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  • Microsoft Most Valuable Professional
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

MIX 08 Recap

I got back from MIX 08 two weeks ago and I think I've just about recovered.  Not only from the conference (and Vegas) itself, but the hole 1+ month of heads-down coding that came leading up to it.  I've finally gotten some time to come up for air and talk a little but about my trip and some of the cool things they were talking about.  It was a dangerous conference this year - what with one presenter falling off the stage and another one actually passing out - but the risks were certainly worth it, having gotten to see a whole bunch of really cool, exciting things.

I'd have to say one of the coolest parts was the keynote, complete with a Deep Zoom demo and Scott Guthrie juggling.  There were quite a few interesting topics in here, but one of my favorites had to be the showing-off of the up-coming Silverlight 2.0 application that's going to be leading NBC's online Olympics coverage later this summer.  We've had Picture-In-Picture technology for quite some time - and in fact I never really saw much value in it - but there was something amazing about seeing in on the PC... and in your browser, no-less.  Traditional TV-based PiP always seemed so clunky and annoying to use to the point that it just wasn't worth setting up, but offer a mouse and keyboard interaction and all the sudden it's become much easier and much more practical!  Truly awesome.

Also during the keynote I also noticed a UI paradigm being used that I'd seen plenty of times before, but had not realized the power of until now - the "baseball card" effect.  It was shown in the context of an HR management app (or something like that) where the user scrolled through a sort of virtual Rolodex.  I'll try to explain the concept that struck me by using an example:

You start out with a whole bunch of "cards", each with two sides:

  • Each of the cards has a "front", which contains a picture (say, of a client) and the general overview or the important details, such as a persons name and general location.
  • Then they each have a "back", which has little to no graphics, but is more data-oriented.  Here you might find the client's full information, included detailed address, phone number, likes, dislikes, etc. much like you'd find a baseball player's stats on the back of a baseball card.

There's an important third aspect (or dimension, if you will) to this whole equation that UI frameworks like WPF and Silverlight bring to the table that haven't been readily accessible to most developers until now - animation.  Well, that's the functional tool we've been provided with...  the real power is using this now tool to give us the ability to make a painless switch in context between the front and the back of these cards by using an animation of the card flipping over.  The important link that this creates that of the card's front and back and not just switching between two "pages" that just happen to have detail about the same person. Instead, it allows us to make a more physical link between the two sides by representing them as being two parts of the same whole by showing the whole motion of "flipping the card over".  What's really cool is that this is a concept that you can further exploit by collecting many of these "cards" - each one containing data for a specific person - and do things with them, like shuffling them, pouring them out onto a table, or stuffing them into a virtual Rolodex.  These paradigms certainly aren't new, it's just that they were - until recently - only available to visual designers and those with madd grafikal skillz.  Well, not any more!  Now all you need is a bit of XAML knowledge to start harnessing these powerful paradigms - how exciting!