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WPF application speeds development, back-end integration

A WPF application can give you the best of a .NET back end and a browser-based front end. When a Xerox design lead had trouble finding a Flash programmer who could also work with the company's .NET back end, he tried replacing the Flash component of his software with a WPF application.

Visual Studio 2010 is looming on the horizon, but it's still a year or so away. Meanwhile, developers have been plugging away with VS 2008 and the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). Some developers report better productivity with the new tool set compared to VS 2005, and part of the package is Windows Presentation Foundation. A WPF application provides a front end that can integrate with your server's .NET programs, so you don't have to spend development time hooking your GUI up to your back end.

Xerox development teams have seen reductions in development time of up to 50% using the WPF capabilities in VS 2008 for a new version of the company's office document assessment tool, according to Eugene Shustef, feature design lead of global technology and offering development at Xerox. The previous version of this tool used a combination of Flash and .NET code, but having to develop under both frameworks proved difficult and time consuming.

Xerox was having difficulty attracting a developer fluent in both .NET languages and ActionScript, which Flash uses, Shustef said. Find a programmer who could have written an application in eith .NET or ActionScript would have been easy, but finding a developer that understood the nuances of both languages was challenging, he said.

His team also ran into problems detecting whether a client had the right version of Flash, which Shustef attributed to weaknesses in Adobe's version detection technology.

"I have nothing against Flash.," Shustef said. "It is a great technology if you are just trying to display something on the Internet. But when you are trying to create an enterprise application with a .NET back end or .NET middleware, you need to integrate ActionScript with .NET or Java. Just doing it is a real challenge."

With a WPF application, communication between the front end and back end is built in, making programs easier to code and control, Shustef said.

When Shustef saw the presentation capabilities built into WPF, he did an experiment to see if he could eliminate Flash from the company's office document assessment tool. Using a junior-level programmer, they were able to get the prototype WPF application working within a month.

The other significant improvement for Shustef was WPF's integration with Visual Studio Team System. This let developers use one tool to read project specifications and implement the applications, improving productivity and lowering the team's learning curves, he said..

"Using [Visual Studio] by itself is a production improvement for us, and it makes things more coherent and consistent across the boat," Shustef said.

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