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Friday, May 2, 2008

Expression Studio 2 Ships and How to do SEO with Silverlight Pages

by Don Burnett

Well it's been a bit since I posted I had been working really hard and somehow I ended up getting pneumonia. So I have been taking a break, but several exciting things happened that I figure I should tell you about. Expression Studio Version 2 has shipped.  If you are interested in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) I recommend you check out Michael S. Scherotter's blog where he has two great articles on doing SEO in Silverlight with ASP.NET as a server..


Expression Studio Version 2 has shipped

Some folks have suggested that "Expression Studio was released about a year and a half ago as a partial answer to Adobe’s Creative Suite". I wouldn't characterize this quite this way, I think that's basically calling it a ME too product. I don't see it that way, Expression Studio is squarely framed at supporting Microsoft's web based initiatives. It reinvents much of the designer developer work flow that frankly the "Creative Suite" hasn't addressed for developers centered on Microsoft developer solutions.

If you are are an ASP.NET designer or developer a product like Dream Weaver never really totally addressed ASP.NET version 2.0, when it came to things like data binding they used a few of their own custom ASP.NET controls, a couple used the same name as the Microsoft versions, but were not completely compatible. It only supported ASP.NET 1.0 correctly. Expression Web 1.0 and now 2.0 goes way beyond that, not to mention Visual Studio and Visual Web Developer Express. When Visual Web Developer shipped a few years ago it was the end of my love affair with DreamWeaver as a tool.

When I started moving from bitmap to vector art, Illustrator and Photoshop never totally provided the complete integrated solution because each supported different markets and capabilities. We needed a tool that did both. One third party tool did both, that was Fractal Design Painter and later Creature House Expression 3. Microsoft updated and transformed this into Expression Design. Considering that bitmaps are really only used in photography today, but most people need their vector/structured graphics today, that are nicely up-sizable to different resolutions, aspect, and color modes, that are used by most GUI systems today. Photoshop doesn't really do that. The XAML integration with Expression Blend and other Expression Studio products and Visual Studio make great end-to-end work possible, whether you are making a Desktop, Web, or Mobile application.

Expression Media is great if you have to catalog multimedia assets for your project or handle version control with that as well..

I have heard Adobe's been working on something called "Thermo" which I hear tries to do this with Photoshop type files. If it is indeed working with bitmaps I will be kind of disappointed, because bitmaps aren't really a mainstay of UI graphics under Windows (even if supplies them).  Expression Design doesn't try to be a professional photograph tool. It leaves cataloging and fixing up photos and bitmaps to Expression Media. Both products are  focused on what they do best..Photoshop is a tool used by many more markets, and has to try to be all things to all people.  For this reason saying it's a "partial answer" doesn't work for me because there are many different market differentiations between "the Suite " and "The Studio".  You can't get one to do the work of the other. I believe that makes room for both of them and they are less competition for each other than you might expect.

All of the Expression Studio products were very much winners in their own markets before Microsoft put them together as Expression Studio. To me it's like coming home to an old friend who just got a new lease on life..

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finally Some More Proof on Vista Speed..

by Don Burnett


Over at Adrian-Kingsley Hughes' ZDNET blog, he's been benchmarking some OS speeds, which again shows some folks still running XP and some SYSADMINs have the wrong idea about Vista..

Check out this graph over on Adrian's ZDNET BLOG..


I don't believe in benchmarks always, but this does underscore some of the purported information being incorrect about Vista performance. I'd love to see him include benchmarks that use WCF and WPF on both systems..


Also from the great articles on how to do section..

Webcam's to WPF...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More Cable Industry Alleged Collusion- (Keeping the content under their control)

by Don Burnett

Note this is an opinion piece, but be ready to be totally pissed off when you read it..

According to an article on Gizmodo, and Gary Merson (The HD Guru), Cable customers who use the current CableCard to access protected HD content, that's Windows Media Center and  TiVo to you and me, will soon start losing HD channels. Why you ask? Well, cable carriers are moving from a direct stream of video to "switched digital video," which use two-way digital cable boxes to see what customers need then send it to them. CableCards are only one-way devices. Supposedly CableLabs has a USB "dongle" device that enabled 2-way connections via the CableCard.

Time-Warner cable has already started eliminating channels from the one way only cable card service (the tier known as VOOM HD- which is about 15 channels if memory serves me correctly). So CableCard customers are losing channels there, and no dongle in-sight for those folks yet. The big problem with the dongle is that some devices including TVs that use CableCard don't have USB ports and never will.

I think this is totally lame and just more attempts to control content, over the reality of going to new hardware that will conserve bandwidth, which is the excuse being used. This further adds to the Media Center issues with HD content.  I think we should be lobbying the cable industry to support existing products like one-way cable cards and being more consumer focused. To me this is an internal save money decision that was made to go to a "switched" system, that is in the interest of the cable company but not the consumers.

Breaking changes are never good for any industry, and it just shows the power of the cable companies to make an arbitrary change of service like this. The FCC needs to step in and do something about this kind of thing, as it's not consumer friendly..

Cable Labs responded to these allegations on Gizmodo. quoting their excerpts:

"Content available on cable networks is changing all the time. New services are added, some are redesigned and others are removed."

• "SDV technology is designed to expand the range of services offered by cable operators, not reduce them."

• "Many CE companies chose to implement receivers that lack the necessary circuitry to provide a full two-way cable experience with the CableCard."

• "No product was ever originally designed to work with this new Tuning Adaptor including the existing Tivo UDPC products...Since consumer products don't use Microsoft Windows, they don't have plug-in drivers. Instead a new firmware update is needed to include the necessary driver controls to interact with this new external device. Makers of any existing UDCPs that already have a USB port (there are many) are just as able to provide new firmware as Tivo, if they chose to do so."

• "Consumers should look for products identified as tru2way to ensure they will be able to get all the new and advanced services their digital cable systems can deliver."

The last item doesn't exist right now as far as I know.. Either way,I believe this is yet another anti-consumer arbitrary decision to EOL (End-of-Life) One way CableCard technology, before many of us ever get to see or use it (my humble opinion), but the word needs to get out.. Please write the FCC and Congress and lets get some examination of this issue going.

All Hands on Deck! Surface, Surface! at the AT&T Store

by Don Burnett

Over at Gizmodo, they have information on Microsoft's Surface (Table PC) which is now reportedly available at five AT&T stores (more locations coming soon..).  They have some great video over on Gizmodo of the Surface device.. Looks like things are happening with this technology earlier than expected. If you don't know about surface check out the Microsoft original demos..

Check out the video and more information over at the Gizmodo site..

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Several Things of Note..

By Don Burnett


Mono on the iPhone, compiling C#  can Moonlight 1.0 or 2.0 be that far behind or even Silverlight for that matter (no Microsoft hasn't announced anything).. This is speculation.. But this rocks, .NET apps on the iPhone..


courtesy of Miguel De Icaza's Blog and Luke Howard from PADL Software Ltd


Videos on YouTube of this..



This is cool, I really hope Microsoft enters the iPhone game with this too.. My battle cry, ".NET EVERYWHERE"... WHOOO!

...and this one falls into the category MORE SPECULATION

Quoting JD's Blog:

"Realworld HD H.264 support

Realworld HD H.264 support: In March, 4500 consumers were tested for viewing different types of media files. 2780 of them had already installed Adobe Flash Player 9.0.115. That's 62% of today's computers, supporting no-hassle high definition playback of H.264 video. Considering this browser plugin was released in December, and the audit was conducted in March, then it's an easy choice for realworld use today..."

