MIXing It Up
By Jonathan Goodyear
As expected, this year s MIX conference in Las Vegas was chock full of announcements. The official website does a better job than I ever could of listing everything, and even includes videos of all the keynotes and sessions (visitmix.com). However, I d like to cherry pick a few of them and give my perspective (as I can never leave well enough alone).
I wasn t overly excited about Microsoft s latest browser release. IE7 does just about everything that I need, and FireFox is there when I need to view things in a standards-compliant environment. IE8 still doesn t go as far as FireFox from a standards-compliance perspective, and many of its new features such as independent processes per tab and accelerators (extensibility and automation) are still playing catch-up to its competitors. It also was a bit strange when they emphasized how well IE8 recovers from crashes. While it s nice to hear that I can return to where I was before the crash, it bothers me that they are spending so much time on the symptoms instead of the causes. Web Slices (tracking a portion of a web page from an IE8 toolbar) seems like a pretty cool feature, but will need to get buy-in from website developers before it becomes useful to consumers. I don t see it as compelling enough to draw your attention from all of the other cool web developer-related things happening, so adoption may be slow on this front.
Silverlight 3 Beta
Microsoft is barreling ahead at a breakneck pace on the Silverlight front. Silverlight v1 was a niche technology meant mostly for video rich websites and was used primarily as a vehicle to get a large installation base for the runtime. Silverlight v2 added a true application development experience that was basically a scaled down and sandboxed version of WPF. As with most Microsoft technologies, version 3 has the makings of a sweet spot for Silverlight (silverlight.net/getstarted/silverlight3/default.aspx).
There are a host of new features, but there are a few that caught my eye (aside from the obvious improvements in video and graphics support). First, there are more than 60 new controls with source code. Several third-party component vendors have also jumped on board. More controls means easier development, which translates into wider adoption by developers. This is a huge deal. Deep-linking support also is very important for Silverlight to gain adoption by content-rich websites that live and die by their search-engine rankings. Binary XML support will make data exchanges between the browser and the server even more efficient, allowing more data to be displayed at once and improving the end-user experience. Along those lines, two Silverlight applications now will be able to communicate with each other without a server round trip. This will make the concept of using several Silverlight widgets on an ASP.NET page really take off. Lastly, there was much excitement over the new capability of Silverlight applications to exist outside of the browser (OOB) in a cross-platform way. These applications can be launched from the desktop or Start menu, auto-update themselves, and even operate in a disconnected environment (change in connectivity state is reported via built-in events). Silverlight 3 will definitely be on the roadmap for many software applications that may have been holding off up until this point. Hopefully a release will happen in 2009.
A longstanding problem with web development has always been the labor-intensive effort involved with browser compatibility testing. Compounding the problem is the situation where many older browsers (like IE6) aren t going away any time soon. Recognizing this problem (and their significant participation in creating it), Microsoft has created SuperPreview. SuperPreview is a tool that enables web developers to see how a particular web page will look as rendered by multiple different browsers and browser versions. Imagine being able to do side by side comparisons between IE6, IE7, IE8, FireFox, and Safari (both Mac and PC versions) all on the same computer! You even can superimpose one version on top of another to make sure that your pages are pixel-perfect.
Not only that, but SuperPreview isn t using its interpretation of how these various different browsers render pages. Rather, it uses the actual rendering engines themselves. If you have the browsers you are comparing installed on your computer, then SuperPreview leverages them. If you don t have installed the browser to which you wish to compare (e.g., the Mac version of Safari), SuperPreview uploads your markup to a cloud service that will render it and return the results to your computer. You even can select an element on one version of the page and see it selected on another version. I am super excited about SuperPreview and I think this will be an absolutely essential tool for every professional web developer. Luckily, SuperPreview will be built in to the next version of Expression Web, and also will be available as a free download (www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=8e6ac106-525d-45d0-84db-dccff3fae677&displaylang=en).
MVC 1.0 Released
Microsoft MVC has been pretty much ready to go for a couple of months now, so this particular release announcement shouldn t have been a surprise to anyone. A little bit of clean up was made to the templates and installation experience, as well as some tweaks to the documentation, but that s about it. The importance of the announcement, though, is that it opens up MVC as an option to companies that have strict no beta software policies. MVC is a rock-solid alternative to web forms, and is exceeding all of Microsoft s expectations with regard to adoption. I m a big fan of MVC and will continue to talk about it often.
So, these are the announcements from MIX that I felt were important to the web development community, as well as my take on each. There s a lot of new information to absorb and not much time to do it. It s an exciting time to be a web developer, though, so spending some time getting acquainted with these new technologies shouldn t be a chore at all.
Jonathan Goodyear ([email protected]) is president of ASPSOFT, an Internet consulting firm in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer, and a contributing editor for asp.netPRO.