on the “magic wall” during on-air broadcasts.

Also, as was announced this morning, the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) has chosen to stream the inauguration live from their web site using Silverlight 2, its most high profile use since the Summer Olympics last year in Beijing.

Update:  I just found out that Linux users and Mac PowerPC users will be able to watch the inauguration via Moonlight today. Get all the details from Ben Waggoner's post from this morning! Thanks to Josh Holmes for passing this along to me.

Want to get a feel for what this will look like when it’s done. MSNBC.com posted a synth this morning of the “We Are One” inaugural concert held at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday afternoon. You can view the synth here. It is really cool how far back away from the actual concert you are to start with and how you can zoom into the space and see the details.

When this all comes together, this will be the single most documented moment in history, which seems appropriate considering the historic significance of the occasion. What’s more, we will be able to experience it not in two dimensions, but three. Not quite as good as being there in person, but darn close.

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Silverlight 2.0 RTW and Expression Blend SP1

by dboynton 10/14/2008 2:07:00 PM

Unless you've been under a rock or too preoccupied watching your retirement fund dwindle away to what used to pass for gas money, you know that the big news out of Microsoft today is the release-to-web of Silverlight 2.0. I know for many of us, this has seemed like a day that couldn't arrive too soon. It seems like a long time, but when you stop to consider that Silverlight 1.0 was released just over a year ago, the product team really did a fantastic job getting this done.

Silverlight 2.0
microsoft_silverlight ScottGu posted on the release this morning, so I'll refer you to his post for all the delicious details about the final set of features that made their way into the RTW of Silverlight 2.0. For my part, I'll repeat the major developer-centric features Scott talked about for you here:

  • WPF UI Framework: Silverlight 2 includes a rich UI framework that makes building rich Web applications much easier.  In includes a powerful graphics and animation engine, as well as rich support for higher-level UI capabilities like controls, layout management, data-binding, styles, and template skinning.  The WPF UI Framework in Silverlight is a compatible subset of the WPF UI Framework features in the full .NET Framework, and enables developers to re-use skills, controls, code and content to build both rich cross browser web applications, as well as rich desktop Windows applications.
  • Rich Controls: Silverlight 2 includes a rich set of built-in controls that developers and designers can use to quickly build applications.  The Silverlight 2 release includes core form controls (TextBox, CheckBox, RadioButton, ComboBox, etc), built-in layout management panels (StackPanel, Grid, Panel, etc), common functionality controls (Slider, ScrollViewer, Calendar, DatePicker, etc), and data manipulation controls (DataGrid, ListBox, etc).  All Silverlight controls support a rich control templating model, which enables developers and designers to collaborate together to build highly polished solutions.
  • Rich Networking Support: Silverlight 2 includes rich networking support.  It includes out of the box support for calling REST, WS*/SOAP, POX, RSS, and standard HTTP services.  It supports cross domain network access (enabling Silverlight clients to directly access resources and data from resources on the web).  It also includes built-in sockets networking support.

  • Rich Base Class Library: Silverlight 2 includes a rich .NET base class library of functionality (collections, IO, generics, threading, globalization, XML, local storage, etc).  It includes rich APIs that enable HTML DOM/JavaScript integration with .NET code.  It includes LINQ and LINQ to XML library support (enabling easy transformation and querying of data), as well as local data caching and storage support.  The .NET APIs in Silverlight are a compatible subset of the full .NET Framework.
  • Rich Media Support: Silverlight 2 includes built-in video codecs for playing high definition video, as well as for streaming it over the web (including both live and on-demand support).  Silverlight includes support for adaptively switching video bitrates on the fly based on network conditions (enabling users to avoid seeing the dreaded "buffering..." message), placing and metering ads within video streams, as well as enabling content protection. 

And most impressively, all of this comes in a download package just 4.63 MB in size. That's  really amazing stuff. I encourage you to download and install the RTW package today.

Expression Blend 2 SP1
blend For many of you, Expression Blend 2.5 June 2008 CTP has been key to building your Silverlight 2.0 application for the past several months, myself included. In order to support the RTW release of Silverlight 2.0, the Expression team released Service Pack 1 for Expression Blend 2 today as well. This will update the current version of Expression Blend to support Silverlight 2.0 design and development. Also, if you are using the trial version of Blend, you can install SP1 to update your trial software. In addition, SP1 will extend your trial period an additional 60 days.

Beyond enabling Silverlight 2.0 projects, SP1 enables two key new features in Expression Blend 2: Control Skinning and Visual State Manager.

Control skinning gives designers the ability to visually customize controls to enable them to exactly fit the function they play within an application, while the ‘Visual State Manager’ gives a flexible and visual way to control precisely how each element of a control will behave and look in a given state. Whether an element in a control snaps into position or glides, moves in a linear fashion or with inertia, the designer has the freedom to quickly and accurately experiment with different interactions before finely tuning and finalizing the user experience of the application.

To begin building your Silverlight 2.0 applications in Expression Blend 2, download it here.