I guess I am one of those people, but when I tried to watch "Brothers and Sisters" on and it was far from no hassle in high def and my machine is a supported configuration.. It didn't work properly on their high def content, and I have great connectivity. 


My other question to JD is: How can 62% of 4500 people actually a representative sample.. Personally I am just a little (well OKAY A LOT) confused about what he's saying here.. Care to clarify for us? Am I reading this wrong? More than one person I know read this and is asking the same question.. You said this is "Realworld" so I am asking. JD by the way has a great blog and normally publishes great information..

I know JD reads my blog, so maybe he'll get more specific and reply here..


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Microsoft Announces New Content Deals

by Don Burnett

Here's the Announcement as a whole:

"For Release 6 a.m. PDT

April 14, 2008

Microsoft Announces New Support for Silverlight by Content Companies Worldwide

New content protection capabilities unveiled, coming in Silverlight 2.

LAS VEGAS — April 14, 2008 — Today at the NAB Show 2008, Microsoft Corp. announced significant momentum for Microsoft Silverlight resulting from new customers adopting Silverlight to deliver richer, more interactive media experiences on the Web. Building on recent support from major content providers such as AOL and NBC on MSN, Microsoft announced new adoption of Silverlight by media and content companies worldwide, including Madison Square Garden (MSG) Interactive, Tencent, Abertis Telecom, Terra Networks Operations, SBSi, MNet and Yahoo! JAPAN.

“It’s exciting to see broad industry recognition and rapid adoption of Silverlight across the world,” said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the .NET Developer Division at Microsoft. “Silverlight offers customers and partners the highest quality creation and delivery of media, protected content, advertising and rich Internet applications, and we are committed to making it easy for partners to integrate and extend Silverlight capabilities.”

Media Companies Worldwide Choose Silverlight to Power Connected Rich Internet and Media Web Experiences

With an average of 1.5 million daily downloads of the Silverlight plug-in, and growing, adoption of Silverlight around the world continues to accelerate momentum for compelling online media experiences for consumers. Media companies in particular — with an increasing emphasis on utilizing the Internet as a channel for content and new revenue streams — are taking the lead in delivering innovative new Web experiences. Among those media companies announcing Silverlight-based projects are the following:

· MSG Interactive is using Silverlight as a platform to deliver live on-demand digital content to its huge community of sports and entertainment fans.

· Tencent, China’s largest Internet portal, with more than 300 million unique viewers, today announced it is developing a series of Silverlight-based next-generation Internet services and media experiences.

· Abertis Telecom will use Silverlight as the platform for a new video content delivery channel going live this spring, which will provide end users with convenient access to dozens of channels of Spanish-language TV content within a single Web-based application.

· Terra Networks is using Silverlight as the platform for the new HD channel on Terra TV, its online video and TV platform with service in 18 countries in Latin America and United States reaching millions of subscribers around the world.

· Announced last week, Yahoo! JAPAN, the most trafficked Web site in Japan, plans to roll out video distribution and Internet services that use Silverlight as the application platform.

“Our implementation of content services enabled by Microsoft Silverlight has significance for both Yahoo! JAPAN and Microsoft,” said Masahiro Inoue, CEO of Yahoo! JAPAN. “We strive to respond promptly and appropriately to the constantly evolving Internet environment and customer needs, and I have high expectations that our use of Silverlight will enable us to provide better services to our customers.”

Recently, at MIX08, Microsoft outlined new capabilities of its end-to-end media platform — including Silverlight 2, Expression Studio 2 and Windows Server 2008 — which offers

industry-leading streaming and progressive download capability with Windows Server 2008. In addition, Microsoft presented support for new Silverlight advertising scenarios, and companies such as Microsoft Atlas, DoubleClick Inc., Eyeblaster Inc. and Panache were already showing how Silverlight enables next-generation in-stream advertising to better monetize the assets of content owners. At MIX08, Microsoft also announced a strategic alliance with Move Networks, a leading provider of advanced video delivery services. At NAB 2008, Move Networks Inc. is demonstrating a technology preview of Silverlight-based unique branding and navigation elements within, around and on top of Move Networks’ video technology.

New Microsoft Content Protection Support in Silverlight Increases Opportunities for Vibrant Content Marketplace

Silverlight-based content delivery can be protected using a variety of techniques, including Web and streaming playlists, authentication, authorization, stream encryption and digital rights management (DRM). Today Microsoft unveiled details of Silverlight DRM, Powered by PlayReady, the content protection support coming later this year in Silverlight. Silverlight DRM builds on Microsoft’s extensive expertise and experience in content protection and support for hundreds of millions of media players and devices worldwide.

In addition to being compatible with the broadly deployed base of Windows Media DRM 10 content, Silverlight DRM will support live streaming, on-demand streaming and progressive downloads for connected experiences. With the extensibility and openness of Silverlight, third-party solution providers will also be able to build and offer content owners additional choices for their media protection needs.

A number of content owners, aggregators and service providers including BUYDRM, Daum Communications Corp., iMBC Co. Ltd., Limelight Networks, M-Net Media, Netflix Inc., Paramount Pictures, SK Communications, SBSI, a subsidiary of SBS Media Group, and Technicolor have announced their support for the content protection solution to be provided in Silverlight, due to the technology’s proven foundation and support.

“As the dynamics of content distribution continue to accelerate toward the Internet, we need a flexible technology platform that allows us to explore a broad scope of business models and rich user experiences for digital distribution of Paramount Pictures’ wide array of content,” said Dr. Alan Bell, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Paramount Pictures. “With Silverlight DRM, Powered by PlayReady, Microsoft is bringing nearly a decade of heritage in DRM and content access to the table to deliver a solution with a strong technology foundation — allowing us to provide legal alternatives to our audiences enabling them to consume our content in whatever browser or platform they prefer.”

Microsoft will be demonstrating a technology preview of Silverlight DRM at the NAB Show in booth SL5520, and has introduced a preview program for customers to learn more about Silverlight DRM. Additional information, including licensing terms for Silverlight DRM, is available at

Many content owners, aggregators and solution providers have announced their support and interest in Silverlight DRM including the following:

“The deployment of Silverlight DRM via the KeyOS Pay Media Platform will offer customers a flexible, robust business-centered rights management solution that will broaden the consumer marketplace for pay media,” said Christopher Levy, CEO of BuyDRM and Microsoft MVP for Digital Media. “We have been working closely with Microsoft to develop one of the industry’s first Silverlight DRM-enabled services offering that is flexible, easy to deploy and provides powerful rights management solutions for a variety of industries.”

“Limelight Networks is a long-time content delivery partner of Microsoft, and was one of the first to support the initial Silverlight experience. We’re pleased today to announce our support for Silverlight DRM, Powered by PlayReady, so that content producers leveraging our high-performance CDN can enable highly secure, profitable streaming experiences through Silverlight 2 technologies,” said Adam Wray, vice president, strategic alliances, Limelight Networks Inc.

“Netflix has used Windows Media DRM 10 to protect the 7,000 choices of movies and TV episodes that our 7.5 million members can watch instantly on the PC,” said Neil Hunt, chief product officer for Netflix. “We look forward to expanding platform coverage using Silverlight with PlayReady, which is expected to satisfy industry requirements for content protection and simplify and improve the end-user experience.”

