I am yet to grasp the marketing behind Microsoft naming conventions - usually a beta program would jump start with a great name, the official launch would kill it in a dull title, and things would finally settle down with an abbreviation that is actually pronounceable. Naming conventions aside, the upcoming Windows Presentation Framework (WPF), formerly known as Avalon, holds promise to become the next buzzword of the industry - even if someone adds to it another sentence before the official roll-out with Windows Vista in early 2007.
From a designer's point of view, the next-generation interface for Windows is all about vectors, animations, and real 3D. Besides eye-candy for us designers to expand creative horizons, the WPF also offers a powerful program language (XAML) for developers to explore. What's even better, Microsoft has taken a path to bridge the divide between developers and designers, providing graphic-design tools that work seamlessly with the VS development environment. The ultimate vision is that a designer could open a VS project in a graphic-design program and literally draw the interfaces over the forms, publishing the final design with no aid from developers. Top that with a promise for a cross-browser, cross-platform support that spans from Safari & Mozilla to palms & TV-sets, and you will get an idea why everyone is so excited about the upcoming release.
I would summarize WPF's main selling points with two words - rich and reach. WPF allows the design of rich experiences with scalable graphics, video, animations, 3D rendering, transparency and a host of additional. All of this in a single format that reaches all PC, MAC, TV, smartphone, and palm devices...
The switch will not go without sacrifices - If I have to be honest, I was a bit skeptical at the beginning about learning a new graphics tool - the MS Expressions suite, and a bit frustrated about having to part with long-time favorites Adobe Photoshop and Flash. That was before I actually tried to implement a Windows Forms interface with only Photoshop at hand... I go to great pains to strike the right set of gradients that really have the glassy, polished look of trendy Office12-style interfaces and it hurts to see the actual implementation of your Photoshop screenshot only a close approximation to original colors & gradients. With the Expression suite, it should be really a WYSIWYG experience, to the relief of both developers & designers. My first look at the Expressions Interactive Designer (March CTP) left me with mixed feelings really - the program clearly lacks the usability of a finished product and with scarce documentation and internet resources on the subject, achieving even small tasks becomes a challenge. The promise of a rich media interface delivered on all platforms, however, is too lucrative a bait to pass by.
To keep you in track with the latest in technologies, we will be uploading a series of WPF tutorials. We are working on a simple application in WPF to showcase the technology at the techEd in Boston later next month and we will publish a step-by-step manual so you can practice building the application yourself. Stay posted for our next post with more on the topic.