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Welcome to Silverlight 2
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his chapter introduces Silverlight, a Microsoft cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in that allows you to create rich interactive (or Internet) applications (RIAs) for the Web. It begins with a brief look at the evolution of user interfaces, and then provides an overview of Silverlight. You ll learn how Silverlight fits into RIA solutions, the benefits it brings to developers, and the tools involved in developing Silverlight-enabled applications.
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The Evolution of the User Interface
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Software user interfaces are constantly evolving and improving. I remember back when I was still working with an early version of Windows and looking at Mac OS with envy. Then I remember seeing Linux systems with radical new desktop interfaces. More recently, I found myself looking again at the Mac OS X Dock (see Figure 1-1) and wanting that for my Windows XP machine to the point where I purchased a product that mimicked it. I was dedicated to Windows through it all, but I was envious of some of the user experiences the different environments offered.
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Figure 1-1. The Mac OS Dock feature
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The evolution of the user interface continues in the Windows Vista operating system. One example is the interface for switching between applications. In past versions of Windows, when you pressed Alt+Tab to switch from one program to another, you would see a rather ugly interface offering nothing but icons. Today, when you press Alt+Tab in Vista, you get a much more user-friendly interface, presenting a clipping of the content of each window as you tab through your choices, as shown in Figure 1-2.
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CHAPTER 1 WELCOME TO SILVERLIGHT 2
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Figure 1-2. Windows Vista Alt+Tab user interface
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In addition, Vista offers an even cooler way to switch between applications using the Desktop Window Manager. When you press the Windows key along with Tab, Vista displays all open windows in a cascading shuffle effect, which allows you to see a largescale version of each window (see Figure 1-3). And if there is animated content in any of the windows, it actually shows up in the view! So, if you have a video or a game playing in one of the windows, you will see that in action as you shuffle through the windows.
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Figure 1-3. Windows Vista Windows+Tab cascading windows shuffle effect
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These features reflect how developers have built standard desktop applications, which are meant to be installed and executed on individual client machines. Desktop applications allow for very rich and responsive user interfaces and additional features, such as offline support. Performance of the application depends on the machine on which it is installed. A challenge for desktop applications is deployment. The application needs to have a code base for each target platform, and every machine needs to have the application installed and maintained.
CHAPTER 1 WELCOME TO SILVERLIGHT 2
In contrast, we have web applications, which are HTML-focused programs designed to run within a browser and across platforms. For the Microsoft-based developer, this has recently meant developing with ASP.NET and building web services to offer services over the Internet. The focus of most of the logic and code has been placed on the server for the benefit of application performance. The price has been a poor user interface. With recent technologies, the line between the desktop and web approaches for developing applications has started to blur. As a result, a third approach has surfaced. This new approach is termed RIA, which is defined as a web application that has the features and functionality found in traditional desktop applications.
Rich Internet Application Solutions
The concept of RIA has been around for quite some time, but the term rich Internet application was first used in 2002 in a Macromedia white paper. Before then, the terms remote scripting and X Internet were used to describe the concept. Today, many different solutions fit the description of RIAs, but there is one consistent characteristic: all RIA solutions involve a runtime that runs on the client machine and architecturally sits between the user and the server. In recent years, the technology that is most commonly used in RIAs is Flash. When Flash was introduced, it brought to the Web rich user experiences never seen before. However, due to the lack of tools allowing Microsoft .NET developers to integrate Flash into their applications, to those developers, Flash just seemed like a tool for adding some pretty effects to a web page, but nothing functional. Then a wonderful thing happened when Adobe purchased Macromedia. All of the sudden, Flash was married to some of the development tools offered by Adobe. Microsoft retaliated by announcing Silverlight, formerly known as Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPF/E). Silverlight is the technology that many .NET developers have been waiting for. But what exactly is Silverlight And what impact does Silverlight actually have on us as .NET developers Well, I m glad you asked.
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