Microsoft PDC 09 and Silverlight

As you might have noticed, Microsoft PDC ‘09 has “just” finished. Unfortunately, like with all other conferences, I didn’t get to attend. PDC did however give me a lot of good things. First of all, the most obvious, a new Silverlight beta. Silverlight 4 includes a lot of interesting stuff that will be really interesting to play around with. Among the interesting features to note is webcam support, COM integration, support for external devices, access to local files, support for showing HTML, RichText and lots more. Oh…yeah…they have also added a bit of commanding support… And a few nice Visual Studio enhancements for Silverlight, such as Intellisense for bindings…

Another cool thing about PDC was that even if I didn’t get to attend, I was still sort of there. I was involved in building three Silverlight applications for Microsoft. If you attended, or have looked at some of the videos from PDC, you might have seen one or two of them.

During the keynote on the second day, they showed off a SharePoint demo with a motorsport theme. The SharePoint 2010 site used a Silverlight webpart to display a parts database and telemetry data for a motorsport team. The data for the application came from several different sources and was merged into a pretty good looking application (thanks Michelle for the design work). The main feature however was a media player that played a video feed recorded during a race and synched it with the telemetry data from the car, giving the viewer a good view of the telemetry information as the video showed where on the course the telemetry was gathered and what was happening at that exact time.

I was also involved in an Azure demo for a ticket company called TicketDirect. TicketDirect has decided to try to move their ticket sales into the cloud to get a more efficient way to handle the colossal loads that they get during the sales of tickets for popular events. Since they know when and for how long the load will be high, the use Azure to scale out their system over as many servers as needed to handle it and can then scale down to just a few servers during normal load. This gives them a very elastic system for a reasonable cost. The Silverlight part of the demo was a seat picker that made it possible for the consumer to pick seats using a 3D-ish view of the chosen venue. Even though the venue at PDC was fixed, the system is built to support the generation of venue layouts by using Expression Blend. Considering that TicketDirect currently sells tickets at around 80 different venues, and that each venue has several different seating arrangements, the generation of venue layouts has to be simple, quick and still generate a nice looking result.

Finally, I was involved in building another Azure/CRM demo. The demo was created as a fictional phone company called “The Phone Company”. They idea was that customers would be able to send off service requests to the company using a Silverlight control. The control would then shoot these requests into the cloud through some service calls. They would then be pushed down into a CRM box for viewing. The solution uses the elasticity of the cloud to make sure that the system could handle tens of thousands of requests simultaneously. Finally CRM used a Silverlight control to display the cell phone towers and service requests on a Live Map view, making it possible to se if the requests were all connected to a specific tower or if there was some other trend. It also used a few Silverlight charts to show statistics.

Considering the tight release cycles for Silverlight, and that Silverlight was involved in several big demos at PDC, it is pretty obvious that Microsoft intends to use Silverlight to push the web into the future. And apparently not only the web. With all the new offline features and the possibility to partly leave the sandbox, I guess they are also aiming to make it a good option for smaller desktop applications. Let’s just hope that developers realize the potential and start using Silverlight instead of just saying it looks cool followed by some lame excuse why they aren’t using it…

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