Jan 23 2004

Microsoft Developer Days: Avalon

Published by at 22:27 under Wayback Archive

Macromedia had a booth at the Dutch Microsoft Developers Days this year, of course I was there. Microsoft was keynoting Longhorn and the second keynote was about Avalon, presented by Lester Madden.

I have to say that they are doing some very interesting things, from what I have seen. Below I have written my findings on it; what I think is good, how is it positioned and how it does relate to Flex.

First of all it’s great to see Microsoft jumping on the User Experience bandwagon; the need to improve the User Experience (and the development of it) was clearly the message that they were sending out to everyone. I talked with many developers about this during the conference, and they all agreed that User Experience can be the key to success for web applications.

During the keynote I did see some samples of XAML – the XML based markup language for Longhorn. The idea behind it is very semiliar to MXML, the Macromedia Flex markup language. I am sure they have not showed everything, but I noticed that most of the examples were completely focussed on UI generation, and not a lot on interactivity, data binding etc. I have the impression that the ‘drawing’ capabilities of XAML are more advanced than the ones in Flex (this is not the main focus on Flex). For example, they showed how you could define many different gradients for a UI element, using just a simple tag. 

On the other hand, I am convinced that Macromedia is absolutely doing a better job in terms of syntax. The tag names that had to be used were all very long, and if I remember well even contained dots in it (isn’t this against best practices, or even the XML rules?). The problem of this syntax was accidentially proven by the presenter himself; he started with a first sample code that had only 3 tags in it to render a button on the screen. Even though it was the most easiest sample he could do, he managed to show errors on the screen due to typos.

Of course, this happens to me as well when I am in front of the audience. However, he wrote 3 more demo files with some more lines of code (between 10 and 20 I would say) and none of them did work the first try… he had to fix typos all the time. Ok, let’s be realistic; the language is still very new, there are no tools available yet to help development and yeah he might have been a bit nervous… but a failure rate of 100% does not seem to be justified by that?

Besides the technology  I was interested to see how Microsoft markets Avalon. During the keynote they listed some years and numbers. They expect to release Avalon late 2005, but they stressed clearly they’ll only do it when the beta testers say that the product is ready (a principle that I really appreciate btw). It was clear to the audience that he actually was saying that this would not be sooner than 2006. Microsoft anticipates that in that year there will be 200 million computers equiped with the right hardware to run Longhorn (and thus Avalon). However, this does not mean that they all really will be equiped with it as well! Now realize that the Flash Player at this moment already has an install base of more than 500 million!

I am really wondering what all the pro’s and con’s will mean for the future direction of Rich Internet Applications… will they be Flash, XAML, a combination or maybe even something completley else? Also given the fact that XAML applications will not run on previous windows versions or any other platform. Time will tell. At least I know that almost all developers I have spoken with at the conference do not want to wait 2 years to be able to deliver a better User Experience. Well, I can only but agree with them!

Last but not least I was surprised by the sample applications that were build during the demo. The most advanced one was an animated button growing bigger and smaller with many colors… I think we used to do these things when we launched Flash 3? I really think that Microsoft has some great stuff in their hands and that the general idea of improving the User Experience is perfect. However, the reaction of the ironically lauching audience (“You are a tough crowd”) showed every now and then that they need more compelling demos to really convince everyone.

To be continued….

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Microsoft Developer Days: Avalon”

  1. Vinny Timmermans says:

    I have been there too. I agree that the guy demonstrating XAML could have used some more appealing graphics to illustrate the power of XAML. This showed the real handicap of most MS developers: they don’t know how to use the new graphic capabilities at their advantage. Keep in mind the Flash community consists of developers and graphical designers. They influence eachother. However, did you miss the Merck demo application? A very nice RIA from a graphical perspective and very impressive form a technological perspective

  2. Waldo Smeets says:

    Unfortunately I missed it, I had to be back at the booth. Sounds very interesting though.

    BTW: I expect that MS is capable enough to come up with some better demos soon, I don’t worry about that 😉