An Exciting Launch
This week kicked off the “virtual” Silverlight 3 and Expression Studio 3 launches. For weeks the SeeTheLight website had a placeholder countdown timer. As UX Geek and Twitter user it was pretty exciting as we all watch the countdown slowly go down from days to minutes. “
“10 minutes left!” came the tweets across my Sobees bDule Twitter client… “5 minutes!”… “1 minute”…
“It’s Live!” we all shouted as the countdown timer suddenly changed into a sun lighting up the way to Silverlight and Expression goodness.
How Exciting! The virtual launched allowed you too pull down information on the new releases, watch how-do-i videos, as well as participate in a funny TV show called “The Visual Kitchen.” Now that the launch is over the site has been updated with all the content that was shown. Lots of great stuff to fill your RIA/UX appetites.
So where do I get the bits?
Just like all the previous releases you will want to start at the Silverlight.Net websites “Get Started” page. This page will give you step by step instructions and links on grabbing the files and setting up your development environment. Silverlight 3, as with prior releases, was created with backwards compatibility in mind. With a single plug-in you are able to run Silverlight 1, Silverlight 2 and all the new Silverlight 3 features. So if you haven’t downloaded any of the Silverlight plug-ins yet don’t worry this is all you need. If you already have the Silverlight 2 plug-in install this will upgrade you.
One of the slick new features with this release is the installation. Silverlight will now use the Web Platform installer!
I previously blogged about the Web Platform Installer during the MIX09 Announcements. Customers have been asking for a long time to simplify the installation of the Microsoft Web Platform. ASP.NET, ASP.NET MVC, IIS, SQL Express, VS Express, DotNetNuke, and more all can be installed and updated from a single small sized download setup package. Silverlight is now part of that experience giving you a complete end to end one stop shop for all things Web on the platform.
As part of this release the teams have also updated the Expression Website. New features include an Online Gallery of freely downloadable XAML elements, themes, skins, behaviors and all sorts of other goodness for use in your Silverlight or WPF applications. The site also has a revamped learning section to enable you to find the tutorials and information that is important to you.
What’s new in this release?
I continued to be impressed by Tim. I first met him at a Silverlight training course given by none other than Shawn Wildermuth. Wow – two great Silverlight gurus in my second week of working at Microsoft. If I needed any further proof that Microsoft was serious about RIA development these guys sealed it for me. Tim continues to be at the top of his game and posted an in depth blog entry on everything new with the release. Be sure to check it out to get more details.
If you’re like me you might also want to hear from the team leaders themselves about why this release is so important. The Gu and Christian Schormann sit down at Channel9 to discuss some of the themes behind this release.
How about some in depth free online training around this release? Look no further than XAML Fest Online. Kudos to the Microsoft ISV team for putting this one together the content was in depth as was the ongoing Q&A from the audience. I had the pleasure of leading the Designer track for one of the in person XAMLfests and then getting to proctor the online courses.
Are there any cool Silverlight 3 applications yet?
As with prior releases the Silverlight Showcase is the place for checking out the latest Silverlight applications. With 600+ entries from over 60 countries there is bound to be something that strikes your interest. The Showcase was updated for the Silverlight 3 release and includes some great examples.
I wanted to point out two Silverlight 3 applications I have been using myself. For those of you who are following me on Twitter you’ve probably seen me posting from bDule. Well the guys are at it again and for this launch they ported the client into a Silverlight 3 application. Now you can get all the great Twitter, Facebook and search functionality you are used to but via the convenience of the web. They’ve also added a synchronization feature that will enable you to keep all your settings regardless of whether you’re on a pc or pulling up the client from the web. Because this release is using Silverlight 3 the client will now run on Macs. So if you’ve been itching to try it out but haven’t yet be sure to Check it out!
The second application is a completely functional TED browser. For those not familiar TED it is an annual conference that focuses on spreading innovation in ideas. It does this by bringing together top professionals in the fields of technology, entertainment and design. The talks are also limited to 20 minutes or less forcing the presenters to convey their message in a powerful and connective way. One of the more high profile TED talks recently was the Bill Gates keynote on world poverty and education. This was the talk where Bill released the mosquitoes into the crowd.