“The announcement of Microsoft PlayReady and its availability on our platforms will reinforce the position of S60 on Symbian OS as the leading mobile platform for Internet innovation,” said Lee Williams, senior vice president, Nokia Devices Software. “In March we announced that we would bring Silverlight to S60, as well as our Series 40 and maemo platforms. We have also been working with Microsoft for some time on digital rights management. The combination of Silverlight and PlayReady further extends business and monetization opportunities for the industry and raises the bar for rich, interactive consumer experiences.”

“DRM is an integral part of the Technicolor Electronic Distribution Services offer, with Windows Media DRM playing a key role in our technology,” said Mark Langford, vice president, marketing & product management, Thomson Technicolor Electronic Distribution Services. “More recently we’ve expanded our proficiency to include Silverlight, a tool that is exceptionally designed to offer a very compelling user interface for media on the Web. The new support for PlayReady will help us complete the offering of our next generation Live Streaming platform that is based on Silverlight and targeted at tier-one media and entertainment companies.”

“Telstra BigPond, as Australia’s leading provider of audio and video, has been using Windows Media DRM for years and with Silverlight’s support for PlayReady — the latest generation of Microsoft’s media DRM,” said Craig Middleton, group manager, Corporate Relations, Telstra BigPond. “BigPond is looking forward to working with these latest technologies to further enhance its innovative and world-class video and audio content offering to the Australian market place.”

More information on Microsoft’s presence at the NAB Show 2008 can be found at

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.


For more information, press only:

Rose Tucker, Weber Shandwick, (425) 452-5463,"

Monday, April 14, 2008

Silverlight 2 DRM Support FAQ with New Info from the National Association of Broadcasters Show

By Don Burnett


As some of you know Microsoft announced new DRM functionality for Silverlight 2 and qualified more of the functionality today... I end up talking to quite a few customers who are into streaming video (some of them still use Windows Media Server and Windows Media Services).. Here's some questions I have been asked and here are some of the best answers that I could come up with.. While some of this comes across like I have been talking to a marketing person (which), the depths of these answers pretty much layout the how's and the why's.. I apologize again if it comes across as the "Microsoft Answer" but it does spell things out..

Will Microsoft update  Silverlight Streaming and improve format transcoding?

Silverlight™ Streaming by Windows Live is the companion service to Silverlight. We are increasing the free hosting and storage limit to 10 GB and can now stream HD content at 1400Kbps (see a sample here). During the alpha of the service, most scenarios were video/audio. Now Microsoft is making it easier for content producers to get their media in front of their users, They have now introduced a video management scenario which allows media to be uploaded in many formats (Flash, DIVX, MPEG-4, QuickTime, H.264, H.263, WMV1, WMV2, MPEG-1, MPEG-2) and be transcoded into a Silverlight™ compatible WMV/VC-1 format. For developers, there is a new WebDAV API for Silverlight Streaming which allows for file by file management and Web Folders support.

What Browsers are currently supported by Silverlight 2

For browsers, Silverlight will support all current versions of IE, FireFox, Safari, (and others if you lobby Microsoft).

Will Silverlight run on any web server? What are the benefits to using a Windows server?

Silverlight works with any web server. Video and audio content can also be progressively downloaded and played back from any Web server platform. The benefits of Windows server-based distribution in the final  2.0 release of Silverlight will include Windows Media Services with Fast Stream (instant playback) and Fast reconnect technologies, lower distribution costs (streaming users only download what they watch), and  will fully take advantage of the entire Windows server ecosystem of platform components and partner solutions.

In terms of localization, which languages does Silverlight provide?

In  Beta 1,  the installation and control runtime are available in English. Developers may provide an in-page "Get Microsoft Silverlight" experience for their customers in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Korean, Japanese, Russian and Brazilian Portuguese. Support for additional languages is planned  for future releases. End-to-End application localization is supported and will be introduced in  the Beta 2 release. There is full support of East Asian languages via TextBlock element. TextBlock supports and uses the East Asian fonts installed on the user's machine. In addition TextBlock supports surrogate content as well as handling proper line breaking for East Asian text. For beta 1 text entry is provided via an IME..

Is Bi-directional scripting support available with Silverlight 2 beta 1?

Silverlight does not, yet ,support  bi-directionality, shaping or justification support required by complex script languages. A developer, however, may utilize the rendering of the browser (DHTML) or text-graphics as alternative approaches.

What is ADO.NET Data Services?

ADO.NET Data Services are REST-based HTTP end-points enabling robust interoperation between ADO.NET Data Services and other technologies and Silverlight support is enabled via a client library. This includes third-party HTTP stacks. As ADO.NET Data Services progresses Microsoft will continue to refresh the client library as appropriate to enable compelling data experiences between Silverlight and ADO.NET Data Services.

What exactly is the DRM Microsoft is announcing?

Silverlight 2 will provide digital rights management support powered by Microsoft PlayReady™ content access technology, on Windows and Mac. The beta 2 release of Silverlight 2 will have support for Silverlight DRM. Both WMDRM-protected content and PlayReady-protected content can be played back via the Silverlight 2 plug-in for Windows and Mac, using Silverlight DRM Powered by Microsoft PlayReady. Also, content providers with existing content protected using WMDRM 10 can use the PlayReady Server SDK to deliver that content to Silverlight 2 plug-ins for Windows and Mac.

How will PlayReady Servers be Licensed? I already have WMDRM 10 content,I just want to deliver the content I already have..

Silverlight DRM, Powered by PlayReady, will be completely contained in the Silverlight 2 plug-in that users will download. To maximize performance – both over the network, and in terms of minimizing the size and of the plug-in, Silverlight DRM has support for only processing the new PlayReady license format which is even more compact than old WMDRM license format.  Because of this, a PlayReady license server is needed to deliver all licenses to the Silverlight 2 plug-in.

What about licensing fees?

Silverlight DRM is powered by PlayReady  and will be available for licensing in coordination with the launch of the Silverlight 2 plug-in. The PlayReady Server SDK runs on Windows® Server 2003 (which is licensed separately) and will be offered to Silverlight customers at a reported cost of USD$30,000 per CPU, with no limits on the number of cores.  Microsoft will offer a 120-day evaluation license to qualified customers. Note this is quite different from licensing for PlayReady for Mobile, specifically... Silverlight DRM supports a subset of the full PlayReady features that are most applicable for Silverlight scenarios (online content streaming and progressive download). Microsoft isn't really different than other industry solutions where a per-CPU royalty is commonly applied to server technologies that best meets customer needs for these specific scenarios.

Will the new DRM enable protection of live A/V content?


What formats will PlayReady for Silverlight Support?

Audio and Video codecs that are in ASF, that are supported by Silverlight will be able to be protected  in Silverlight 2. The first release will include protection for content streamed (or progressively downloaded) via web and video on demand.

What about disconnected offline playback?

Microsoft is investigating the support of disconnected scenarios for a future version of Silverlight. That's all Microsoft will say at this time.

What will Microsoft do if there is a breach in DRM?

Silverlight DRM also benefits from an already established Microsoft DRM breach response process including dedicated monitoring. Microsoft provides guaranteed response times to breaches and improved renewability. If a  DRM plug-in is breached, Microsoft will update the plug-in to ensure content protection remains effective.

