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MIX06: Microsoft covers browsers and beyond with new framework

At MIX06, Microsoft showed developers Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) apps that ranged beyond the Web browser to include mobile devices and widescreen TV. The new WPF APIs represent the company's attempt to speed application deployment of user interfaces to varied device types.

LAS VEGAS -- Visitors to the MIX06 conference received a glimpse of both the back end and the front end of the Windows Presentation Foundation, Microsoft's UI design tool for its upcoming Vista OS.

Windows Presentation Foundation is intended for both Web applications and rich-media client apps. It offers developers the ability to customize the controls available in Windows applications, such as buttons and rich text boxes, while simultaneously adding progress bar functionality and grid-style layout, which are not available in html implementations.

WPF supports XAML, a extensible application markup language used for defining UIs. On top of its use in WPF, XAML is recognized by both Visual Studio, the tool of programmers and Web developers, and by the Microsoft Expression, a tool for designers creating cinematic user interfaces that can include vectors, pixel images, 3D content, video and audio, high-quality text, and animation. The shared format means a designer's works needs little adjustment once it reaches the developer.

"The developer and designer can work within the same files without having to go back and forth," said Filipe Fortes, program manager, WPF, Microsoft.

Applications built with WPF can go "beyond the browser" to mobile devices on one extreme and high-definition TVs on the other. The apps run smoothly by saving data locally and running it from the machine, which makes it available offline and, when an Internet connection is available, less susceptible to a finicky network.

Both small and large applications garnered mention at MIX06.

On the small scale, Car and Driver magazine has scaled down its "digital magazine" for viewing on the mobile PC. The mobile version displays the same feature as the PC version -- zoom and scroll features that do not use a scroll bar, three-dimensional images and rich video.

These multi-device possibilities are quite appealing to advertisers, said Darin Brown, president of digital marketing agency Avenue A | Razorfish.

"Consumers are moving online, and they're not just moving online, they're living online. Big-brand marketers are looking for relevancy," Brown said. A WPF-built application that works on devices large and small offers that relevancy, he added.

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On a larger scale, GUI design firm REZN8 and content provider Electric RED have created a three-dimensional portal that runs through the Windows Media Center. The portal, aimed at sports fans, lets users view interactive schedules, team and player data and exclusive video footage.

Windows Presentation Foundation began its life with the code name Avalon. It represents a new attempt to bring .NET 2.0 programmability to the development of user interfaces. It is shipping with Vista, and downloadable versions are available for those working with Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

A sister version, Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, will help developers create applications for alternate operating systems and browsers. WPF/E will be available as a Community Technical Preview in the third quarter of 2006, and a general release is slated for the first half of 2007, said Joe Stegman, lead program manager, Microsoft.

Developers will be able to use WPF/E without having WPF, Stegman said. However, certain types of content, such as three-dimensional images and rich document stacks, will not be available in WPF/E.

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