LAS VEGAS — Microsoft bolstered its appeal to Web developers and designers with a host of new and updated Web technologies announced at its MIX09 Web development conference.
Experience was the word of the day in the opening keynote from both Bill Buxton, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s .Net Developer Division, said organizations that create more intuitive, more engaging experiences on the Web are able to reduce costs and increase sales.
Moreover, Microsoft demonstrated a series of technologies to enable developers to deliver a rich, interactive presence on the Web. As part of the company’s push to enable a richer Web experience, Microsoft released Silverlight 3 beta and Expression Blend 3 Preview, and continued progress in the cloud with updates to the Azure Services Platform. The company also pointed to strong momentum in platform adoption and demonstrated a number of solutions from key partners including Netflix, Bondi Digital Publishing, StackOverflow.com, KEXP and NBC.
Perkins Miller, senior vice president of digital media at NBC Sports, came onstage and announced that NBC will be working with Microsoft to use Silverlight 3 to stream the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.
“Silverlight 3 significantly ups the ante for what you can do with graphics on the Web,” Guthrie said.
Silverlight 3 helps rich Internet application (RIA) developers work faster with new graphics, animation and 3-D features, and more than 60 controls. Silverlight 3 also ushers in a new generation of high-quality and high-definition video experiences with true high-definition video in full-screen mode, with stutter-free live and on-demand video, Microsoft said. Silverlight 3 also gives users more video format choices than ever before, including H.264, along with enhancements such as deep linking, to improve navigation in Silverlight content and automate search engine optimization (SEO) tasks. Silverlight 3 also enables developers to create lightweight Web application experiences that can exist outside the browser. This enables Websites to deliver more persistent relationships with their customers, Microsoft said.
Microsoft also announced Expression Blend 3 Preview, designed to dramatically improve designer and developer workflow and productivity. In the MIX09 keynote address, Microsoft demonstrated SketchFlow, a new capability that allows designers to quickly prototype the flow and composition of applications. Now, for the first time, designers can easily receive annotated feedback on prototypes from stakeholders and rapidly iterate on a project from concept to completion. In addition, Expression Blend directly supports the import of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files (including layers and paths), integration of live preview sample data, and a comprehensive set of rich behaviors, the company said.
Silverlight has made significant progress since it was launched at MIX07, Guthrie said. Hundreds of thousands of developers and designers are using Silverlight, and leading organizations such as AOL, eBay, BSkyB, Netflix, CBS Sports Online, the European Commission, CareerBuilder.com, Samsung Electronics and Yahoo Japan are building their next-generation rich applications and media experiences using Silverlight.
Kevin McEntee, vice president of Web engineering at Netflix, addressed the MIX crowd and said, “A year ago we started looking at Silverlight as a means of getting the Netflix streaming service on the Mac… Now we’re looking forward to Silverlight 3. Netflix is very happy with Silverlight. We started out on the Mac and wound up with all our computer-based players using Silverlight and we’re also looking at it for our device-based players.”
“Netflix chose Silverlight because it makes a faster and more agile development environment possible, allowing Netflix to quickly deliver a superior instant watching experience to our subscribers,” said Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications at Netflix, in a statement. “When Netflix deployed Silverlight last fall, Netflix members realized a richer experience of access and quality to instantly watch movies and TV episodes from Netflix on their PCs and, for the first time, were able to instantly watch the same content on their Intel-based Macintosh computers.”
Microsoft also released several components of the Microsoft Web Platform, an integrated set of tools, servers and frameworks that work seamlessly together and interoperate with popular open-source applications and products that are used in the community, the company said. Included in the Microsoft Web Platform vision is the Web Platform Installer 2.0 Beta, a tool that simplifies the installation and update of Microsoft’s free Web products and other free Web components. This release allows users to download both PHP and the final release of ASP.Net MVC 1.0.
Microsoft also launched the Windows Web Application Gallery, which allows developers to discover, explore and download applications and components that will help them build Web applications. Developers can submit free applications into the Gallery, offering communities, partners and independent software vendors access to millions of Windows developers worldwide for promoting their Web solutions. The Gallery includes links to popular applications such as Acquia Drupal, DotNetNuke and WordPress.
Microsoft also announced the availability of Microsoft Commerce Server 2009, which allows businesses to create improved user experiences across e-commerce channels.
In addition, Microsoft announced that Soyatec, a France-based IT solutions provider and Eclipse Foundation member, is making available a community technology preview (CTP) of Eclipse Tools for Silverlight (Eclipse4SL) support for Macintosh. With this Eclipse plug-in, Mac developers can create RIAs for the Silverlight platform. This project is funded by Microsoft.
Also, at Microsoft, more than 200 products and Websites are now using Silverlight, including Microsoft.com, MSN, Live Search, Windows Live, Microsoft Office Online, Virtual Earth and the live preview release of the Silverlight-based WorldWide Telescope application.
Another cool new feature Microsoft will be delivering as part of Expression Web 3 its SuperPreview feature. SuperPreview is a tool that enables developers to compare different rendering engines in a single interface. Guthrie said the tool helps to show developers “how to build a CSS/HTML site across al browsers.” Eric Saltwell, group program manager for Expression Web, said SuperPreview makes the process of building apps that run on different Websites easier. Essentially it checks for Website compatibility, SuperPreview helps you create applications that run well on all browsers, not only the various Internet Explorer versions, but also Firefox and others. Microsoft has made a beta of the technology and it will be available with Expression Web 3. And the company also is making a standalone version available for free that supports Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8.
Buxton said the number of designers at Microsoft has grown significantly over the past few years since he came to the company. “We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk,” he said. Buxton said when he arrived at Microsoft there were no top executives at the company with a design background and now there are 10. “The UX [user experience] headcount has grown 150 percent and we’re growing UX people faster than we’re growing engineers.”
Indeed, Buxton said one of his favorite products coming out of the company is the Arc Mouse, which was designed by Microsoft’s new crew of designers. Also, Buxton said he is proud of the Zune, because despite Apple’s iPod having that “whole space driven…” The Zune’s evolution is remarkable because it has been able to go “from a standing start to having something that is world class.”
Finally, in addition to platform investments to enable front-end experiences, enhancements to the back-end platform include updates to the Azure Services Platform. And at MIX, Microsoft announced new capabilities in Windows Azure including support for full trust to increase the level of flexibility for developers through support of native code, non-.Net language support via FastCGI, and geolocation to provide developers with the capability to host data and code across two U.S.-based data centers; this enables customers to store data in multiple locations while helping ensure business continuity, and delivers enhanced performance benefits through reduced network latency, Guthrie said.