Content licenses are not normally persisted on the client machine for enhanced security, and since Silverlight is a web delivery solution it requires a new license for each playback. You can use isolated storage to cache these licenses to enhance playback experience for the user.  CORRECTION: (Thanks goes to Mark Ramberg of Microsoft for clarification on this item..)

Isolated storage can be used to cache the encrypted content, but the licenses cannot be cached there currently. Licenses only exist in memory and have a lifespan of the browser session.

Do I have to use your DRM Technology

There many ways to protect content, Silverlight is an open platform. Third-parties can plug-in their DRM systems and protect premium content using other technologies. One example is Widevine, which is announcing their DRM solution for Silverlight. Content decryption at playback should be a seamless, and end-users shouldn’t be able to detect which system is protecting content behind the curtain.

Does Silverlight 2 really provide HD Quality?

Yes, but performance is dependent upon CPU capabilities of individual machines/configurations. A modern CPU is recommended.

We all know VC-1 is a Standard, but isn't H2.64 ahead in terms of adoption?

Don't confuse industry adoption with industry standards. There are numerous third parties that have already announced support for VC-1, such as those delivering HD formats such as BluRay. From set-top-box makers to software and hardware-based encoders. Also content owners and aggregators are getting in the game too. Microsoft has announced that they have over  85 partners building experiences on WVM/VC-1 and Silverlight today.

Does Move Networks use VC-1? Adobe says that they use flash video or On2’s video codec?

Move Networks uses On2 VP7 codecs, which is different from the VP6 technology in Flash. Move Networks has committed to using the WMV/VC-1 codec for playback in Silverlight.

Will Windows Media still continue development?


Will Silverlight support On2?

Silverlight already supports major mainstream codecs. Current plans don’t include including other codecs, like On2’s VP7 or On2 VP6 used in Flash.

What is Adobe Media Player?

Adobe Media Player is based on AIR, and is a 12MB download, and has 0% adoption versus Flash's reported 98% adoption, so their customers will have to download AIR to get this  experience. And because it's based on AIR, it has full access to your entire file system and tells users about this up front, making it a target for security concerns.  Based on my own experience, I imagine  this will not help them get adoption quickly.

How does Microsoft's Experience differ from the Adobe one?

Microsoft offers a dramatically different approach to content creation and delivering experiences that are focused on Microsoft's own customers’ development and deployment needs.  They are building a development platform, not just a player or a  browser. From Windows to the Web, and the media/living room, as well as mobile devices. 

  1. Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) provides the richest client experiences the client hardware can offer offering both online/offline scenarios. WPF is based on Microsoft  operating systems, making it possible to deliver applications that support 3D hardware acceleration, access to devices and ports, and Microsoft Software Application Integration. Microsoft also offers a full range of offline storage capabilities. Microsoft's new Sync Framework enables offline and collaboration capabilities for any device, application, service or rich internet application.
  2. Silverlight applications offer improved security over other vendor's technologies. Applications run within the browser security sandbox and are authored as "open" code that is just part of the HTML page and can thus be viewed in the browser easily unlike other browser-based RIA technologies.
  3. Silverlight 2 includes .NET, Microsoft’s cross-platform, cross-browser implementation of the .NET Framework that enables the building the next generation of interactive applications across the Web, Windows, and devices.
  4. Microsoft is tackling “development complexity”, bridging the gap between creative designers and development teams, enabling rich user experiences at reduced cost which in turn optimizes business opportunity.

Why is Microsoft Supporting VC-1?

Silverlight provides superior Web streaming experiences over H.264.

Facts important to Web Playback..

  • WMV/VC-1 offers advanced decode efficiency (up to 2x as efficient) to H.264, enabling better quality playback experiences on less-capable PCs.
  • Windows Media Services offers proven server reliability and scalability for WMV/VC-1 streaming, as well as lower TCO.
  • VC-1 with Silverlight provide more compelling Web streaming experience.
  • WMV/VC-1 is compatible with millions of hours of Windows Media, from HD to mobile.
  • Support from the Windows Media ecosystem, including third-party tools, service providers and content delivery networks.
  • H.264 is more suitable for playback on dedicated consumer hardware, and for lower bit-rate web download situations.
  • VC-1 is better today for streaming Web scenarios, especially for HD, where HD can be decoded without any PC hardware acceleration.
  • Windows Media Services offers proven reliability and scalability and a  lower TCO.
  • Adobe has announced H.264 streaming with Flash Media Server (FMS). Adobe charges a premium for Flash Media Server, and indications are that Adobe will stream MPEG-4/ H.264 files using a proprietary streaming protocol. This will likely not be compatible with existing MPEG4-based streaming servers and content. (Can anyone from Adobe comment on this? I know I have a few readers if you know the scoop please respond)..

Why is Microsoft reaching out to designers, really?

Microsoft recognizes the importance of design in today’s application lifecycle. Microsoft understands the central role that designers play in delivering engaging and usable experiences. Microsoft wants to show what is possible with software experiences.  To reach furthers this, they are committed to bringing  designers tools to realize the potential of Windows and Windows Server. Okay, that was a mouthful, but hey it's corporate philosophy and vision!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Grava to Bring Simplified Authoring of Educational Software

by Don Burnett

MicrosoftEducationLogo I was expecting to see this mentioned at Mix08, but so far nothing, until eSchoolNews broke the story about this exciting new product in their most recent online article. So what is Grava ? It's a rocking new educational software authoring tool that makes it easy. It has all the good looks of a WPF based application, but offers educators and courseware authors the ability to create very exciting applications easily with great visualization capabilities.

Grava is a very forward thinking product from Microsoft's Education division. It's probably one of the first products to really deliver on the promise of WPF in applications developed for it.

According to eSchoolNews:

"The Grava development tools, which Microsoft previewed at the British Education and Training Technology Conference in mid-January, are meant to stand alone as separate applications. A Grava SDK (Software Developer Kit) tool is designed for publishers and developers of educational software, while a different authoring tool will give those with less programming experience--such as many educators--the ability to create their own media-rich content to be viewed with the Grava player, Microsoft says.

By introducing these new tools, Microsoft hopes to reduce the time and money spent creating educational software for schools. Because developers won't need high-level programming expertise to create Grava-based programs, the tools could eliminate the common software development cycle in which a subject-matter expert creates content, then hands it off to a programming team to write code, which then returns it for more changes, and so on.

Using Grava, "developers can create very rich [educational materials] ... to make learning much more fun and engaging," says Ravi Soin, product unit manager for Microsoft's Education Products Group. "

This is a very exciting development for schools and this new program from Microsoft could be a revolutionary product for courseware and content development because it will not require a programming team to develop usable courseware content.

There have been other "authoring systems" in the past, but none that take advantage of this rich feature set found in Windows/WPF and can allow rich content development without high level programming and scripting skills.

I am really excited about Grava and what it means to the educational community and it's something you should be on the lookout for. This is another great example of Microsoft leading, and not following the market.


What the Flash folks Aren't getting about Silverlight (are they too focused on Flash?)

by Don Burnett

Flash Magazine has a very interesting perspective about Silverlight this week, one that I don't share.. Let me start by saying I have used "Flash" for years, even when it was called FutureSplash animator and could barely render and animate vector graphics, so I have some perspective on this too.. First before going into this let me say all of my comments will be relating to client-side technology, stuff that runs in the browser as a plug-in. That means at most we are talking about it versus two other technology pools, Java and Flash.

