Today is a landmark launch day for anyone building Rich Internet Applications (also known as RIAs), particularly those that build compelling web-enabled experiences on the Microsoft platform.

We launched 2 new product versions today and it’s something all of us at Microsoft are very excited about:  Silverlight 3 and Expression Studio 3.

Silverlight 3 represents a big change in how you can build RIAs in .NET.  In a nutshell, below are some of the enhancements and new features you can use with Silverlight:

  • Out-of-Browser Experience:  Build RIA applications that don’t require a browser to run.  This is a big deal as it means that you can use Silverlight to create connected desktop experiences that run on any Silverlight 3-supported platform.
  • GPU Acceleration:  One of the hurdles many Silverlight developers and designers needed to overcome in prior versions of the platform was dealing with (or rather “faking” or “hacking”) 3D support within Silverlight.  This was due to the fact you couldn’t take advantage of the GPU hardware on the PC to deliver the 3D experiences you wanted to build.  With Silverlight 3, now you can leverage the PC’s GPU.
  • Smooth Streaming Video:  Everyone is familiar with the experience of choppy video online.  Smooth HD Streaming has been incorporated into Silverlight 3 to help alleviate that problem.  In essence, Smooth Streaming allows the streaming server and the Silverlight plugin to determine your bandwidth and adjust the quality of the stream to best fit your bandwidth restrictions.  There is a good demo of this here.
  • Development and Design Support:  The Silverlight 3 SDK provides over 100 new UI controls that Designers and Developers can use out of the box in their Silverlight apps.  It also provides a newly introduced navigation framework that helps with deep-linking and back/forward browser control.  It also provides much richer network support.
  • Developer Tools:  With the launch of Silverlight 3, we also provide the tools for building Silverlight 3 applications in Visual Studio.  It’s also your choice where to get these tools.  You can get them using the Web Platform Installer or through the traditional channel at the Silverlight Dev Site.

You may have noticed I talked about developer tool support but I didn’t spend any time on Designer tools.  That’s because I want to focus a bit on the design tools in the section below.  Expression Studio 3 has been launched (although Expression Blend, the interactive design tool has been launched in RC form for now).  There is several cool things we have added into the Expression suite of tools for Version 3 (including full support for Silverlight 3).  I want to highlight the new features of two of the tools here, namely Expression Blend and Expression Web:

  • Expression Blend 3 RC
    • SketchFlow:  This is a huge productivity gainer for developers.  Remember the days of sketching a screen design and app workflow on a napkin to show to the client?  Now you can do the same thing with Expression Blend without having to do manual sketches, wireframes and then build the actual app.  You can do this as one step now.
    • Intellisense support:  If you like to get into the code while using Expression Blend, you now have Intellisense support within the tool (including intellisense for C#, VB and XAML).
    • TFS Integration:  “Does Expression Blend support for code repositories (including check-in and check-out)?”  I have been asked this question many times and the answer was always a let down.  My answer was basically “save the work you did in Blend, go back to Visual Studio and check in the code assets from there”.  Well, no more – I’m happy to say that Blend now supports the ability to check your project assets into Team Foundation Server, Microsoft’s code repository tool.
  • Expression Web 3
    • SuperPreview:  If you design websites, you are probably acutely aware of the pain that is testing your web application for rendering in multiple browsers.  Your process for this testing likely included multiple machines, constant flipping back and forth between browser windows and you still ended up missing incompatibilities.  SuperPreview fixes a lot of this pain by providing you with a way to look at how your website will render in multiple browsers, side-by-side with tools that help you identify inconsistencies.
    • New User Interface:  Expression Web is no longer “the tool in Expression that doesn’t look like the other tools”.  In keeping with design consistency, Expression Web now sports the slick, dark grey IDE UI that the rest of the tools do.
    • Auto-Hide Panels:  Screen real estate is valuable as a website designer.  You usually need to use most of the space on the screen to see how the website looks, viewing the actual code and the like.  Tool panels often get in the way.  With Expression Web 3, you have the ability to hide these panels as you see fit, which is very helpful when all you want to do is look at the code!

This is just a very quick summary of some of the things we have delivered in Silverlight 3 and Expression 3.  For more detailed info on these items, I encourage you to take a look at the following resources:

 

-Paul