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Silverlight: Microsoft Set to Mix It Up in RIA Delivery : Page 2

Microsoft MIX '07 offers a glittery, Las Vegas preview of a complete family of tools, frameworks, and services for the design, development, and deployment of media-rich applications.

One aspect to the Silverlight announcements at MIX that seemed to excite developers was its proprietary Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML)-based runtime environment for developing browser-based RIAs. Microsoft also announced the release of Expression Studio, which extends Visual Studio by providing tools that allow designers and developers to work collaboratively on projects. As described by Microsoft executives, the XAML-based tools simplify workflow by letting the designer and the developer work side by side without the developer having to later "break" the designer's build to rebuild the final application in another language.

Part of this designer-developer collaborative environment was demonstrated by Wayne Smith, group project manager at Microsoft, using Expression Studio's Blend 2.0 application, which Smith described as a prep tool—not an editing tool—for conceptualizing the web application's interface. Blend accepts any video format for input and has an extensive library of graphic assets that can be combined with video clips to create different effects. The user can refine video clip settings down to one-second increments, and two or more clips can be "blended" together into a single video presentation.

Also announced at MIX was the foundational Silverlight Streaming technology, which is a companion service to Silverlight that will allow developers to take advantage of Microsoft's investment in its services infrastructure and global content delivery network. Developers will be able to post their Silverlight applications, including associated photos and video clips, to Microsoft's storage service for delivery in their web sites. Silverlight Streaming demonstrates Microsoft's continuing efforts in its Software as a Service (SaaS) platform by offering a highly distributed, low-latency, high-scale delivery of Silverlight applications and media with "reasonable limitations," according to Ray Ozzie, chief software architect at Microsoft.

In his remarks during the opening keynote at MIX, Ozzie said, "The simple concept of the web is simple no more." He said user expectations have risen progressively higher, forcing developers to write complex JavaScript in an effort "to milk the most out of a specific browser on a specific platform."

The level of interest in pushing AJAX to the web, Ozzie said, is dominating the desire to transform the web to a medium for rich interaction that has moved the industry well beyond AJAX to the power of browser extensions for media and advanced controls. The result, he said, are RIAs extending outside the browser to the desktop once again, causing a resurgence of service-connected desktop applications that connect the activity on web sites to local media and local applications.

"The web apps of today and the web apps of tomorrow," he said, "are by necessity complicated and fragmented across many technologies, and that fragmentation affects the designer and the developer. Developers have to make very tough choices in terms of architecture and technology these days because of the richness of all the possible delivery platforms. In a rapidly evolving technology environment, picking the key technology is one of the most important decisions that [developers] need to make, especially at the front end of a project. It's tough to make these fundamental technology decisions—languages, runtimes, tools—because all of these technologies bring with them a range of architectural constraints. To frame these technology decisions it helps to map out, up front, very explicitly what's trying to be accomplished in terms of the richness of the user experience and the nature of the target audience."

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