Microsoft hopes to MIX in with Web designers

With a new conference slated for March, Microsoft will attempt to woo a developer segment that's been a hard sell -- Web designers.

With a new conference slated for March, Microsoft will attempt to woo a developer segment that's traditionally been a hard sell -- creative types who build and design multimedia Web applications.

The first-ever MIX 06 conference, which will be held in Las Vegas from March 20-22, will provide a forum for showing Web designers and developers how they can use Microsoft technologies to deliver state-of-the-art business Web sites and Web-based applications, according to a Web site about the show.

It also is intended to shed some clarity on Microsoft's strategy for Web 2.0, said Tim O'Brien, a group manager with Microsoft's platform strategy group. The company has announced a dizzying array of technologies aimed at helping companies do more of their business on the Web, ranging from a new AJAX programming model called Atlas to Web-based services such as Office Live and Windows Live. Microsoft also has unveiled plans to bake technology into the next version of Windows, Windows Vista, which will allow developers to build Web-based applications more easily and efficiently.

Web 2.0 is a name given to the Web's transition from a collection of static Web sites to a computing platform providing Internet-based applications, or services, to end users. It also refers to the trend for companies to take advantage of and/or deliver these services.

O'Brien acknowledged that Microsoft has given developers and designers a lot of information to digest with its various moves for providing a platform for Web 2.0 development, and hopes the MIX 06 conference will shed some light on how all companies can use those technologies together.

"We're making a number of fairly large investments, and one of the things we need to accomplish is bringing all those pieces together for the community of designers, developers and business people who want to know, 'How is it going to change my business?'" he said.

Microsoft also aims to go "beyond the browser" to show designers and developers how to build Web-based business applications for a range of devices that are independent of a Web browser, O'Brien said. Additionally, the company is inviting both Web designers and the developers who write code for Web applications to find out how they can collaborate more efficiently, as these professionals often still work in separate silos even when working on a single project.

Microsoft has always had a core base of developers who have used its software for building quick-and-easy Web and client-side applications. However, the company has never really won over developers and designers building high-impact, multimedia Web content. Those types of professionals have traditionally used tools from Adobe Systems Inc. and its newly acquired business, Macromedia, and built those applications on Macintosh computers.

Microsoft has been trying to make over its image with this group for some time. Most recently, at its Professional Developers Conference in September the company introduced a new set of tools, called Microsoft Expression, to rival the popular Web design tools such as Dreamweaver, Flash and Fireworks from Adobe.

Microsoft Expression includes a 3D animation and graphics tool called Sparkle Interactive Designer; a painting and illustration tool called Acrylic Graphic Designer; and a Web site layout and design tool called Quartz Web Designer. Microsoft could be very close to shipping those tools, as the company is planning to make an announcement about them on Tuesday and the tools, which are available in test versions now, are supposed to be available this year.

The Expression toolkit also will be one of the technologies in the spotlight at Mix 06, O'Brien said.

The conference also will feature a keynote appearance by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, who will share the limelight with Tim O'Reilly, founder and chief executive officer of O'Reilly Media, in a question-and-answer session. O'Reilly is known as an advocate for open standards and open-source software, and also is credited with coining the term "Web 2.0."

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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