Article

AOL turns to Silverlight for mail gadget in Vista

Brian Eastwood
On the surface, the AOL Social Mail Gadget offers users a chance to immediately know if one of the five people in their "A-List" has sent them a message and to see the text, photos or video in that message -- all without overwhelming whatever applications that user has open.
We see the tools as a tech revolution. There was a synergy between designers and engineers that I have never seen before.
Eric Hoffman
developerAOL

Under the covers, meanwhile, the gadget stands as an early, and successful, example of what developers can do with both Silverlight and the Windows Vista Sidebar.

"We used this opportunity, as it relates to Silverlight, to look at building an innovative product that interfaces with AOL Mail," said Roy Ben-Yoseph, vice president of AOL Email. "The Vista sidebar is now the new minimize state. We used the [Sidebar] Gadget to build something different than what's been done before."

The Windows Vista Sidebar runs along the side of the screen, occupying a width of 130 pixels. This necessitated a balance between maintaining the gadget's themes and still showing users the right amount of an email message, said Eric Hoffman, one of the AOL Social Mail Gadget's developers.

A set of APIs for dynamic HTML are built into the sidebar, along with support for common mouse events.

This DHTML supports led the AOL development team to place a Silverlight player within the sidebar to display keyframes, animation and the condensed version of the "flyout." The flyout is the list of mail from a user's A-List; when a user expands the flyout, three more Silverlight players appear to list new mail messages and preview their contents.

"Silverlight is really strong in playback," said Eric Hoffman, one of the AOL Social Mail Gadget's developers. "It does a much better job of rendering than the browser does."

The gadget was written in Microsoft Expression Blend in JavaScript, though there is a bridge to an offline COM component that takes care of mail synching. The flyout is just HTML, Hoffman said, so developers can pull in other Web services, like YouTube, without much difficulty.

The advantages of using Silverlight and Blend to develop the gadget were quite clear, Hoffman said, as the entire project was finished in the four weeks leading up to MIX07.

"We see the tools as a tech revolution," he added. "There was a synergy between designers and engineers that I have never seen before. That really shortened the development cycle."

More on Silverlight and Rich Internet Applications
Silverlight Learning Guide

Silverlight checklist: What developers need to know

Silverlight's shine seen in video editing application

Microsoft's Popfly caters to mashup, gadget development

The development group also benefited from extensive Silverlight support from Microsoft and, admittedly, "crazy hours" from the group itself and from its external design firm. But the Silverlight and Blend tools made the endeavor fly by, Hoffman said: "Everyone had fun working on it. That makes it that much more worthwhile."

The AOL Social Mail Gadget is currently available as a preview from the AOL Mail Development Community Page.

Right now the gadget has two themes for the flyout list -- guitars and surfboards -- and both additional skins and the ability to create custom skins are in the works. The development group may also create a widget for Windows XP and for the Mac, depending "on the buzz and the resources," Hoffman said.


There are Comments. Add yours.

 
TIP: Want to include a code block in your comment? Use <pre> or <code> tags around the desired text. Ex: <code>insert code</code>

REGISTER or login:

Forgot Password?
By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy
Sort by: OldestNewest

Forgot Password?

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an email containing your password.

Your password has been sent to: