When Written: April 2009
What a month it has been for some exciting products for web designers and application builders with two of these being previewed at the recent Microsoft Mix09 event in Las Vegas. This year yours truly was reduced to watching the live feed as the only press from the UK had to pay their own fares, obviously in these hard times Microsoft UK are feeling the pinch. Sour grapes aside, it was compulsive stuff watching the Keynotes of Bill Buxton and Jon Harris.
Bill was his usual inspirational self with views and approaches to design that make you sit up and listen and then want to go and try it out. Jon Harris’s presentation showed off Microsoft Expression Blend 3 and a first preview of ‘Sketch Up’ the new free-form UI design tool which was particularly interesting. The purpose of these first two presentations was to explain the possible first stages of designing a web application and how Microsoft’s new tool could help. When first prototyping a new web application few of us will start coding, most will either sketch some ideas on paper or perhaps visualise the structure as a flow diagram using a tool such as Visio to do this. What is needed is something as flexible as pen and paper but with the ability to collaborate and also add interactivity.
With ‘Sketch Up’ Microsoft has done not only this but also has gone the extra step further: your initial scribbling can be refined all the way to a full working web application with complete integration with Visual Studio. I thought the demonstration of such a workflow with this tool was amazing. The original idea by Microsoft several years ago of a set of tools that allowed various people with different skills being able to work on a single project looks like it will become a reality. Sketch Up will even import a Photoshop file with all its layers intact and also allow editing of this image within Blend. There is a full presentation on its capabilities at http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/C01Fif you want to see for yourself then it is available as a free download. I recommend that you go and look as it could transform the way you might want to design future projects.
Now of course Blend will only produce a Sliverlight web application and whilst this will run on a lot of browsers, users with the older non-Intel processor based Apple Macs will not be able to view them. Because of this, together with the limitations of using Sliverlight on a lot of mobile devices as well as locked down machines on work networks where the user may not be allowed to install the Sliverlight player there may be a good reason for not selecting this technology for your web site. Similar reasons could be given about using Flash, but Flash has been around a lot longer and most machines even at corporate level have it installed now.
This argument between Flash versus Silverlight is often settled because of the skill set of the developers or preference of design tools rather than any particular ability of one technology over the other. It would be a brave company that only produces a Sliverlight or for that matter a Flash web application, without a more conventional web site being available to non Flash or Sliverlight enabled clients. So for some time we will still need to produce a conventional HTML based web site. And of course, there are alway certain types of web sites which suit being built as a series of separate web pages rather than as an application.
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton