XAML: the fat 'thin client'

Microsoft's UI markup language may spawn a new generation of interface design

According to IT Minister David Cunliffe, commenting in last week’s Computerworld, there is "great potential" in thin clients. Cunliffe is correct (of course), but the thin-client options may be about to be trampled by the Windows Vista juggernaut. Microsoft is always at its most effective when developers lose control of a product and marketers gain it. That has just happened with Windows Longhorn, now renamed Vista, as it begins its migration from Redmond's development labs into the marketplace.

While I am an ardent fan of the thin client, I also feel that Microsoft have implemented some really good ideas with XAML. This is an XML form definition language that is built into Vista and it is built on top of Windows Presentation Foundation. Finally, we will have much cleaner separation of UI design and business logic in native applications (fat client). This cleaner separation should ultimately provide better-designed and more flexible software. Furthermore, according to Microsoft, we don’t have to wait until Windows Vista is endemic as the Presentation Foundation will be retrofitted to WinXP and WinServer2003 next year.

Graphic designers will no longer be confined to web pages. With the roll out of Windows Vista, the world of the coder shrinks a little further and the world of the graphics designer takes on a whole new field of endeavour, of designing the user interface for core business applications.

So what does XAML look like? Here are a small example of XAML from Microsoft’s documentation.

<Button Width="40" Canvas.Top="10" Canvas.Left="10">



<animF:LengthAnimation From="40" To="300"

AutoReverse="true" Begin="1" Duration="1.2"






This is a button that dynamically changes its width from 40 pixels to 300 and back again. The tag sets are loosely made up of four groups: controls (such as button); shapes (such as rectangle); transformations (such as RotateTransform Angle="135"); and animations (such as LengthAnimation).

Of course, much of the shape and animation work is familiar to disciples of Scalable Vector Graphics. I know SVG has been built into Firefox since April of this year, but it is probably a case of too little, too late.

The marketplace and compelling business advantages for the thin-client are only relevant until Microsoft gets its UI act into gear. As soon as the .Net CLR is pervasive and development teams get access to XAML, the charms of XUL, Macromedia Flash, Javascript or Java Swing may become much less apparent.

Reynolds is an Auckland developer. Email him at chris_reynolds@idg.co.nz

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