Boris Mann

Open Source. Community. Decentralized Web. Building dev tools at Fission. Cooks & eats.


Microsoft Expression launch event at Canvas Lounge with GK VanPatter (and Silverlight)

On Thursday night I was invited to the Microsoft Expression launch event. I was soubly glad to attend because David Crow, who is now with Microsoft Canada, came through town for the event (a post from David about the upcoming BarCamp Vancouver ... which looks to be at capacity already!).

So...what is Microsoft Expression? In a nutshell, it's an Adobe competitor. Or, as I mentioned as a comment in the session, a Macrobe competitor, since its Silverlight output is direct competition to the Flash part from the (old) Macromedia, and the rest is vs. Adobe's Illustrator/Photoshop/etc. It's a tool suite for creatives aimed squarely at Adobe's CS3 bundle, and on the other side it connects into developer tools around Visual Studio and XAML. I've been waiting with baited breath for the emergence of XAML stuff for years now, and finally all these related platforms are hitting at the same time: Flex, AIR, and even JavaScript itself coming into its own as a way to directly build rich interfaces, esp. with the widgets everywhere concept.

The run through of Microsoft Expression capabilities actually came last in the presentation. The evening started with a presentation by GK VanPatter. VanPatter is a leading design thinker, and his company NextD tries to train/teach/facilitate learning the next levels of design thinking. I felt myself going back and forth listening to his words. In my context, talking about Design 3.0 has negative connotations, and his use of words like community and tribe alternately had me engaged and turned off, as I struggled to identify with the concepts. Was I within the (design) community? Was I in a (design) tribe? Or should I put my technologist or developer hat on? I had a great conversation with VanPatter afterwards (as did Roland and Djun, and I think Roland has some video of the talk), and it reminded me of discussions with Mark Busse of IBC about the Helvetic Hegemony. Perhaps we can have GK VanPatter back out to a larger GDC event, something I briefly mentioned to the Microsoft Canada folks.

Then on to an example app built in Expression / Silverlight -- a video editing app that lives inside your browser, in only 50K: Top Banana, built by Metaliq. Many others have written and commented about Silverlight, I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to look for more. It's cross platform (good), it's competition for Flash (good), it's not really part of the open / native web (bad).

Lastly came the big run through of the components of the Expression suite, which all attendees also got free licenses for. My big question was "Are you bringing it to the Mac?" The short answer is "yes"...although there are question marks around the time frame which seem to hint at larger struggles within Microsoft. I've been worried about the rise of the Adobe-opoly, especially with regards to Flash as the only viable way to do video in browsers, so I'm happy to see MS stepping up to this fight: competition is *good*.

Some other details, like free hosting of Silverlight content from Microsoft and various other software as service components, point to larger trends: your stuff lives out in the cloud, and your random server probably either can't handle specific app needs, or it can't scale, so various vendors are going to sell you services by the pound to make it "just work". 

I made some comments to Warren Frey that I'm hoping to get the video of. Why should you pay attention to Microsoft Expression? Because what Microsoft does inevitably has an affect on the wider web, and because Adobe really does need some competition. Thanks to the Microsoft Canada team for inviting me – I hope to see more events out here on the west coast.