So, it's been a big day of releases and there even more to come. As you may recall, there is this little conference call the Professional Developers Conference in LA at the end of the month. I see Silverlight playing into a lot of the other big announcements that are going to be made that week. Will you be there? I will. If you'd like to synch up while we're in LA, please leave me a comment on this post and we'll see about chatting at PDC.

Have fun Silverlighting.

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My First Deep Zoom Project -- Drummer Mosaic on DrummBlog.com

by dboynton 8/15/2008 2:32:00 PM

Microsoft ends its fiscal year on June 30th each year. The result of this is that July tends to be a time for some vacation and offers a great opportunity to "sharpen the saw" a bit. Like many of you, I really thought the Hard Rock Cafe memorabilia site done with Silverlight and Deep Zoom was a really cool application, so I decided to dig and learn as much as I could about it.

The result was an application I built for a new blog site I also started in July called DrummBlog.com. As many of you know, I'm a pretty active musician and have been for most of my life. It turns out that I enjoy writing about drums and percussion about as much as I do about technology, so I started this site up to serve as an outlet for my other passion outside of Microsoft. I decided that I would pay homage to my favorite drummers by making a photo collage using Deep Zoom.

First, I downloaded the free Deep Zoom Composer tool. I first had a look at this tool early this year and, frankly, it was pretty difficult to use and the output was very raw. The most recent version has made leaps and bounds in usability and performance.

DZC1Creating my collage was a three step process.

First, I imported all the photos I wanted to use. Deep Zoom Composer allows you to do this individually or as a group, which is a nice time-saver. Imported photos appear in a column to the right of the design face with the detailed photo in the center.

Once you've imported all the photos you want to use in your project, you need select the Compose option at the top of the screen and begin clicking-and-dragging the photos onto the design surface. You can resize and layer photos to your heart's content. Remember that if you have a large number of photos, you can reduce the picture size as much as you like to fit them in the available space -- your user will be able to zoom in to see the detail. I only had thirty-four photos in my project, so I could leave several of them large while reducing some of them for fun and effect.

Also, you can switch your photo column to a layer view, which gives you a little more control over how the images are presented on the screen, as well as letting you do custom sizing and tagging for each individual photo in the composition.

DZC2When you think you have the design the way you want it, you come to the final phase which is exporting the project. You have two options here: You can export it to PhotoZoom if you have an account there or you can export it as a Silverlight project. I went for option number two and created a Silverlight project.

Once the export is complete, you are presented with a few options for moving forward. You can preview the application locally in the browser, view the image folder or look at the project folder. I previewed the collage in the browser a couple of time, observing that there were some noticeable gaps between photos when I zoomed. This preview capability gave me the chance to fix those before putting it online.

When I was done tweaking the design, it was time for me to move the project to a hosting server so I could show it off on DrummBlog. The Export Location field in Deep Zoom Composer is not exactly accurate if you need to grab all the application files for packaging. The full path to what you need is here:

[project name]\source images\OutputSdi\[project name]\DeepZoomProjectWeb\ClientBin

You'll find an HTML file, and XAP file and a directory will all the images stored in it. This is all you need to show the application online.

My original intent was to host the application using the Silverlight Streaming service. As Deep Zoom doesn't have the ability to automatically publish the project to this service (and yes, please consider that a feature request), I needed to try and package the application for manual upload. I tried this a couple of times, but the service kept throwing errors, telling me that the manifest included in the archive wasn't valid.

I ran out of patience for this very quickly and decided I would upload the project to my own web server. I uploaded everything in the ClientBin directory to my web server. However, when the upload was complete and I went to load the HTML page hosting the applications, I got an error telling me that file extension was not recognized by the web server.

This was easy enough to fix. Since I have remote access to my hosting web server, I logged in, fired up IIS admin and added a MIME type for the XAP file extension, the syntax being application/x-silverlight-app:

XAPConfig

I navigated to the HTML page that was part of the output for the project to make sure that I could view the application in the browser. I then added a link to the HTML page that reloaded the page. I put this in to allow folks to reset the page back to its original state.

The only thing left to do after that was to add some HTML to my blog post to imbed an IFrame to host the project web page and there it was. I was all done.

Here is the result:

I should also point out that, with the exception of a little HTML tweaking here and there, I didn't have to write any code at all to produce this. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of coding, but in this case I wanted to focus on the look and feel of what I as producing and I honestly think code would have gotten in the way of that. What's more, had I been able to get the application to load into Silverlight Streaming, I could have used the free plug-in for Windows Live Writer to automatically embed that application for me, thus requiring no coding at all.

If you're interested in building your own Deep Zoom project, I highly recommend grabbing the latest bits for Deep Zoom Composer and give it a try. My next project? Doing a Deep Zoom class reunion album for my wife's high school class. Fun stuff.

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Follow-Up to Pluralsight Next Web Roadshow Event

by dboynton 6/18/2008 9:36:00 AM

I'd like to thank everyone who came to the Next Web Roadshow event we held in St. Louis last week. The turnout was phenomenal and, based on your feedback, it looks like the material was very useful and on topic.

