"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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Expression Blend | RIA | Silverlight | User Experience | Windows Presentation Foundation | XAML

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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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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Events | Expression Blend | Silverlight | Windows Presentation Foundation

XamlFest Coming to St. Louis in January 2009

by dboynton 1/6/2009 10:06:00 AM

After speaking at the St. Louis Day of .NET last month on building WPF and Silverlight applications using Expression Blend, I had several people come up to me and, very excitedly, tell me how they wish there was more in-depth training available for not only Blend, but for XAML (eXtensible Application Markup Language).

Well, your wishes have been granted.

XamlFestLogo I'm very pleased to announce that we'll be hosting a two day free training event called XamlFest at the St. Louis Microsoft offices from Thursday, January 29th to Friday January 30th. This will be a classroom style event led by fellow Softie John Pelak and, to a lesser degree, myself. We'll be going in depth on the XAML markup language and how it is used in both WPF and Silverlight 2.0 applications. We will also go deep on how to use Expression Blend to visually design application interfaces.

Here's all the information on the event:

Dates
The event will take place on Thursday, January 29, 2009 to Friday, January 30, 2008.

Attendees
This event is targeted toward software developers and designers who want to learn more about XAML, Windows Presentation Foundation, Silverlight 2 and Expression Blend 2. We can accommodate 40 people for this session and registration will be accepted on a first come/first served basis.

Agenda
Date Time Topic
Thursday, January 29th 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM Introduction to WPF, XAML, Expression Blend
  10:30 AM – 10:45 AM Break
  10:45 AM – 12:00 PM Building Visually Rich Applications: The role of the Integrator in building "designable" applications
  12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Lunch, Mingle, Prizes
  1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Instructor-led WPF walk through and assisted development
  3:00 PM – 5:00 PM Assisted development
Friday, January 30th 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM Introduction to Silverlight, Data Binding, LINQ
  10:30 AM – 10:45 AM Break
  10:45 AM – 12:00 PM

Platform Centric Design Best Practices: Creating WPF and Silverlight XAML for Web and Local Client Solutions

  12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Lunch, Mingle, Prizes
  1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Instructor-led Silverlight walk through and assisted development
  3:00 PM – 5:00 PM Assisted development

 

Venue
Microsoft North Central District: St. Louis, Missouri
3 City Place Dr., Suite 1100
St. Louis, MO 63141
Phone: (314) 994-1800
Fax: (314) 991-8762

Registration
To register for XamlFest, send an email with your contact information to xamlfest-stlouis@live.com. Only 40 seats are available, so be sure to register early if you want to attend. Also, we ask that, if you find you can't make it for the session, please let us know so we can let someone else come in your place.

Please register early, because we anticipate the seats filling up fast. I look forward to seeing at XamlFest at the end of this month.

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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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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