XAML will wed designers, developers, Microsoft says

Bridging the gap between application developers and Web designers has always been a problem for companies building high-impact Web sites. Now Microsoft Corp. thinks it has the answer through its use of an XML-based language called XAML.

The language will be used in two forthcoming technologies — Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPF/E) and Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer — one of which was discussed in detail for the first time Monday at MIX 06 in Las Vegas.

WPF/E lets graphics created for Windows Vista applications run on other OSes as well as on the Web, said Forest Key, a director of developer tools product management for Microsoft.

Key described WPF/E as a runtime for reusing rich graphic elements built specifically for a Windows Vista application. At the core of the technology is XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), Microsoft’s language for creating graphical presentation elements in Windows Presentation Foundation, the next-generation GUI framework for Windows Vista.

WPF/E can be used in two different ways. Developers can use it to embed XAML code for graphics in an application so it can run on another platform, for example, the Macintosh, Key said. Then there are WPF/E plug-ins for browsers, which can be downloaded when a WPF/E-enabled applications pops up on the Web. The plug-ins will allow those XAML-based graphics to be rendered in various browsers, he said.

Microsoft will release the first Community Technology Preview (CTP) of WPF/E in the third quarter. In the first half of next year, it will release WPF/E plug-ins that will allow graphics built for Windows to run on browsers, including Apple Computer Inc.’s Safari, Mozilla Corp.’s Firefox, and Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer.

Microsoft bills WPF/E as a more flexible alternative to Adobe Systems Inc.’s Macromedia Flash, which also is both a developer technology for building multimedia content and a plug-in that can be downloaded to allow rich graphics to run on the Web.

In fact, Macromedia came out with its own XML-based tool in 2004, called Flex, that attempted to unify developers and designers. Flex allows traditional server-side developers to code graphics in an environment that is familiar to them.

But unlike Microsoft’s new technologies, the Adobe software does not give both developers and designers the same development model for writing code, Key said.

In addition to the WPF/E runtime, Microsoft is readying an XAML design tool called Expression Interactive Designer. Microsoft already has released several test previews of Interactive Designer, which is part of a forthcoming next-generation graphics and Web design suite that also includes Expression Web Designer and a Expression Graphic Designer.

The entire Expression suite will be generally available in either late 2006 or early 2007, Key said.

Designers can use Interactive Designer to create the graphics for an application and save it as XAML, which a developer then can manipulate without any knowledge of how the graphics of an application will look, Key said.

This is different from the way developers and designers interact now, which is a combination of conversations or documentation to describe the back-end development a designer needs a developer to code to run graphics on the front end, he said.

Even if these new developer technologies work as well as Microsoft claims they will, the company still has its work cut out to lure Web designers who use Adobe’s tools away from that platform, said Keith Cutcliffe, a Web developer with Pro Assurance Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama, who was attending MIX 06.

“I don’t know how they’re going to do that,” he said. However, Cutcliffe noted that there are many more Web designers now using PCs instead of Macintosh computers than there were 10 years ago.

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