Silverlight 3 and Expression 3 Launch Date

July 10th – great, so probably included with Windows 7.

Now – let video capture and 3D model rendering into Silverlight 4 – hurry!

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Microsoft Popfly

Microsoft’s new free ecosystem in alpha is named Popfly.  The alpha service currently has a waiting list.

It provides for the creation and hosting of mashup content in a community (Popfly Space) using building ‘blocks’ in a non-developer-orientated UI.  Finished projects can be hosted (by the provided embed code or directly to sites that support the MetaWoblog API) on other communities (that support iframe) or as Vista Sidebar gadgets. 

So for example, at the basic level you can create and publish your own slide show or psuedo 3D photo sphere or Virtual Earth view (with photos geographically positioned) that pulls pictures from a Live Spaces or Flickr account.

Presentation can be done with Silverlight 1.0, AJAX, or DHTML (see my posts on this for more information on Silverlight).  It is a web-browser client-side technology (not for creating say ASP.NET server-side applications).

The Popfly Creator is an online tool for creating the single-page mashup applications, including the ASP.NET AJAX client library.  It graphically shows the blocks and how they are connected up.  There are javascript editing options (including intellisense!) for advanced users.

Users can create and share their own blocks, and there appears to be a possible monetization opportunity there too (see the FAQ).

There is also rudimentary cross-user anonymous application data persistance (e.g. for voting results).

The service is aimed primarily at non-professional developers to build things without code, but there’s also a plug-in for Visual Studio (all versions) called Popfly Explorer.

See the Popfly website and video for more information.

[Via: Robert Scoble]

New Microsoft CLR/DLR celebrities are born in Jim Hugunin & John Lam

For those watching Channel 9 in the last year you’ll likely be familiar with Anders Hejlsberg, the C# language guru (as well as being the nicer than pie and clever as hell Danish import) who has been seen explaining LINQ and related language technologies.

At Mix07, Jim Hugunin will most likely be receiving lots of hugs from developers for his work on, and demonstration of, the Dynamic Language Runtime – extension to the core DLR to allow for C#, VB.NET, IronPython, IronRuby, JavaScript and VBx to all work as scripting languages calling each other and running on .NET. Keep up to date with the latest DLR announcement on his blog. I’ll just forget that he’s a Python guy ;).

His collague, John Lam (Ruby guy) has a Channel 9 video about this stuff.

The two of them did a great session a Mix07 which was recorded.

Silverlight – what IS cool about it?

Forget the misleading flashy 3D-portaying video at microsoft.com/silverlight for a second; ignore the fact that this puppy has not yet been released yet; pretend that lack of A/V live capture is not an important feature; overlook the 4MB download… what balances this out – what makes it really cool?

Windows Presentation Foundation is the very designer-friendly set of classes and runtime (developed against using XAML directly or through Expression and Visual Studio Orcas) that enables rich UI experiences. It is available for Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and is included with Windows Vista, as part of .NET 3.0. At the risk of breaking the benefits of consitent UI investments, it can be used to build extremely compelling applications.

A subset of WPF, first known as WPF/e, makes up the rendering engine of Silverlight. The Silverlight runtime includes not only this subset of the runtime, but also the runtime to play back Windows Media content (on-demand or live). This runtime is ~1MB, so far.

XAML can define animations and behaviours that need no coding. In the 1.0 release, you can write javascript against the runtime-instantiated object model to provide a rich interactive experience.

The Silverlight runtime works in IE & Firebox on Windows, but also in Safari on the Mac! In a later release, it will also work in Windows Mobile and possibly Symbian devices.

At this point you have Flash (more or less) but with the whole weight of the Microsoft development eco-system behind you. Most notably, Microsoft has released a set of Graphic Designer tools under the Expression brand that allow you to design vector/bitmap graphics, design the interactive experience, design the web site and manage and prepare the audio/video media. Expression Web and Blend (web and UI tools) are included in various MSDN subscriptions. It’s not clear if Microsoft Partner will get it for free. The full Expression Studio (with all 4 tools) is priced at US$599 at retail which isn’t bad. The Media Encoder is a tag-along-later free download for preparing audio and video.

The next version of Visual Studio (codenamed “Orcas”) will include native support for Silverlight projects.

Microsoft is providing a free (up to 4GB) hosting service in Silverlight Streaming to people can get their content out there using this new platform. This is a smart move for sure.

That’s a lot of WOW – perhaps more flashy of a UI than Vista presents even.

