Listening To Reason

random musings about technologies by Andy Norris

05 March 2008

Dispatch from MIX08, Day One

Greetings from Vegas! The weather's pretty nice (highs in the 60s) here, though I haven't been outside much. I'm not all that impressed with Vegas, but the Venetian (where the conference) is very nice. In particular, the canals on the shopping level are very impressive.

I have a little while before the first breakout session, so I'm going to take a little while and write down some thoughts on the keynote, and try to finish it as I get a chance. For starters, there was some ridiculously cool stuff! When Microsoft wants to put on a show, they definitely can.

Before the keynote, they had a 15 year old kid from Seattle up on stage for half an hour who sounded like a dead ringer for Johnny Cash. He was all glammed up in a sparkly Vegas perfromance outfit no less. Spooky, but impressive.

Ray Ozzie led off, but he talked about some fairly nebulous stuff with no product announcements. He said there was a bunch of stuff they would be announcing, and that it would all be on the table by PDC this fall. One thing he talked about was having a central way to control all of our various devices, sync data, etc. using the web. It could be an interesting initative if it's executed well. He also committed to converge server apps so you get the same functionality whether you maintain servers for things like exchange and sharepoint or you subscribe to equivalent services over the net. Very nice, though it's still vapor at this point.

After Ray wrapped up, Scott Guthrie took over the stage to direct the rest of the show. Scott is the guy responsible for dev tools and web stuff, from IE to .net to silverlight. He first went through IE8, which released its first beta today.

IE8 looks like a giant win -- finally. It's a full implementation of css 2.1, and they even submitted over 700 test cases to the w3c for interoperability testing and to solicit feedback. They also implemented some sweet HTML5 features, including one that makes the back button work with AJAX apps, and a feature for rich internet apps where a page can keep track of whether it's connected to the server, and even save itself on your system so you can reconnect to the server after you get a connection back. Pretty slick. Also touted were a 2.5x JavaScript speedup, a sweet-looking web debugger, and a css style tracer that allows you to pinpoint the css rule that's responsible for a particular prperty of a particular region.

After IE8, everything was Silverlight, and the demos were crazy impressive.

They started with media streaming stuff, which isn't stuff we're as interested in. The demo was just unreal however: they had a guy from NBC Sports up there showing off what they're planning to do with Silverlight for the Olympics. They're going to have 2200 hours of video available for live streaming as they film it, so if you're a fan of something obscure, you're not limited to the tv feed. It will also all be available later to watch as on-demand, with keypoints that make it easy to jump forward or backward. They even demoed picture-in-picture, as well as a track and field viewer that allowed you to switch between 4 different camera angles. It's hard to describe in words how cool this was to see.

Then they moved on to talk about rich internet app development in Silverlight, which is our main area of interest. The first beta of Silverlight 2 is out today, which features multilingual, networking (including cross-server), and a client-side data store. S2B1 allows you to code in 5 languages: JavaScript, C#, VB, IronPython, and IronRuby. It's only 4.3MB, so it should be an easy download.

Silverlight appears to come with a boatload of XAML controls out of the box. The app building demo was pretty nice, because it allows you to build the structure of an app in Visual Studio and wire everything up, then import it all into Expression Blend (a tool for graphic designers) and completely reskin the look and feel. In addition to basics like colors and fonts, you can insert images,transition animations, and other elaborate graphic niceties. If this works in the real world, it looks like it could really facilitate collaboration a lot better than traditional UI tools.

After demoing the design tools, they moved on to more of the slick stuff. There was an incredible demo for Hard Rock Cafe where they had taken their massive memorabilia collection and put it online. Using an incredible Silverlight feature called Deep Zoom, it allowed you to zoom and pan over a massive *2 billion pixel* image set. You could browse a massive set of images fluidly (including resorting it as well as panning all through it and zooming into it. The level of detail of some of the images was crazy. There was an image of a guitar owned by Bo Diddley, and you could zoom in to see the coil on one of the guitar strings, and even a fingerprint on the guitar. It was so crisp, it really was like looking at the actual guitar. With a magnifying glass.

The next demo was a site for Astin Martin. You could spin a car around and view it from all different angles, as well as change the colors. It wasn't just retinting an image -- apparently it was actually renderng on the fly, including light reflection and a lot of other gorgeous details. Then they took you into the interior, using Deep Zoom again. The interior picture was something like 18GB, if I remember correctly, and you could zoom in so far you could see the texture of the upholstery fabric.

The final demo for Silverlight RIA was a vertical app. Being MIX, it naturally wasn't an app for a bank or something. It was for Cirque du Soleil. They had an online + offline app built in both Silverlight and desktop WPF. They had some really showy control designs, including a gender selector using body silhouettes. It also had plenty of traditional controls as well -- Silverlight looks like a natural for browser-based enterprise apps.

The last area they covered was Silverlight for mobile. A partnership with Nokia was announced yesterday, so Silverlight is coming to both Windows Mobile 6 and several Nokia lines, including S60, S40, and their Linux internet tablets. The demo was an app called MIXr, which was a touchscreen social networking app designed to keep friends in touch and answer the question "where's the party at?" You could select a mood like relaxed or upbeat, search for nearby locations that matched the mood, and see what friends were there. Cute demo.

I went to a folowup session on Silverlight for Mobile at 1:30, and found out some additional details. Silverlight 1 should hit CTP in a few weeks, and go live in Q4. Silverlight 2 is scheduled to release a CTP in Q4 and get a full release in Q2 2009. It's a full version of Silverlight with the same code that's in desktop except for codecs. By sticking with the codecs that are native to Windows Mobile, they got the Silverlight install down to 1MB -- plus some codecs won't run on phone hardware anyway. Because of the codecs, the differing screen sizes, and the practical limits on media size, it looks like Silverlight app builders will usually need to build special versions of theo Silverlight apps for mobile. Still, Silverlight everywhere looks like a great deal.

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