Flash people are usually designers with some development knowledge usually great with scripting.. If you go further you are really focused on ActionScript development..

In the article the author makes the quote "I'm not dismissing Silverlight by any means, but what was revealed last week was no revolution and certainly not a threat to Flash." I whole heartedly agree.. If you look at Silverlight's positioning it's a very different plug-in with a great graphics system. What does it do for you however? Well in my mind it has a lot more in common with Java.. Why? Well, underneath Silverlight is a very compact version of the .NET framework.. In fact, it's a full application development framework embedded in a browser plug-in.  That fact alone makes it more like Java. Silverlight applications can be self-contained on the client and don't require things like "browser postbacks" to server technology. That means full fledged applications like you see and develop on Windows are actually possible. Is this as advanced as Flash's own runtime, in my humble opinion YES.. What effect does this have on the Flash designer community, probably not a lot except for the fact that in Windows based web development circles unless these folks become proficient with Silverlight, they won't be as needed anymore. The .Net programming community can step in and do all of their design and UI work in .Net natively on Silverlight.  So the .Net framework will be more ubiquitous and people will start doing all sides of applications including web versions completely in .Net..

The .Net Programming Community is now your competition..

Don't count those guys out, with the features of the framework and bringing .Net to the browser window, where most people feel all desktop applications are headed, this is a serious juggernaut headed the way of the Adobe Flash community. When they get good and their designs start looking great due to their new XAML based workflow which speeds up the design developer workflow model significantly, this could start impacting heavily on everyone else's web application technology. My concern is more with how .Net will be a competitor to Java than it actually is the Flash community. Everything in Silverlight is very different right down to the routed event model. 

Silverlight is also moving to non-Windows mobile platforms like Nokia as well, so that means there will be "Silverlight Applications" everywhere.. This is of significant importance and value as the web interface shrinks to support Mobile functionality. In this regard they may find up against Google's mobile platform. Since Flash/AIR hasn't shown up on the iPhone yet, I will reserve comment on that possible competition.

It will be interesting to watch the .Net Framework under Silverlight grow and see how applications based on Java stack up to .Net.. I am not worried so much about comparing them to Flash at this point. I think Java applications (non web server based) offer a sophistication not found in Flash/Flex/Air,  because of what their framework can do. That's why I am more interested to see Java and .Net go head-to-head with Silverlight..Why? Let me launch into my next point..

Quoting Flash Magazine..

"Flash has become a standard. Users will be disappointed if their browser can't run Flash. As Flash has become more powerful, it has started doing things online that formerly were not possible. Flash is the number one choice for online video, animation and small web games. But Flash can do so much more: advanced Rich Internet Applications (RIA), text processing, slide shows, image editing, video mixing, audio tools, , executive dashboards and great looking report generators - Flash has become a real threat to Microsoft and Silverlight is their answer."

I hardly see Flash as the holy grail of web video or a threat, the previous winner was Microsoft's Windows Media Services (and the ubiquitous WMV format).  Why? simply put Windows Media Server's capabilities, including live streaming, pay-per-view and many TCP based protocols for efficient bandwidth delivery and above all lower costs and a better ROI. Windows Media Player invented this industry almost completely. Flash Video is  newer to the scene, and yes it does have H.264 support and it's the standard file format used in You Tube. Question for you: Do you really enjoy the fuzzy video and bad frame rates on encoded material in YouTube anymore?  It also plays on about 98 percent of the machine due to it's installed browser based.. But on the server side of things there is serious indication that it's still not beating Windows Media Server for installs.

As far as the other stuff mentioned in Flash's favor. Did we see most of this happening before Silverlight 1.0 came out and gave Adobe and Sun Java something to think about? Probably not.

.Net Everywhere! is the word of the day! (It's not really Silverlight Everywhere! but what sounds better, I ask you?)

I don't really see Flash as the target but maybe a close bystander, as Microsoft realizes that applications have to happen in the browser, and it's a browser centric world, not a "desktop" one anymore.. This makes Microsoft extremely competitive on the desktop and the browser and on devices, the same XAML design code  and applications technology can be used everywhere including non-Microsoft led platforms.. Microsoft has been doing desktop applications for years and now that they have made web development as close to this model as they can possibly go, I think we'll see some things others have said were impossible.

Flash Magazine Rules!

Other than these subtle points I am making, I was impressed with the fair/balanced and overall review Flash Magazine gave of Silverlight 2 and the Expression Studio 2.0 package.. They seem to be pretty on with everything they had to say..


Media Center and HD Content Challenges

by Don Burnett

I normally don't talk a lot about Media Center here or the challenges of bringing HD content to it, on DVD, but there are some very interesting posts to Chris Lanier's Blog about the fallout of HD-DVD going away, and what it would mean to bring Blu-Ray to both the PC and X-box 360 natively. I myself was a very big fan of HD-DVD and my player of choice was the X-box 360. I have a big collection of Red Discs that have now "disappeared" from store shelves. The local Best Buy acts like they never had this format or sold it. It's a shame because I know more than a few people who preferred the format over the blue discs, for it's interactive features, Picture-in-Picture, and over all quality. It had a lot of features missing from the initial Blu-Ray  player release. Also Blu-Ray is based on Sun's Java technology. So why did it win? Both technologies use the same blue laser and just a bit different disc formats. Anyone who tells you the picture was better is just talking marketing hype, 1080p is 1080p. Nearly the same video codecs were available in both platforms.

So why did it win? Simply it was a content war and content is king.. Disney focused on Blu-Ray and they own a lot of the DVD market. People make decisions based on what content they can buy. Sure there were companies that did content for both, like Warner Brothers but adoption was slow. The other piece of hardware that put the number of Blu-Ray players out there was the Sony Play Station 3 or PS3. Interestingly enough the PS3 still isn't winning the console wars with the X-Box 360 or the Nintendo WII which is doing extremely well and neither of those machines have a Blu-Ray player built-in. Do all PS3 folks do is watch movies on their shiny new game machine? Sales don't indicate much else.

If I sound bitter it's because I don't really like Sony all of that much due to the number of the rampant anti-consumer scandals of the past few years. The last big Sony product I bought was a Playstation Portable, only to have UMD for it become a flop, as I watched the number of video titles for it shrink, and major studios stop producing titles for it. That was just a couple of years ago, so I didn't expect much from Blu-Ray. What a fickle market we live in here in the USA. One other reason I don't like Sony products is Sony's attempt to put RootKits on their CDs a few years back.

HD on Media Center

So back to Windows Media Center, and the HD content question.. Natively Microsoft didn't end up supporting HD-DVD or Blu-Ray in Media Center. So how do you get content, like from your cable TV? Well, since the content is protected (meaning you can't copy it or move it to other devices), Media Center has to build in support for that content protection. They do this through the use of a Digital Cable tuner. ATI makes a tuner that accepts a "CableCard" tuner. However CableLabs (the cable companies tech arm) has been very paranoid about making these available and you can only buy these from a vendor with a system like Dell or HP. To me that really sucks, I don't want to go buy a product from one of these vendors. CableLabs and the cable companies really don't understand the PC or the Home Theater PC (HTPC) market very much.