If that’s not enough, then Microsoft has a 1.1 version of Silverlight (which probably should be 2.0) that will allow .NET programming against the runtime, instead of JavaScript, along with full project support in Visual Studio Orcas. This is a subset of the .NET 3.0 framework – a very small subset focusing on the CLR core, networking, UI. This brings rich smart application right into your browser that can be authored by ALL .NET developers with most of their existing skills along side graphic designers using the complimentary set of tools in the Expression range. That’s a lot of industry weight!

(UPDATE: As Yuvi pointed out, it will be a subset of .NET 3.5 by then, rather than .NET 3.0)

A .NET developer can create rich experience on the Web without writing any HTML! He/she can practically be a Mac developer by running a Windows-like smart/rich-client application inside a browser on a Mac!

Microsoft also has an open-source initiative for a Dynamic Language Runtime to allow other languages like Ruby and Python to be used instead of the mainstay C# and VB.NET.

They are also including LINQ in the .NET subset to allow some cool data query syntax in the coding.

Being able to access Web Services from Silverlight combines the best of rich UI with powerful backend services.

With the addition of the full Silverlight product (1.1) you can now do .NET development on the windows desktop, on the windows server, on windows and other mobile devices (compact framework and Silverlight .net runtime), on the mac (and other platforms that may be supported later).

It’s not revolutionary, the tools are lagging behind the runtime, the runtimes are still in beta… and the “web 2.0” and consumer web space is very busy (flickr, youtube, etc.), so it will be interesting to see if clear killer apps can emerge.

See the details a the regular Silverlight site, the community site and the Expression site.

Is Microsoft being responsibile with Mix and PDC?

I previously wondered whether Microsoft has the right Mix, i.e. whether it will present things that are good enough at the Mix07 conference starting this Monday April 30 2007.

The official site lists some of the things that will be presented at mix including: “Exciting new Web experiences with the still-secret “Technology X””

This leads me to the point that even after it’s sold out, Microsoft and it’s bloggers seem to take the “You have to be there” attitude about these occasions without disclosing what the cool stuff is. Perhaps this attitude has been started more on blogs than by Microsoft officially – it’s not like Ray Ozzie has blogged anything despite many saying he’s been working on something. Offering a free copy of Vista to attendees seems hardly enticing given that any enthusiast or developer will already have it, if not many licenses threw their existing partnership or subscriptions with Microsofot. Why don’t you tell me what kind of things you’re going to be revealing, and then I’ll decide whether it’s worth thousands in expenses and many thousands more in opportunity cost to be there? There doesn’t appear to be any hint of keynote streaming or other remote viewing offerings to Mix right now, although I’d be really surprised if the keynote isn’t available at least on-demand afterwards.

Yesterday I was searching for clues about the potential Mix announcements. I found this on Microsoft’s MSDN Channel 9 forum, where Robert Scoble gloats about having seen some small demo or other that no-one outside of Microsoft (including him) is supposed to see.

Other than a nasty personality clash (which I’ll talk more about in my next post), in that same thread there are comments about how forward-looking PDC and Mix are. The statement from the Microsoft camp seems to be that while there were many things talked about in bygone PDCs about Vista features that never made it, these demonstrations should have been taken lightly and just as a point for discussion. I would say that such a claim shows a lack of responsibility ownership by Microsoft to the same extent that is shown with excessive profanity in music leading youth, skinny models leading young girls in the fashion industry and powerful media outlets influencing the news.

OK, so it’s one Microsoft person giving this back peddling claim. In any case, Microsoft must surely realise how it strongly encourages developers to get involved with technologies it says (initially) should be in the next OS, and this means that developers commit not inconsiderable resources to learning these things and giving feedback.

I’m not sure that it’s made entirely clear to developers that the technologies presented up to, during, and after these events can really be so… disposable (particularly if one pays so much money to attend or buy a DVD of the proceedings).

I actually think Microsoft needs to be announcing some real launchable (non-beta) things at Mix – I don’t think credibility will be too high if all we hear are a few more ‘ideas’. I realise Bill Gates was no blogger, but Ray has had a false start or more where he’s initiated some potentially interesting ideas but not followed through for a long time with his blog. I know Expression is, um, kind of launched in pieces aswell as taking an awful long time, though it’s not surprising when there are no WPF UI design tools for Visual Studio.

I also wish Microsoft would stop using team members’ blogs as dissemination points for how-to topics and announcements for upcoming and released technologies, instead of having the stuff of MSDN where it should be. OK to be fair, those bloggers are doing (good for them) through the out-of-band channel, what Microsoft should be doing through the main channel (and with appropriate vapourware warnings).

I really do hope that Microsoft has some great services, technologies and tools to offer next week and that they are extremely clear about what is real, and what should come with a repeating disclaimer and big flashing warning lights.

Does Microsoft have the Silverlight bullet?

Its prey is the Flash player (and possibly the design application). Flash is everywhere on the desktop.