With the release of Silverlight 3 Thirteen23 created a stand alone TED browser that lets you search the entire library of talks, view the most popular presentations and watch them instantly. Because it is Silverlight 3 this application will run on both PCs and MACs as well as in the browser or outside of it. Probably one of the best examples I’ve seen of the new Out-Of-Browser capabilities in Silverlight. With one click you can now have the application available from your start menu or desktop without having to install any additional software. It all runs using the same Silverlight plug-in you already have and yes the Out-Of-Browser functionality works on both MAC and PC too! Be sure to point your browser here and check it out.
Exciting new technology. Looks good but how does this make my job easier?
Having only been with Microsoft now two years I get told time and time again I still think like a customer. But what does that mean? For me it is just not only about innovating technology. It is about releasing that for people who do this as a living we don’t live in a vacuum. We are part of an eco-system that includes people with various focuses in design, project management, development and IT Skills. It means having a network we might not have full control over, a desktop that we might not be able to install software on and a team that might be working from parts all over the world. This was the main reason behind creating the EntDevCon site this year and what I like to say as “Going Beyond Hello World.”
It is with mindset that I come to this release of Silverlight 3 and Expression Studio 3. This to me is what I had been craving inside my previous organization. Things like Team Foundation Support in Blend? We listened – it is in there. Sand-boxed, secure, Out-Of-Browser application support without any additional installations? It is in there!
At my previous job I often dreamed of having a source repository for my UI elements much in the same way most organizations have their classes and frameworks stored. Being able to target a single API and Platform whether you are making Windows Applications or Web Applications with consistent UI patterns is a powerful thing. That has now become a reality thanks to the full XAML support across technologies and tool sets. There is even guidance on differences between WPF and Silverlight and how you can leverage that. For the first time as a .NET Developer or a XAML Designer you can target Windows applications, Web applications and even stuff like the Surface table all while maintaining a single codebase. Multi-Touch, Multi-User Twitter client on a surface table anyone?
Getting tools that focus on your discipline and trade rather than the technology is important We know that designers and developers think differently about a problem but it is the SAME problem and technology should be the force that unites them. If you remember one thing about these new technologies and toolsets it should be this; regardless of the discipline of your team members they can now work seamlessly with each other. That means allowing things like the importing of Photoshop or Illustrator files directly into blend. It also means having your designers able to work with design time data that looks exactly as the developer intended it to. I’ve been there myself, the developer trying to cut up a PSD file to look and behave the way my designer wanted it to only for both of us to end up frustrated.
Let the healing begin…
I just can’t say enough about the Expression Team. When I first saw the changes Microsoft was proposing to the UI layer a few years back at PDC2003 I had to scratch my head. XAML was a great idea on paper but with only tools available like the SDK’s XAMLPad or a beta add-on editor for Visual Studio I knew I’d be spending ours in XML just trying to get things to look the way I wanted. It really wasn’t until Expression Studio was released that the light bulb went off for me. I could finally “draw” a button instead of coding a button. This wasn’t the empty promises of years gone passed with Design Time Controls either. Because these tools were written in XAML themselves and there was now a unified XAML runtime in WPF and Silverlight instead of numerous incompatible web browser doms. What can I say – I got super excited from that day forward and it hasn’t stopped.
In his book Sketching User Experiences, Bill Buxton points out that real innovation and ideas come from the sketch itself. It seems like such common sense looking back now to me. How many times did I just white board stuff out in brainstorming sessions? Quick, and easily thrown out, these sketches would lead to bigger and better ideas. They didn’t force you to think it terms of technologies the way UML or Visio did.
Expression Blend 3 kicked it up a notch with something called Sketchflow. This is where having professionals on a team with years of interface design comes into play. How many times have you created mockups whether they were in Visio, PowerPoint or Photoshop only to throw them away when it came to actually implementing them. From within Blend itself you can now “sketch” fully functional apps and have your users annotate right on them. Take that a step further and think about drawing this on top of a PC Tablet? Sounds like Science Fiction right? It’s not and its here today! You only need to do a quick search on Twitter to see how its changing the productivity of software development teams.
Once you see it in action it starts to really make sense. Check out the MIX09 Session Christian Schormann did here…
… and then his blog follow up tutorial here.