Mix09 and new Microsoft developments

I’ve just been watching what was talked about at the MIX09 show. There’s some inspirational stuff on there, the more so if you are a Microsoft devotee. Even for someone like me, who is open source enabled, it is impressive and will surely bring more power to everyone creating web sites. A lot of the new facilities have been taken from looking at their competitors, but there’s a lot of innovation as well. The competitive thrust of Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and the many Web 2.0 providers is giving us a truly exciting experience. Do go to the site and watch the videos. The keynotes are long but filled with new toys…I hope they arrive soon in a non beta version near you.

The initial keynote was from Bill Buxton who was there to warm up the audience and then Scot Guthrie who brought on the technical demos. These are some of the areas that they covered. IE8 was obviously a big announcement. It was very amusing to see Dan Hachamovitch showing a comparison of speed and compliantness with other browsers. Microsoft have tried to stick to the rules this time and are happily showing it off, but I wonder how many sites that have been coded to IE7 will now suffer. It had to come though, so let’s get it over with. IE8 has some neat ideas. It can render previews of web pages for other browsers, even using the cloud to avoid having to install any of the apps on your machine and no need for a virtual machine. There’s also a stand-alone version in beta now that allegedly runs on a Mac.

For developers, the ASP MVC pattern is now out as a full version 1.0. This is free on top of .Net 3.5 and IE8. Should be worth a look. We went to a talk a while ago; that version seemed to be relatively easy to take on board. We’ll have to wait for ASP.Net 4 for the Velocity caching features.

Visual Studio 2010 will have improvements; improved editing, scripting support for Ajax, jQuery, Dojo and others, much easier publishing using separate web.configs and the ability to publish across multiple servers. There are web server extensions to improve the url routing and database access. This makes it much easier to do things that were done as an IIS service before. It also seems to compare to the Open Source ability to edit your database using remote access facilities in IIS – changing the fields, tables etc. Adjusting FTP rules.

Microsoft are making it easier to setup your own web sites. BizSpark gives free versions of the software required for three years, to allow the business to grow and tie itself in to the software! But the MS Web Platform installer will give open source companies (and commercials) the ability to set up their software for automatic installation; sounds similar to a Plesk type installer. The software will use a wizard to install WordPress, a content management system, Forum software etc (mostly .Net versions). It picks up the RSS of the supplier and uses that to find the software and carry out the install. All very easy. Have a look at http://www.microsoft.com/web/gallery to see the full list of apps available.

Azure services are another area where Microsoft are expanding into open source territory. They now have support for PHP apps on their beta. Later this year we should see more of the .Net based services with full trust support, ADO.Net support and the full selection of .Net services. If you’ve played with python on Google, then this should be a breeze to get into.

If you do have difficulty with MS interfaces, a new site has been put together for community support, http://www.stackoverflow.com . It’s a combination of dig.com, a wiki and a forum. People are allowed to edit both questions and answers in the wiki fashion, to allow the points to be made more clear and correct. Others can look at the points and vote for their priority, so we can see the most interesting and up to date topics. They can even give kudos to other users, so a group of experts will start to appear. It looks interesting. The builders say they are obsessive about standards (they can say that, now that IE 8 is here), they have embraced OpenId, clear url’s for SEO optimization and the Web2.0 mentality.We shall see how popular it is and whether it becomes the central resource that it hopes to be.

Silverlight 3 is expanding to an almost usable point. It has always had good streaming video and the people and examples certainly pushed sites with this type of work, but there is more coming at quite a speed. I spoke to Silverlight aficionados the other day; they weren’t convinced that everything would be there – printing for example, but MS has made steps towards sorting some of the problem areas out; more controls (~100), navigation features, perspective 3D, bitmap effects, pixel shaders, deep linking bookmarks and even more improved streaming – adaptive buffering, media analytics, more C# facilities. IIS Media facilities are a one click install now to make it easy to get started and its smooth streaming can give facilities such as live pause, slow motion, rewind to a live video feed. The Encoder can take video from hardware encoders, so you have flexibility of suppliers as well. The live video stream may also be archived for later playback as normal. NBC gave a huge vote for the system (BSkyB also quoted as a user) and the Olympics Silverlight streaming will be carried through to Vancouver 2010 (HD 720p). They thought that viewers watched more TV after watching on the web – 10million hours of video, so far, 5,000 clips a day. The viewers are using features like Picture in Picture, Multi screens, slow motion.

My favourite demo must be the SketchFlow software though. It looks as thought the MS developers are on the Adobe Catalyst beta programme. There‘s a lot of similarities between the two. Both seemed to be aimed at a designer/developer combination which is where most clever Flash animators are going. They can understand the code that’s been generated, but they’re not sufficiently geeky to want to write it all themselves. I’m never convinced by these wizards that create code/XAML behind the scenes; it cannot be very efficient, but it does make it quick. Most of the time quick will be preferred over quality as the software makes it almost easier to re-write than to change the code to your own style. Sketch flow can take in Photoshop and Illustrator files in a similar way to Catalyst and then use state transitions to animate between layouts. Microsoft hasn’t just stopped at what Adobe have done; they’ve brought in their own ideas too. They have a layout window to show the web site in diagrammatic form. This looks really easy to use, even when using web parts to make life easier. It might get a bit more difficult where a complex site is built but we shall certainly give it a try. The skinning looks as flexible as the Flash toolkit gives, with wacky fonts to show that a programmer is doing the design. I like some of those fonts but they’ll probably appear on a million sites now. They added some intellisense for C# and XAML and source code control for us programmers – that’s a sigh of relief. Add the red pen and the printout details for collaboration and it looks a million miles from the XAML in notepad only a year or two back. There’s Eclipse support for Silverlight as well. Not sure what that will give. Perhaps they should just make Expression free.

Silverlight also gives other facilites that might not be noticed in the rush – server data push, multi-tier REST data (?), better LINQ support for CRUD data services, hierarchical data in grids (is this just components?). It can also run out of the browser on Windos or Mac. What they called a data snacking application! It has the ability to be aware if web access is possible and to have an event when this changes. This offline version should have more access to the hardware for faster graphics and multi touch for example. All these facilities and yet they’ve trimmed it so hard that it’s still smaller than version 2!

It was interesting to see MS show some of the rendering problems and speed compared to other browsers. They must love this after all the kicking they’ve had over the years. IE8 must have addressed all the issues if they feel this confident! The Accelerator in IE8 looks cool, it can be put onto a site really easily and gives quick links to your favourite sites. Have a look at shareaholic.com, dig or espn to see it in use. Have a look at http://www.ieaddons.com to see whats available in the add-ons to the browser. Similar to Firefox. They have dozens of things already, so it will be popular. I shall download it now…


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