Having said that, Macromedia would not (and still Adobe doesn’t) let ISVs distribute the player for mobile devices – end users have to dig on the website for it themselves. Device manufacturers can however, come to a bundle arrangement. Despite this, mobile applications like FlashThemes (a great animated theming application for Pocket PCs which is a today screen plug in), and FlashThemes Pro (it’s bigger brother that takes over the today screen) are thriving.

This is stuff FlashThemes can do today on mobile device with flash!

FlashThemes player (using Flash) showing an animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows mobile
FlashThemes player (using Flash) showing an animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows mobile
FlashThemesPro player (using Flash) showing a replacement fully animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows Mobile
FlashThemesPro player (using Flash) showing a replacement fully animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows Mobile

Why am I mentioning mobile devices?

Microsoft says this is a “cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivery the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the web”, but apparently nolonger cross device?!

In fact, let’s look at the FAQ on the Silverlight website…
Q:”Which devices will be supported?”
A:”Device platforms are being considered based on customer feedback”

Microsoft showed WPF/E (that’s Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere), now “Silverlight”, over a year ago running on a Pocket PC device with the Windows Mobile OS. I was interested.

At least it’s cross-browser and runs on other platforms… OK just one – it supports Mac with Safari… but wait, not with Opera.

Want more WOW starts now? Go to the Silverlight website. Tell me it looks wicked awesome with that immersive cyberspace 3D stuff. Um… no. It’s based on a subset of WPF which only includes 2D support, so that video you saw is bogus. It’s a little like buying Windows Vista Basic and finding out you don’t get that one Flip 3D trick you saw on the TV commercial.

Well, at least it’s free, so it should be easy to distribute. Probably a Windows Update if Microsoft wants to get it out there quickly. If not, then it may be harder to proliferate. The new (and good) security in Windows Vista means that you need to elevate to an admin user to install it, which may present a barrier for adoption. When Flash came along years ago, lots of consumers were merrily running 95/ME/XP as admin users and it was very easy to install Flash.

The new website sadly presents the same tired-looking demos. Where’s the Microsoft equivalent of Flash (the design application, not the player)? The site mentions tools like those in Expression Studio and Visual Studio (which seems more like marketing for those tools) – there doesn’t seem to be any specific tool add-ons to make the design experience work. This is not surprising given that Visual Studio will not have designer support for the full WPF platform (released last November, alongside Vista) until probably this November.

If Microsoft really wants this to be the Silverlight bullet, it needs to have this running on mobile devices to make it permeate every aspect of the new consumer age. This means having it run on Symbian based devices. Take PhoneThemes.

PhoneThemes player (not using Flash) showing an animated theme on a Symbian Series 60-based phone
PhoneThemes player (not using Flash) showing an animated theme on a SmartPhone form-factor device running Windows Mobile

This is an animated theming application and DRM-protected distribution platform for mobile phones (Windows Mobile-based PDAs and phones or Symbian-based phones). It doesn’t use Flash and it can now run on even the older Symbian 40 Series devices.

Can Microsoft make Silverlight work on these devices and make an Adobe killer? Given the spin about video interaction they are singing, it’s unlikely these devices will hold up performance-wise. That makes it a race with new devices. Microsoft needs to get behind its device manufacturer partners and allow ISVs to distribute (or at least link in the installer from the web) before Adobe does a deal with someone like Nokia that wipes out Silverlight before it’s properly lit.

Windows Procrastination Foundation (WFP)

Windows Vista was released on Nov 30 for businesses – OK about time
.NET framework 3.0 was included which includes the runtime for the Windows Presentation Foundation – it is also available as a download for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 – lovely
Visual Studio 2005 has no designer support for WFP 4 months later – hoorah, oh… what? really?

Hard to believe that one of the huge fanfare technologies of Windows Vista has no serious tool support isn’t it? Well there’s Notepad and the erm… XAMLPad… and… 3rd party tools and convertors…

So when will there be Microsoft support for WFP?
Well there was a Nov CTP of designer support in VS 2005 but the download page is quick to mention that it make not be the same as the final support in Visual Studio codenamed Orcas.
When can I get Orcas? That’s due um… sometime later in 2007, with a March 2007 CTP available. So I’d need to use a less than beta version to get that support.

So I’m now left to consider things like Flash, Direct3D or some serious owner-drawing for a funky interface.

Wait, do I even want a funky interface? Perhaps all that UI consistency that Microsoft has instilled with their many UI design guideline documents will go out the window.

Well, it would make some pretty kiosk and web-launched applications (if everyone has Vista or the .NET 3.0 runtime download installed that is).

Oh well…