As promised, our presenter, Mike Henderson, has posted a set of links to resources from his presentation.

For the sake of simplicity, I'm re-posting Mike's links here:

WPF Information:
MSDN WPF samples
Code Project's WPF Pages
Vista x64 Forums on WPF
XCeed's WPF Wiki
Kazaml

Good WPF-related Blogs:
Josh Smith
Mike Hillberg
Beatriz Costa
Tim Sneath 

Silverlight Information:
Silverlight splash screen + dynamic content sample
Silverlight.net 
Silverlight Cream 
MSDN Silverlight Dev Center
Silverlight 2 Controls Source Code

Good Silverlight Blogs:
Brad Abrams
Expression Design + Blend
Joe Stegman
Mike Harsh
Mike Taulty
Scott Guthrie

ASP.NET Information:
ASP.NET 
MSDN ASP.NET Code Gallery
123ASPX Index 
4 Guys From Rolla

Good ASP.NET Blogs:
DotNet Slackers
Scott Mitchell

Books:
Programming WPF 
Essential WPF 
Apps = Code + Markup 
Professional ASP.NET 3.5
ASP 2.0 Website Programming 
Essential ASP.NET

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Why is Microsoft So Slow to Adopt Silverlight?

by dboynton 5/10/2008 11:59:00 AM

silverlight_logoIn a post yesterday, Eli Feldblum makes the assertion that Microsoft seems to prefer to use Flash over Silverlight. He argues this fact is obvious since most of the rich, interactive parts of Microsoft's public sites are using Flash. In fact, he even states that "the software giant seems to be not even trying" to move to Silverlight and goes on to say:

A quick check through Microsoft properties reveals that only the Microsoft Home Page  and the Microsoft Developer Network use Silverlight; MSN Video, Zune.net and the new WWTelescope all use Flash.

The idea that Microsoft isn't interested in using Silverlight on its sites is, of course, completely wrong. However, in Mr. Feldblum's defense, it could certainly seem that way if you make the assumption that any company, including Microsoft, could implement massive technical and creative changes across an incredibly wide swatch of high traffic sites like the ones cited above in a month or two.

I felt compelled to respond to Mr. Feldblum's post not necessarily to defend Microsoft, but because I have very similar conversations with people all the time about adopting new technology in general. There is a natural human reaction when something new and revolutionary is laid before them. They need to strike a balance between all the new possibilities this new technology offers with the tangible business value of replacing what they already have in place. In this case, the question is, "What do I gain from paying a development team to replace the considerable Flash presence on my sites with Silverlight?"

To assume that a project team with any company would simply throw out a project plan already in motion, ramp their developers and designers in a new technology and start over for the simple fact that there is a new way of accomplishing their goal is ridiculous. You wouldn't do that and I wouldn't do that, unless there was a real ROI as a result.

However, when I talk to people about adopting Silverlight, they always make the comment, "I already have so much Flash built into my web site, I don't know where to start with Silverlight." Well, the good news is you don't have to throw out the baby with the bath water. The fact of the matter is that you can begin to implement Silverlight where it makes sense in your web site without modifying or removing any of the Flash assets you already have in place. Silverlight will run just fine in a web page with Flash, so you can iteratively begin the process if implementing Silverlight and, if prudent, replacing Flash to take advantage of XAML, developer/designer collaboration, developing in managed code and all the other benefits Silverlight has to offer. No expensive and painful "big bang" replacement is necessary. Find a requirement for which Silverlight is a good fit and implement it. It's as simple as that.

The truth is, while the rest of the world would hold Microsoft to a higher standard than any other company, at the end of the day Microsoft works very much like the IT shops you probably work in. Each Microsoft product and web site has a team of developers and product managers that have a finite budget, timeline and resource pool in which to work. Believe me, if Silverlight could be deployed as a replacement to Flash across all Microsoft web sites next week, it would certainly make my job a hell of a lot easier, but that's not possible and difficult decisions have to be made in order to deliver a multitude of solutions currently underway on time and on budget.

NBCOlympicsScreenShotI can all but guarantee you that there are roadmaps in place to adopt Silverlight across most or all of the Microsoft web assets. That adoption will be rolled-out in a manner that delivers value to the business and as it makes sense. You're seeing that adoption begin on Microsoft.com and MSDN, and should see it on more Microsoft sites in the coming months and years, a very timely example being the new Expression Suite web site, all built in Silverlight.

In fact, if you're still of the mindset that Microsoft isn't using Silverlight because they don't believe in it, it will probably interest you to know that NBC will be broadcasting all 17 days and 34 sports of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games this year, at total of 2,200 hours of streaming HD video with multiple views and control gadgets, all in Silverlight. For an early review, have a look at Adam Kinney's post.

Rather than shame Microsoft for not dropping everything else that they're working on to replace Flash with Silverlight, we should learn from their example of implementing Silverlight iteratively as it makes sense. That just good project management and good business.

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Denny Boynton Denny Boynton
Microsoft Architect Evangelist by day, wannabe rock 'n roll star by night! Want more? Here's my bio.

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