Great WPF Applications #17: HP Interactive Canvas

Kapow! Shazam! Zing! Mary Jo Foley from ZDNet drove in hard with a right hook last week, referencing my recently-returned-from-hiatus series of great WPF applications and asking why Windows Vista didn't have more killer applications. As one of her correspondents notes, and even Wikipedia highlights, the notion of a killer application is both rare and perhaps something that is better observed in hindsight than at the time. Windows XP and Windows 2000 were both great successes, but I can't name any one application that was the tipping point for industry adoption of either.

From a development standpoint, the killer application is less relevant than the killer platform. This needs to strike the right balance between feature richness and ease of use, between power and flexibility, between ease of deployment and performance. Can you build an application that takes full advantage of your machine's hardware? Can you build an application that your customers love to use? Can you create faster, more feature-rich, less buggy software with fewer resources? My intention in writing this series is to try and highlight great applications that take advantage of WPF - the killer platform in Windows Vista!

Which brings us nicely on to one of the more amazing WPF applications that I've seen recently. This application came up in our team meeting today, and we were all noting that it's not had nearly the exposure it deserves. The application is the HP Interactive Canvas, built by Obscura Digital and Look or Feel for the Wall Street Journal D | All Things Digital conference held in May of this year. Created in just four weeks, this application takes full advantage of WPF to deliver a massive multi-touch interactive video experience. It's hard to do it justice with a couple of lines of text, so I'm going to break my usual moratorium on all things Google (!) and post this YouTube video that gives you a quick sense of the experience:

In the video above, you can see that multiple users are able to use their fingers to manipulate different objects on the screen: musical instruments, a photo and archive video collection, real-time stock symbols and charts. Obscura claim it is the world's largest multi-touch interactive video display. The application blends a high-resolution display with prototype hardware to bring the alleged Holy Grail of user experience to reality: the Minority Report interface.

Much of the work for this application was done by Darren David, a self-proclaimed "GUI geek" who was also responsible in large part for The North Face's in-store explorer application. He's got further videos and photos of the Interactive Canvas on his blog, which is also a great read on advanced WPF development. Keep an eye out for another similar application that he's going to be posting about in the next 24 hours too - another good reason to be subscribed to his blog.

Comments (6)
  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s been my experience that WPF applications are less performant and more resource hungry especially when using layered windows (in Vista and XP).

    The WPF Yahoo Messenger app consumed quite a bit of memory, and would, after resuming from sleep, take about 5 minutes to become responsive taking up 200 MB of ram.  Expression Blend had similar problems…

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the WPF programming model is pretty amazing, but i just dont think it’s ready for prime time.  I think the point that Mary Jo should have made is that it’s pretty obvious that Microsoft feels the same way because they’ve yet to release any apps other than the Expression tools that use WPF in any real way.

    Add to all this the gigantic runtime (200 mb for .NET 3.5) and there’s pretty much an insurmountable barrier to adoption.

    I was so excited about WPF (i read Petzold and Nathan’s books cover to cover… twice), attended some classes, but have come to realize that there’s just no way I’ll be able to adopt it in the forseeable future.

    And by the way… this app is pretty cool; I wish i could try it out!

  2. Anonymous says:

    well, pelo menos é o que a Obscura (segundo esse blog ) está dizendo… mas que é lindo é. e foi feito

  3. Anonymous says:

    Could not agree more.

    The overhead of WPF is so visible it isn’t funny at all.

    Good luck to all who bet it will be any better than pretty amazing stuff that was already out there before WPF, and still performs as good as bang for buck can.

    But I learned never to understimate the ignorance, and that some managers hence ‘evangelic clientelle’ will push for WPF, only to realise their users will end up with unusable apps.

    Try it out and see, anything other than a tab and a listbox that swallows MBs for no reason, whatsoever.

  4. Anonymous says:

    To Rab&Marty,

    There are ways to produce WPF apps that do not behave in the way you describe.

    As usual, with any new "framework", it takes time for people to understand how to code for them (and yes, that includes MS, as it is likely that Expression was not written by those writing the framework, don’t know that, though).

    We have a big "app" that consumes reasonable amounts of memory (quite less than 200 MBs and is very fast starting up and "feels" fast). Your should probably blame Yahoo for bad programming rather than the framework.

    Having said that, the overhead of the framework is not small, so you shouldn’t be doing small (2 form, one screen) WPF apps.

  5. Anonymous says:

    ההדגמה הראשונה היא של מוצר שנקרא Interactive Canvas מבית HP מבוסס על טכנולוגיית WPF (הנה קישור למידע

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