Enumerating the applications that I'm going to showcase as part of this portfolio on my whiteboard earlier today, I started to panic at what I've just signed myself up for - I've got lots of writing to do over the next week or two! I was quite surprised to see Mary Jo ask where the killer apps are until I realized that she answers her own question within the next few paragraphs - the headline doesn't seem to tally with the body text. One of the applications she mentions in passing is StandOut from Electric Rain, and I wanted to focus on that product for the second instalment of this series.
Electric Rain are pretty well known in the Flash industry for their Swift 3D product, which allows you to create pre-rendered 3D animated scenes that you can embed into a SWF file. They're also known more recently for ZAM 3D (a tool with more than a passing similarity to Swift 3D), which allows the creation of 3D scenes that can be exported to XAML for use within a WPF project. But ZAM 3D was just a prelude to StandOut, their fully-fledged WPF application, which was formally announced today and enters beta very soon.
StandOut is a high-end suite of tools that raises the bar for the creation and delivery of presentations. For the vast majority of people, PowerPoint delivers on the core experience of quickly building a slide deck that you can deliver and share. But if you're delivering something like a PDC keynote or putting together a product launch, chances are that you've actually got a team of graphical designers with tools like Adobe Illustrator, working alongside the content creators to create the visuals, animations and text effects. As you get closer to broadcast-quality graphics, creators use tools like After Effects to design and composite pre-rendered motion graphics. StandOut sits really well in the middle of this continuum, allowing for real-time editing and presentation of slides that go well beyond the capabilities of traditional presentation software.
If you're using StandOut as a presenter, you'll typically work with pre-generated templates, adding your content and manipulating the flow using an outline view. As a designer, StandOut has a separate edition that allows you to create templates with custom fly-in and fly-out transitions, animated backgrounds and integrated media. The workflow for a designer typically combines both the StandOut tool and the Expression suite of tools: interestingly, they've already signed up IdentityMine and Blitz to create an ecosystem of pre-built design kits. Some of the initial design templates are wild: imagine a slide that contained a 3D carousel of images slowly rotating to support the point being made by the speaker. Pretty much anything you can do with WPF can be embedded into a presentation.
The entire application (both the design-time and the run-time components) are written in WPF, and really demonstrate the virtue of having a platform that combines 2D and 3D graphics, text, media, controls and animation together. I don't think there's any other single UI technology that would have allowed them to build what they needed efficiently: not Win32, not Flash, not even DirectX.
We've enjoyed the privilege of working with Electric Rain as an early adopter of the platform, and even though they've had to bear with us through endless sets of API breaking changes, they're still happy with what WPF has allowed them to do. Here's what their CEO, Mike Soucie, has to say about WPF:
"Three and a half years ago Electric Rain had a vision for a new multimedia application, and when WPF came along we realized that the platform technology had finally arrived to support that vision. We've been able to take 2 1/2 years worth of R&D and convert it into a real live commercial application within a year, and it's been possible because of what WPF offers us in terms of architecture, efficiency, graphical horsepower and the appropriate tools to build our solution. WPF has proven itself to be the perfect platform to convert our dreams and ideas into a next-generation application that's on target to solve significant problems for our customers in the design and business sectors."
Unfortunately, it's hard to demonstrate such a visceral application with a few static screenshots. They have a Camtasia demo of the application on their site, but even that only gives a dim glimpse of the true output. We used StandOut for the presentations at the Expression launches in San Francisco, Chicago and New York this month: probably the first time we'd relied on it in front of a live audience. It looked and felt very different to a traditional presentation, and I think the audience liked it. Sign up here to get on the beta test program, which I understand should be starting very soon.