Microsoft cites design updates as economic booster

At Mix09 conference, company also touts offline capabilities for Silverlight 3

Rather than being a time for retreat, the current tough economy presents an opportunity for designers to shine, a Microsoft official stressed Wednesday at the company's Mix09 conference for software designers and developers.

At the Las Vegas conference, the company also unleashed a number of products pertinent to graphical application design, including a beta release of Silverlight 3, for rich Internet applications, and Expression Blend 3 Preview, which Microsoft said improves designer and developer workflow and productivity. Taking a page from Adobe's playbook, Silverlight 3 will run outside of a browser, like Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) technology.

But Bill Buxton, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, led off the keynote presentation by emphasizing the need for strong design even under current economic conditions.

"By getting the experience right, you get the return on that investment," to not just survive but drive economic investment, Buxton said.

"The key thing I want to say is I'm not joking when I'm saying this is a really good and a really important time to be focused on experience," he emphasized.

On the brink of the Great Depression, industrial designers were developing products such as the Coke bottle and logo and a repackaged Kodak pocket camera, Buxton pointed out. "What idiot would do a startup of a design consultancy on the eve of the Great Depression? But every one of these companies is still in business today," Buxton said. "They didn't just survive the Depression, they thrived in it, as did their clients because they got the return on experience."

Experience is critical for products and it is done by design, Buxton stressed.

Multiple Microsoft officials touted products in the design space; one that stood out was Silverlight 3 and its offline capabilities.

"Silverlight 3 now includes built-in support, which enables you to take a Silverlight application and run it outside the browser on both Windows and on Mac," said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Microsoft developer division.

"We include offline-aware support as part of Silverlight 3," Guthrie said.

Silverlight 3 impressed Mix09 attendee Oliver Nguyen, president of Softshores, a technical staffing and .Net development firm. "It's just more dynamic. It just has a lot more capabilities [such as] the out-of-the-browser experience. I think it's going to be fantastic," Nguyen said.

The Silverlight 3 beta is for developers and does not come with a "Go Live" license for deployments, said Guthrie. Silverlight 3 also features hardware-based graphics acceleration; codec support for H264, AAC, and MPEG-4; and a bitstream APIs for developers to add their own codecs. Version 3 will support search engine optimization, improved text quality, and multitouch systems.

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