Microsoft cites design updates as economic booster

At Mix09 conference, company also touts offline capabilities for Silverlight 3

Rather than being a time for retreat, the current tough economy presents an opportunity for designers to shine, a Microsoft official stressed Wednesday at the company's Mix09 conference for software designers and developers.

At the Las Vegas conference, the company also unleashed a number of products pertinent to graphical application design, including a beta release of Silverlight 3, for rich Internet applications, and Expression Blend 3 Preview, which Microsoft said improves designer and developer workflow and productivity. Taking a page from Adobe's playbook, Silverlight 3 will run outside of a browser, like Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) technology.

[ See also: "Silverlight adoption hampered by economic crisis." ]

But Bill Buxton, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, led off the keynote presentation by emphasizing the need for strong design even under current economic conditions.

"By getting the experience right, you get the return on that investment," to not just survive but drive economic investment, Buxton said.

"The key thing I want to say is I'm not joking when I'm saying this is a really good and a really important time to be focused on experience," he emphasized.

On the brink of the Great Depression, industrial designers were developing products such as the Coke bottle and logo and a repackaged Kodak pocket camera, Buxton pointed out. "What idiot would do a startup of a design consultancy on the eve of the Great Depression? But every one of these companies is still in business today," Buxton said. "They didn't just survive the Depression, they thrived in it, as did their clients because they got the return on experience."

Experience is critical for products and it is done by design, Buxton stressed.

Multiple Microsoft officials touted products in the design space; one that stood out was Silverlight 3 and its offline capabilities.

"Silverlight 3 now includes built-in support, which enables you to take a Silverlight application and run it outside the browser on both Windows and on Mac," said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Microsoft developer division.

"We include offline-aware support as part of Silverlight 3," Guthrie said.

Silverlight 3 impressed Mix09 attendee Oliver Nguyen, president of Softshores, a technical staffing and .Net development firm. "It's just more dynamic. It just has a lot more capabilities [such as] the out-of-the-browser experience. I think it's going to be fantastic," Nguyen said.

The Silverlight 3 beta is for developers and does not come with a "Go Live" license for deployments, said Guthrie. Silverlight 3 also features hardware-based graphics acceleration; codec support for H264, AAC, and MPEG-4; and a bitstream APIs for developers to add their own codecs. Version 3 will support search engine optimization, improved text quality, and multitouch systems.

Also in the Silverlight vein, Guthrie said SAP Netweaver will feature Silverlight support. An NBC executive, Perkins Miller, senior vice president of digital media for NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, said the company would use Silverlight for online streaming of events from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, as it had done with the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"We're going to be streaming the Olympics fully in HD (high definition)," Miller said.

Expression Web 3 was discussed for building Web sites. It supports ASP.Net and PHP developments and offers capabilities such as secure FTP deployment, better diagnostics, and a feature called SuperPreview, for building applications to work across different browsers. Expression Blend 3, meanwhile, supports file imports from Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as a capability called SketchFlow, for prototyping flow and composition of applications.

Microsoft announced Wednesday IIS (Internet Information Services) Media Services for on-demand streaming. "Our goal with IIS Media Services is basically to enable you to deliver the highest-quality video experience on the Web as possible," said Guthrie.

Also, extensions are shipping for IIS 7 such as a database manager, a secure FTP server, and an application-request-routing engine.

Microsoft is shipping ASP.Net MVC (Model View Controller) 1.0, a free product that lets developers build ASP.Net applications using a Model View Controller paradigm. The Microsoft Web Platform Installer 2.0 beta is shipping this week, offering a unified list of parts for Microsoft's Web platform stack. Microsoft Web Application Gallery also is being launched. "This is about providing our community with a place to find free Web applications that you can use and download on your servers," said Guthrie.

The company is offering its Microsoft Commerce Server 2009 product for building improved user experiences across e-commerce channels. Microsoft also plans FastCGI support to host PHP applications in its Azure cloud platform, Guthrie said.

"Currently, Azure is still in preview mode. We're on track for commercial release later this year," he said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.