The HTPC market This has developed over the years mostly from do-it-yourself PC buyers. Most of these folks buy their own components and assemble their own systems based on high-spec components that most vendors like Dell and HP charge premium costs for. What does this mean to you as a consumer? Well you can't go out to Best Buy and purchase a CableCard Tuner (unless you buy it with a Dell 420 box), The stand-alone tuners that are sold separately don't support HD protected content over cable, you just use them with over-the-air free HD.  So if you want this capability you are forced now to buy a premium system that maybe back ordered. I think this really sucks and it's just an attempt by the cable industry to exert monopolistic controls over the market. You should be free to go out and buy one of these tuners for your home brew machine. I my opinion with the current situation, this is just someone maximizing profit and taking advantage of the situation (follow the money). If they are so worried about someone subverting their technology (which  seems like what they are saying), they should stay out of it entirely. Media Center does let you burn content onto DVD that you recorded and stored, but probably not the HD protected content from the cable company. Temporary storage and DVR playback doesn't mean archival storage to your burnable DVDs.

Cable Monopoly Issues

On top of all of that once you get it, you may be waiting on the cable company to install it forever. Last time a technician from my local cable company was out I asked them if I bought a CableCard based device how long it would take to get installed. I was told that they only had one installer for the entire area that did these, and they only did installs one day a week and that they already had a huge backlog of installs. The cable companies really don't want to support CableCard, they want you to buy their DVR instead.

My experience (at least with the local company's DVR (a Motorola product) was bad.. I had four of them to die. The problem with them, is they were regular HD boxes with an optional hard drive plugged in. But the problem with them off the top was HEAT. The box had no FAN and heat dissipation was a serious problem for them. I finally went to a non-HD non-DVR box because of all the problems. The technician admitted to me at the time that I wasn't the only one having these issues and he admitted having "seen small fires with them as a result."  Either way I don't want one of these in my home. They have kept the problem quiet because of the small percentage rate of  these problems with these overall.

If you have a Motorola box I definitely recommend you watch the heat situation. I just got tired of having a new box every three months and losing the programming I had stored on the previous box..

Is it all worth it?

So is it all worth it just to record delayed viewing of that program you missed while at your friend's house on HBO, the one you probably could go out and buy six months ago on standard DVD or on high-def DVD ? The answer to most people is probably not.. HD content on DVD also might have it's issues getting to your PC for playback.. Let's look at what mess the HD-DVD departure has left.. Over at Chris Lanier's Blog, there is some great discussion about bringing Blu-Ray to Windows and Media Center. Native Blu-Ray support doesn't exist currently. You have to launch an application from a third party company so really when the media plays back you are not inside Media Center. This means the controls and the great UI you are used to isn't necessarily available to you. Plus since it's a third party it might not always work as expected and you can't look to Microsoft to fix the bugs in it.  Another not so cool thing is the playback won't probably work across your own home network to stream playback to other devices in other rooms (Media Center Extenders, like the Linksys Extender or the X-box 360).

Also you just can't add an HD DVD/Blu-Ray player to every PC anyway... It must be at least a 2.4 Giga-hertz processor, with a graphics card that supports HDCP , well actually the whole system has to be supportive of HDCP protection. Personally if you bought your system within the last 3 years, most likely it doesn't support at least one of these specifications.  

So will we see a Blu-Ray player for the X-Box 360 anytime soon? The answer is probably not, and the best explanation as to "why" comes again from an entry in Chris Lanier's Blog..

"Another issue is building such a player to spec, something Microsoft will have a hard, or rather near impossible time doing. Unlike HD DVD’s hardware specs (PL1), Blu-ray requires that all players support multichannel PCM out. The Xbox 360 can’t do this with current hardware (no software update fixes that), nor does it have HDMI 1.3 to directly output the bitstream of advanced codec’s like TrueHD. Would the BDA let Microsoft make a player that is not built to spec just because they are Microsoft"

Frankly even if Microsoft designs their own non-Java device drivers and playback libraries there is a lot of things standing in the way of that happening..

Does this all really Matter?

Why does the X-box 360 continue to sell in great numbers as an HD content playback system, without Blu-Ray and now without HD-DVD? Simply, it still has an HD content system in it. It's called X-Box Live... Like Apple's iTunes, you can buy TV shows, Music, and HD movies and download them to your X-Box 360 hard drive with X-Box Live. Up until this year the X-Box 360 has only had a 20 gig drive in it, but with the 360 Elite and Microsoft now selling a bigger 120 gig replacement hard drive, it's possible to download and playback HD content right to the device over a standard broadband connection at reasonable speeds. Can you get the content off this unit and store it? No more than you can the cable company's DVR or the new CableCard tuner systems from Dell, and others.  But hey it works great and the picture looks great and may be a cost effective alternative to high cable and content you can't burn to a DVD or record and save anyway.

Bottom line, with the current situation, cable companies and movie houses don't want you burning HD content to DVDs or long term storage and playback. They have worked with the politicians to enact laws that really trample all over your right to "fair use" anyway. Fair use today doesn't include HD content, just poorer non-HD versions. Some of the movie companies though see that media is now a portable thing and you might like a digital copy to view on your laptop or some other device and are including coupons to download a digital copy of the movie (still copy protected to a device like your home PC).. That's at least some movement on their part towards fair use.

So will PC's get Blu-Ray players and recorders? Will Media Center work with them natively? Will the cable company monopoly ever accept "fair use"? Will the 360 really ever get any HD playback device that lets you keep a copy of the movie?

I think consumers here need to be starting to write their lawmakers and require these companies to stop the protectionist practices. Before HD and DVD copying existed and even today with non-HD copying still a possibility (not a legal one really), the studios are still making money, people still go to the movies. Their profits aren't going down the drain. We are honestly loosing freedom of choice here.. This is just my opinion, but I don't want to pay every time I see a movie. I like the idea of buying it once. For that reason I think regular DVDs will be with us for some time to come. Also due to PC requirements and the lack of consumer understanding of them, I don't think we'll see Blu-Ray recorders and PC players zooming on and off the shelf for sometime.

More opinion: The promise of HD has been subverted, by the movie industry, by the cable industry, and by our law makers who really aren't seeing what's going on here.. As for Media Center and native support and a new Blu-Ray add-on for the 360, survey says "Not anytime soon.." and that's really a bad situation. It just proves Microsoft is not immune to "industry" and market forces..

Could it be the real monopolies are the movie companies and the cable television industry that's holding us back because they won't get their premium cut? Maybe folks now should start worrying about them, over a company like Microsoft. Should they be investigated for their practices by Congress? In my opinion the survey says "yes they should".. Will they? Probably not, you can ask politicians like Congressman John Conyers, who is historically  has voted  in the media companies favor. Or that Alaskan Senator, who doesn't understand technology and things like DRM. Something we could do to improve the situation with congress is requiring them to be educated about the facts and consequences of all of this, and I am not talking about a hearing with a bunch of CEOs of media companies in the room.

What's Next?

What do I think is next? Well I think media companies will start offering their own Media Players, and their own content branded playback device (like DVRs) that only work with their content. I think after plain DVDs there won't be media, except for maybe memory cards and USB drives with content on it.. Branded and only working with their playback devices.. Right now it sounds risky because the Media companies are worried about the same things they are with DVDs, unauthorized use. But I think this is a trend and one that will continue thanks to companies like Adobe that announced their own "media player" release. We'll soon see the movie companies with their own "branded" media players and more separation of media.. These players can be physical boxes or computer programs..


