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PDC09 On-Line Content

By Steve Ives, Posted on November 19, 2009 at 5:15 pm

If you've been reading all about our experiences at PDC09 and would like to watch some of the sessions for yourself, you can!

Videos of many sessions are posted on-line 24 hours after the completion of the actual presentation. You can find the videos here, and many have the associated slide presentations also.


Silverlight – What’s it all About?

By Steve Ives, Posted on November 18, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Day two at PDC09, and with between ten and twelve concurrent tracks it’s pretty tough to decide which sessions to attend. Luckily there are three of us attending the conference, so with a little planning we can at least attempt to maximize our coverage. But still … so many choices!

I’ve been involved with Web development for a long time now … in fact I’ve been involved with Web development ever since there was such a thing as Web development, so I decided to spend the day trying to make sense of the choices that are now available to Web developers in the Microsoft space.

If you look across the entire industry there are many and varied Web development platforms available, some well proven, some relatively new. When Microsoft first introduced Active Server Pages (ASP) back in 1996 they changed the game. Web development was taken to a whole new level, and in my humble opinion they have lead the game ever since.

Until recently the choice was clear. The Web development platform of choice was ASP.NET’s WebForms environment. Thanks in part to very rich developer support in Visual Studio, and an absolutely vast array of excellent third-party plug-ins and controls, the ASP.NET WebForms environment was, and still is absolutely dominant in the industry.

However, things are changing. In 2007 Microsoft unveiled a new technology called Silverlight, and while it is fair to say that initial adoption was slow, Silverlight could today be considered to be a key part of Microsoft's vision for the future of computing generally!

Silverlight is essentially a browser plug-in that allows Web browsers to render rich user interfaces. It started out as a relatively simple plug-in which allowed browsers to display streamed video content, much like Adobe Flash, but that is no longer the case today. The technology is less than two years old at this point, and today Microsoft announced the beta for the fourth major release of the product in that short time. Clearly a lot of dedicated effort has been put into into Silverlight … there must be a “bigger picture” here!

Let’s take a step back. A browser plug-in is a software component that allows a Web browser to do something that is not inherently supported by the Web (i.e. by HTTP and HTML). The issue here is that HTTP and HTML were designed as a mechanism for a client system (a browser) to safely display “content” from a server system. That server system could be located anywhere, and owned and operated by anyone. In that situation, how do you trust the publisher of the content? The simple answer is … you can’t. So for that reason early browsers didn’t allow the Web “applications” to interact with the client system in any way … they simply displayed static content.

Of course clever software developers soon found ways around that restriction, but only if the user of the client system gave their permission. That permission is typically granted by allowing the installation of third-party plug-ins on the client system. Once a plug-in is present it can be detected by the browser, and in turn detected by the Web server, which can then take advantage of the capabilities of the plug-in. And because a plug-in is a piece of software that was explicitly allowed to be installed on the client system by the user of the client system, it is not subject to the normal “restrictions” (sandbox) placed on the Web browser … plug-ins can do anything!

Silverlight isn’t the first product that Microsoft has introduced in this arena. Many years ago they introduced support for ActiveX controls to be embedded within Web pages, and the technology was very cool. It allowed very rich and highly interactive user interfaces to be rendered within a web browser, it allowed the web “application” to interact with the “resources” of the client system, and for a while ActiveX in the browser showed a lot of promise. The problem was that the ActiveX technology was only available in the Internet Explorer browser, and at that time IE didn’t have a big enough market penetration for ActiveX in the browser to become a serious player.

Today though, things are different. Internet Explorer is by far the most dominant Web browser in use (although Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome continually eat away at that market lead). But this time around the difference is that Microsoft took a different approach … they made Silverlight plug-ins available for Firefox … and Safari … and today even announced the development of a plug-in for Google Chrome in the up-coming Silverlight 4 release. This is pretty impressive, because the current version of Chrome doesn’t even support plug-ins!

Today during the PDC09 keynote presentations Silverlight was front and center, and I’ll be completely honest here … the demos that I saw totally blew me away! Silverlight can now be used to render fabulous interactive user interfaces which can equal anything that can be achieved in a desktop application, and with appropriate permissions from the user of the client system Silverlight applications can fully interact with the local client system as well. It’s even possible (in the current release) to execute Silverlight applications outside of a traditional web browser, allowing them to appear to the user exactly as desktop applications would … but with no installation required (other than the Silverlight plug-in).

So why is Silverlight so important to Microsoft? And why might it be so important to all of us as software developers, and as software users? Well, the answer to that question is related to my last post to this blog … it’s all about the Cloud! The perfect model for a Cloud application is a Web application, but even with all of the advances in Web technologies it’s still really hard to make a web application that is as feature-rich and capable as a modern desktop application … unless you use a tool like Silverlight.

Now don’t get me wrong, ASP.NET WebForms is still a fabulous technology, and still very much has a place. If you have an ASP.NET WebForms application today … don’t panic, you’re in good shape too. The point here is that you now have options. In fact, there is a third option also … it’s called ASP.NET MVC, and I’ll talk about that in another blog post soon.

If you want to see examples of Silverlight in action then check out the Silverlight Showcase Samples (of course you'll need the Silverlight plug-in installed, but the site will offer it to you if you don't have it), and if you can also get more information about the PDC09 Silverlight 4 (beta) demos.


