ORLANDO -- The release of ASP.NET AJAX represents Microsoft's foray into the realm of Ajax development. This framework, built right on top of ASP.NET 2.0, lets Web developers add Ajax-enabled controls to existing applications in a matter of minutes.
ASP.NET AJAX is indeed cutting edge, but it is just the beginning, Scott Guthrie, general manager of the .NET Developer Platform said during the keynote address at the DevConnections conference.
The real eye candy will come with Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, which is currently in CTP and will be in beta this summer. With WPF/E -- which some have referred to as a "Flash killer," in reference to Adobe's Flash development tool -- video, MP3 files and vector graphics can run in the browser. (And that's not just IE, since WPF/E is both browser- and platform agnostic.)
This is all possible using native Visual Basic or C# code, Guthrie said. That's because the UI elements are defined in a code-behind language known as XAML, the Extensible Application Markup Language.
"You can start building user experiences that really start pushing the limits of what people would expect from a browser," he said.
The demo exemplifying this notion was WindowsVista.si, a Web site built in the span of a weekend by a couple college students in Slovenia, Guthrie said. These developers decided to build Windows Vista using WPF/E.
With the Web page open, Guthrie clicked on a video, which, once it connected to the server several thousand miles away, opened right in the browser. "That's WPF/E emulating Windows Media Player running in Firefox." Guthrie said. "That's Ajax on steroids. It'd be pretty hard to do that with standard html."
Also enhancing Web application development is Visual Studio "Orcas," which Guthrie said is due for a beta release in a few weeks.
For starters, the entire ASP.NET AJAX framework, currently available as a download, will be directly incorporated into Visual Studio.
Given that ASP.NET AJAX remains on the cutting edge -- only a couple dozen in the crowd of several hundred indicated that they had used the framework -- Guthrie also devoted some time in his keynote to what developers can do with the technology today.
Guthrie began with a simple ASP.NET 2.0 application, with a GridView control bound to a drop-down list. Adding two Ajax extensions, ScriptManager and UpdatePanel, put the GridView control inside an "Ajax island" so it was updated independently of everything else on the page.
Guthrie also noted that the UpdateProgressControl extension, when used, would essentially Ajax-enable any ASP.NET control.
"From scratch, we were able to build a data-driven page…with nothing needing to be installed," he said. "There's no reason not to incorporate Ajax into your solutions and start to take advantage of it."
On the lighter side: Technical difficulties
After Guthrie spoke, the topic turned to SQL Server 2005. Brian Dawson, program manager for SQL Server, tried doing a demo of the Entity Data Model but could not get his laptop to connect to the projector.
"That's the black screen of excellence. That's how powerful the data model is," Dawson joked, adding that he would gladly juggle to kill a bit of time.
About half an hour later, an MVP from Florida stepped up to do a quick SharePoint 2007 demo, as the scheduled speaker's connecting flight from Chicago had been delayed.
Initially the MVP had trouble hooking his laptop to the projector.
"It's not just me," Dawson yelled from his seat.
Someone in the audience had an idea as well: "Juggle!"