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Drag and Drop Data Layer?? Here comes Visual LINQ Query Builder to the Rescue

by Don Burnett

The news of the week is this great new add-on for Microsoft Visual Studio 2008, called Visual LINQ Query Builder, and it's almost the greatest thing since Sliced Bread (no lie)..

This tool lets you open a LINQ to SQL datacontext  (LINQtoSQL file) and create your queries from the database in LINQ by simply dragging and dropping files and tables (really whatever you need) on the designer as it constructs the query for you..

Even a designer will be happy with this tool.. Check it out for yourself with more info at Mitsu's Blog.. It makes life go a lot faster when creating a data layer..




Date Change? Day of Dot Net Western Michigan

by Don Burnett


Apparently the graphic on my blog had the wrong date for Western Michigan Day of Dot Net.. It's May 10th..


Day of Dot Net

Event Date:Saturday, May 10, 2008
8:30 AM - 5:30 PM

Welcome Time:7:30:00 AM Eastern Time


Davenport University
6191 Kraft Avenue S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI 49512
Location Website

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Swiss MSDN Team Does It again

By Don Burnett

Ronnie Saurenmann and the Swiss Team has put together another great video that talks about working with SQL databases from Silverlight. This one shows you how to do Inserts, Updates, and Deletes with optimistic locking. One of the difficult things about this approach is that LINQ to SQL does not offer client side change tracking out of the box so you need to implement your own. While watching the video remember that it's just one one approach to change tracking in multi tier architecture with LINQ to SQL. This example only works with tables with Primary Key as single column and works with timestamps or original values.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Flash Takes Down Vista in the PWN2OWN Contest

By Don Burnett

Well, well, Flash just keeps making news..  According to  ZDNET the offending Application that brought down the Vista Machine in the big hacking contest was none other than Adobe's own Flash product. To be fair it could have been some other product just as easily as Flash, but this isn't the first ZDNET story about problems with the Flash plug-in. I blogged earlier about another ZDNET blogger having trouble with Flash...

It's scary when you hear about these 0 day exploits, especially on a plug-in like Flash which supposedly is installed on 98 % of the browsers out there.. It's a very naked and vulnerable feeling when someone can take over a machine, and in this case many more due to the ubiquity of the plug-in. I have said it before Adobe and Microsoft should work closer to eliminate these kinds of problems.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Interesting Tidbits from Jeffrey Jones Windows Vista One Year Vulnerability Report

By Don Burnett

I seem to have ruffled the feathers of a lot of Mac folks, with some statistics and suggestions that Vista was a lot more secure than Mac OS X (10.4) and Windows XP.. People are offended apparently at the number of days it took to hack a MacBook Air (two days)..

Here are some statistics from Jeffrey Jones Report. I suggest you sit down and read the entire report. You will see that this isn't political, but a fair and honest assessment. It's just tracking of the numbers of patches/vulnerabilities and what actually happened. You can download it right HERE...


Note: This is all from Mr. Jones report and I am quoting it all here...


vulnerabilities1 "

... "

vulnerabilities2 "

I suggest you read the entire report for yourself.. Numbers are reality, and all the Mac Fanatics in the world can't change the reality of these numbers, or any amount of spin from the "Steve Meister"... This is what happened with each of these systems/platforms.. You can't argue with numbers. Take that.. Mac-vs-PC television ads..


Nova Light Brings 3D Animation to Silverlight

by Don Burnett

Well last time I saw someone trying to do 3D in Silverlight, it was in wire frame, and didn't look so great, so you can imagine my surprise when I checked Kosh Land ( and saw a 3D viewer running non-hardware accelerated 3D with animating and moving in real time around the viewer world and getting over 20 frames per second on my Core 2 Duo 64-bit laptop. It looks really cool and worth the trip over there to take a look..



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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vista or Mac or XP is one less secure than the other?

by Don Burnett

It's been an interesting week... For months I have heard from Mac owners that the Mac OSX was more secure than Vista and you don't even need virus or malware protection... Now I have known this is not true, but those "anti-PC" Apple ads keep touting OS X and trashing Vista's security enhancements and the PC in general. I guess the news this week pretty much proved that wrong..


Evidence One: LinuxWorld/IDG News Service

Quote: " It may be the quickest $10,000 Charlie Miller ever earned. He took the first of three laptop computers -- and a $10,000 cash prize -- Thursday after breaking into a MacBook Air at the CanSecWest Applied Security conference's PWN 2 OWN hacking contest."


Evidence Two: ComputerWorld

Quote: " March 27, 2008 (IDG News Service) Apple's teasing commercials that imply its software is safer than Microsoft's may not quite match the facts, according to new research revealed at the Black Hat conference on Thursday. Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology looked at how many times over the past six years the two vendors were able to have a patch available on the day a vulnerability became publicly known, which they call the 0day (zero-day) patch rate.  They analyzed 658 vulnerabilities affecting Microsoft products and 738 affecting Apple. They looked at only high- and medium-risk bugs, according to the classification used by the National Vulnerability Database, said Stefan Frei, one of the researchers involved in the study."


Evidence Three: CSO Security and Risk Blog: Jeff Jones (Security by the Numbers)

Quote: " The results of the analysis show that Windows Vista continues to show a trend of fewer vulnerabilities at the one year mark compared to its predecessor product Windows XP (which did not benefit from the SDL).  If you are interested in how it did compared with Red Hat, Ubuntu and Apple Mac OS X, you'll need to download the full report. If you share the opinion that Windows and applications ported to Windows get a higher level of researcher scrutiny than other OSes, then the 6-month results are even more positive.  If you don't share that opinion, then they still stand on their own ..."

According to his report, Vista was more Secure than OS X (10.4) or Windows XP.. These are great reads for those who are still on XP or have "switched" to Apple OS X machines..

Evidence Four: computerworld: Julia King

Quote: " Mac switch revisited: An enterprise PC shop's move to Apple isn't as easy as expected...Auto Warehousing Co.'s switch from PCs to Macs is proving more painful than expected."

Even though this company has been committed to moving to be a Mac based enterprise, the story really details differences and extra costs...

Summary: My read on all of this: no one operating system is really secure at best the OS can do things to minimize these things.. As I understand it, there are over 200 vulnerabilities still un-patched on OSX.. I look forward to seeing these numbers go down over the years to come. It looks like some of these companies are finally "getting it" with regards to the importance of secure systems..

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Flash Reliability- ZDNET Exposes Problems that are less than anomylous..

by Don Burnett

EDIT: Please note some people will see this as me attacking Flash, if you read through it with an open mind you will notice that I am not. I use Flash myself and like the plug-in. I just want to know if there really is truly a reliability issue here and trying prompt to see if Adobe will talk about their process for feedback and how they work to address issues with customers.

Don't think of this as an "Attack" believe me, if I were I'd have more juicy things to say.


Original Posting:

Over at ZDNET, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has a great story that exposes some issues with Flash Player. Before a ton of Adobe Evangelists jump my blog here, let me say I am not attacking Flash here, I want Adobe to address these reliability issues. With a product as important as Flash Player is and the number of machines out there running it (some say it's about 98%) this could be an important issue and if Flash is crashing as much as we think it might be, that could account for a lot of problems people don't really see or know about.