Cloud and Sunlight at PDC09

By William Hawkins, Posted on at 4:26 pm

PDC09 is my first Microsoft conference, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Some excitement at seeing some of leading edge technologies being demonstrated by resident experts, Some trepidation at being presented with a huge variety of different technology and buzzwords.

The first session yesterday was a two hour keynote based around some of the non-UI technologies being presented – Windows Azure and Cloud. Today's keynote was based on the UI side of the equation – Silverlight and Sharepoint. There were some great demos from developers on how they had used Silverlight to develop new UI's that leverage the technology being provided, using web camera''s to import pictures directly from the device, playing video's and use multitouch to rearrange/resize on screen items. Part of the keynote discussed that Microsoft's employees don't really get involved in the hardware that is the platform for their great software, so they decided to get involved in the design of a PC. After a short discussion on the features of the PC, they announced that every PDC09 attendee was to get their own copy of the laptop. Imagine the reaction from 5000 attendees, when the clouds parted, and we realized that Microsoft was giving us a laptop to take home.

Of course, a cynical person would say that in order for Microsoft to get developers to write software for the Cloud and/or with Silverlight, they need the appropriate hardware, so a multitouch-enabled tablet PC with webcam is a great way to do this. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I'm trying out my new laptop in writing this blog 🙂 We had already started to discuss what Synergex PSG will have in stall for our conference attendees at SPC 2010, and the ability to run Synergy applications based upon multitouch applications, WCF & Silverlight have been topics of conversation. As laptops like this become more available, be prepared to leverage the hardware with your Synergy application.

The past two days have been a real eye opener for me, as I've seen the Microsoft technology that is coming down the pipe in the next few months. Of course the real trick for Synergex is to take this great technology and work out how it can be applied in the Synergy environment. While Microsoft only seem to see the "Cloud and Silverlight" in their future direction, I can see both Cloud and sunlight in the future for Synergy applications.


Cloudy Days at PDC09

By Steve Ives, Posted on November 17, 2009 at 5:19 pm

pdc09_logoLast week we heard about Richard Morris and Tod Phillips experiences when they visited the Microsoft TechEd conference in Berlin. Well, it's a whole new week, and now there’s a different conference to tell you about. This week Roger Andrews, William Hawkins and I are attending PDC09, which is Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. As is usual in Southern California for most of the year the skies are blue, but for some reason everyone seems to be talking about Clouds!

Of course the reason for this is that during PDC08 Microsoft made several very significant announcements, and two of biggest were Windows 7 and the Windows Azure platform.

Of course Windows 7 is already with us now, and by all accounts is proving to be extremely popular with developers and users alike. Windows Azure on the other hand is still an emerging technology, and is causing quite a buzz around here! If you don't already know, Windows Azure is Microsoft’s upcoming Windows operating system for Cloud computing. It's been in CTP (community technical preview) since PDC08, and is on the verge of transitioning to full production use on February 1st 2010.

Much of the content at PDC09 is focused on Windows Azure, on the wider subject of Cloud computing generally, and on the many Microsoft tools and technologies that enable developers to start developing new applications for deployment in the Cloud. Of course there is also a considerable amount of discussion about how to modify existing applications, either for Cloud deployment, or to allow those applications to interact with other components or entities that are Cloud based.

When the Windows Azure platform was announced twelve months ago it was in its infancy, and it showed. But in the last year it seems that Microsoft have really gone to town, extending the capabilities of the platform and other related services, and adding the API’s and tools that will make Azure easier to embrace. Many of these tools and technologies are being developed and delivered as part of .NET 4 and the new Visual Studio 2010 (currently in a beta 2) includes many new features to help developers in this and many other areas. It's certainly going to be very interesting to see how developers are able to embrace the concept of Cloud computing platforms (Azure, and others). The possibilities are incredible, and the potential for increased efficiencies and cost savings is also considerable, but for sure there will be challenges to addressed and overcome.

pc_shooting_macjpgThere have also been lots of sessions detailing how applications can leverage many new capabilities in the Windows 7 platform. Most of us were just delighted to get our hands on a version of Windows that boots faster, looks better, is more robust and easier to use, and one which doesn’t exhibit many of the frustrating traits that we have endured with Windows Vista. But as is turns out there are also lots of new features in the Windows 7 platform that application developers can leverage in their products. In a recent post Richard mentioned some of the new features associated with explorer (such as jump lists), and there are also some interesting capabilities that allow applications to easily interact with “sensors” that may be present on the PC. Many modern PC systems already have some of these sensors present, sensors such as ambient light meters, temperature sensors, accelerometers, and location awareness sensors such as GSM interfaces and GPS devices. It is already possible to write code to use the information published by these sensors, and a new API in the .NET Framework 4 will make it very easy to do so.

When it comes to user interface it's now clearly all about WPF, and its Web counterpart, Silverlight. The visual presentation that can be achieved with these technologies is truly impressive, and it seems that the developer productivity tools such as Expression Blend have finally caught up with the capabilities of these underlying subsystems. This will make it so much easier for people learning these new UI technologies to get up and running more effectively.

pdc09_before_afterMy brain hurts! Well, those are my thoughts after my first interesting (and exhausting) day at PDC09, and there are two more action-packed days still to experience. It really is remarkable what can be achieved by leveraging the .NET environment, and it makes me look forward even more to the introduction of Synergy/DE for .NET. There are exciting times ahead, and so many possibilities


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