Saturday, June 21, 2008

User Experience Workshop - Sinaia 15th-20th June 2008

It was great! Not only the setting was nice (the four star Smart hotel is exactly what I had expected a hotel should be, except the restaurant, maybe), but the weather was cool, the presentation helpful, the tutor (Aurelian Popa) was above expectations and the people pleasant. Not to mention a week away from boring stuff. ;) I feel it would be pointless to detail what we did there, since it was either my own personal life or the actual workshop (which involves work), so I will give you some impressions of the technology and point you towards the resources that would allow you to go through the same learning process.

The whole thing was about WPF and SilverLight and I can tell you two conclusions right now:
WPF/XAML/SilverLight are a great technology and I expect a lot of .Net applications to migrate towards it in the next 6 to 12 months.
The complexity of this technology is likely to put a lot of people off, therefore the tools like Expression Blend and the Visul Studio interface become completely indispensable and must evolve to have great ease of use and become more intuitive.

The entire presentation model allows one to use any graphical transformation available, including 3D, on any part of the interface. The controls are now without appearance. They come with a default appearance that can be totally replaced with your own. A weird example is to use a 3D cube with video running on each side as a button. Of course, the whole thing is still work in progress and some stuff is yet difficult to do. Besides, you know Microsoft: a lot of complicated things are easy to do, while some of the simplest are next to impossible.

You can taste the Microsoft confidence on this by watching them release an entire design oriented suite (Expression) and working on making Silverlight available on all platforms and browsers. Just the fact that Silverlight can access directly the browser DOM is enough to make me remove all those patchy javascript scripts and replace them with nice Silverlight C# code.

Enough of this. Go learn for yourself!

Silverlight is at version 2 beta 2. That is painfully obvious when new bugs are introduced and beta 1 applications break. The Expression Blend tool is at version 2.5 June 2008 CTP and it has also a long walk ahead towards becoming useful. Visual Studio 2008 performs rather well when faced with XAML and WPF stuff, but the Resharper 4.0 addon helps it out a lot. You need the Visual Studio 2008 Silverlight Tools, too. After this compulsory tool kit you could also look at Snoop, Blender and Expression Deep Zoom Composer.

Learning material:
Simplest thing to do is to go to Silverlight Hands-on Labs or download the WPF Hand-on labs and download them all and run through the documentation script that is included with each one. There are video tutorials about how to use the tools, too. Here is one for Blend. Of course, all blogs and materials available online at the search of a Google are helpful, as well.

As any community, it depends on your desired locality and interests. You can look for local .Net / WPF groups or browse for blogs half way around the globe from you. From my limited googling during the workshop I can see that there are people talking about their issues with WPF and SL, but not nearly enough: the technology still needs to mature. I haven't really searched for it, but I've stumbled upon this site: WindowsClient.NET that seems to centralize WPF, Windows Forms and a bit of Silverlight information.