Adrian does a blog for ZDNET, and his most recent discourse is about looking at 3 months worth of reliability data gathered by Vista x64's Reliability monitor. One of the problems it exposed was Flash kept crashing his machine or at least his browser. I have to say this wasn't a shock with me, I have Flash installed myself because it has happened with me to on a regular basis. This is not the only community that I keep up with. I own a Mac Mini computer, and the other day I was reading on another ZDNET blog, one of the Mac ones that the OSX version of Flash has the same sort of problems. This was something that I noted during a posting on whether Flash should come to the iPhone or not. The Blog writer and readers started tag-teaming against Adobe because they felt Flash crashed to much. The reader reply (an IT guy) stated that he wasn't recommending Flash be installed on the OSX machines that he administrated because of reliability issues and crashes.

I admit I don't do a lot with Flash these days except view content, but considering the fact that I am hearing so much in the way of community backlash about this, it would seem like Adobe with all it's great resources, should be working harder to identify these problems. Someone was talking with me the other day about this at a Mac user group and of course he was exaggerating, but he asked the question that "boy wouldn't it be funny if we found out 1/3 to a half of all the computer crashes over the Internet were from Faulty Flash Player installs ? ".

I really hope that's not the case but I wonder if Adobe has a reporting customer feedback mechanism in the Flash player that identifies this stuff and brings it back to them. I also wonder if they are doing anything about it.. When CS3 came out Adobe was very anti x64 Windows support, but I hear this happens on other OSes and 32-bit Windows (including XP). I am really wondering what kind of things they do to fix errors and find out about them, etc.

Maybe, someone from Adobe will be nice enough to comment on these issues and the crashing issues (or at least acknowledge it). At least with Microsoft stuff (and other vendors) most now have a "customer improvement program" that tracks reliability and crashing and logs and reports errors back. I'd like to see Flash have this too.. It also could be poorly written Flash content out on the Internet causing this as well (something well beyond Adobe's control).

Of course most people see IE 7 crashed and they don't look further than to blame Microsoft.. It's nice that you can at least with Vista find out these things.. Any insight into this Adobe? Of course you will probably minimize the crashing thing being a problem, but I am keeping a list of these issues when I see someone on the Internet writing about these kinds of problems, so I can revisit this with you folks..

Monday, March 24, 2008

Microsoft Releases Expression Professional Subscription

by Don Burnett

Microsoft has released the Expression Professional Subscription program. The package gives you the following products..


  • Expression Studio
  • Visual Studio Standard Edition
  • Office Standard Edition
  • Office Visio Professional
  • Windows XP
  • Windows Vista Business Edition
  • Virtual PC
  • Pre-configured virtualized server environments..


COST: The Expression Professional Subscription will be available for purchase in the first half of 2008 for US$999 ERP.

REVIEW: There are a few "gotchas" here that you need to know about, but this is a great value proposition for your designers..

Okay let's talk about the what you gets and the why's...

Expression Studio- (Does this include updates to 2.0 and later if they are released in your subscription year? I'd expect so but don't quote me on that.)

Visual Studio Standard- Because you probably need to get into it even if you don't code in it so you can share projects.. (Looks like no version control with this package, that question is still up in the air?).

Office Visio Professional- This is a great tool for diagramming things including work flows and processes.. I believe there is a 3rd party XAML exporter for it already. This is a great tool that most interaction designers use already.

Windows XP- No doubt for backward compatibility testing. Remember WPF and Silverlight applications run on XP, it just doesn't have any hardware acceleration for XP's graphics.

Windows Vista Business Edition- Now this is a little confusing to me as to why they included the Business SKU of Vista. There are several things missing from it as a designer that you'll want, including MPEG-2 dvd playback. There is no MEDIA CENTER functions built into this version and it doesn't playback all compressed data types like Mpeg-2..

With this edition you'll have to buy this separately from 3rd party vendors. Vista Business is not the best solution because it limits the playable/encode capable datatypes without buying more encoding software.

Also if you are developing a XAML based Media Center application here you are out of luck because it comes with NO built-in Media Center. You'll have to upgrade to ultimate anyway.

Virtual PC- Again some people use this but I hear it has some issues with WPF 3D. I know some agency folks who have Macs who run a virtual Windows PC, but this is not what this is. It's virtual PC for the PC. Which lets you create "separate" virtual environments to work from and test with. They are supposed to include pre-made images to get you working and testing.  It's very obvious that one of the developer guys decided on this addition to the subscription. I am not sure if developers really understand how designers test things including designs, even at Microsoft.

Last time I had heard however that Virtual PC doesn't implement the latest DirectX, so if you use this to develop applications you probably won't be getting full speed or hardware accelerated graphics to develop your WPF graphics on. I am not sure WPF 3D works either in this configuration completely either.. Survey says "great idea", not ideal implementation.

Creating a separate testing and design environment is a good idea, but if you have actually tried to develop with this there are certain "gotchas" there..

Whoever put this subscription idea together, it's a good one, I just think there wasn't enough review of the technical specifications behind it and decisions about what it should include. Of course no one asks me about this kind of thing.. Virtual PC is not something you'll be wanting to test your 2D and 3D animation design on. You won't be able to check accurate Frames Per Second rates and be sure that the screen is updating properly. For a designer that's very important, for a developer *NOT SO MUCH* so please don't test install and use Blend in Virtual PC it's a bad idea for designers.

But if you know all of these things it sounds like a great idea and gives a designer a whole stable of software to work from. Now if they'd just take my suggestion and add Office Live Workspaces to this subscription I'd think they'd have a real winner on their hands.

You can use this free online tool to collaborate with your clients, do art approvals, project tracking all in one free online location.  Don't take my word for it though, sign up for it today for free.. That's one thing no one else has or is giving as part of their services free collaboration and project management for your clients. Play on par with your clients as if you were a bigger organization.

Overall Impressions:

All in all it's a great value for a business wanting to equip their designers.. I would like to see them expand this kit with discount coupons for third party products like Techsmith's Morae Usability testing software. Which would be a great value add to this kit..

Good Advice for People Upgrading/Updating

By Don Burnett


I don't care which OS you have, OSX recently had a huge security update (security holes in MacOS my, oh my!) that wreaked havoc on users machines who did the software update. Linux has had driver problems including unavailable drivers for sometime. The last time I installed linux and added an nVidia hardware accelerated 3d driver, when the driver compiled and installed it crashed the kernal and I had to reinstall with no ideas to why this was happening even though I supposedly was on the right release and the package manager had downloaded for me..

So please fanboys of Linux and Apple stop trying to claim that you are better. I own machines with both OSes installed and frankly you just aren't any better at all. This is something we all have to deal with. Don't give up get some help, when you run into stuff like this. "Switching" just gets you a different set of problems..


Vista Upgrade Path

As for Windows Vista, people with a sygmatel audio chip are complaining because their motherboard and chip doesn't work (that's some non-recent Dell machines)? Well if you think how many machines are out there with different motherboards and chips? If you actually look at the numbers, it would be amazing if Microsoft could test every single board and resource on the planet. It's really not their responsibility though they have safeguards in place.

So you bought from a company that used a cheap audio or model chip and the chip maker either went out or put it in the hands of the hardware seller to support. Frankly this isn't Microsoft's fault, it's the folks at Dell or HP or anywhere else to support specific features of their hardware models. I can hardly feel that Microsoft should be held responsible for a part of the OS they don't package.

If the drivers come on a separate disc from the manufacturer of the hardware blame them, and remember the next time you buy hardware the problem you went through so you don't have it again.. Microsoft will do all they can and they do, but if the hardware maker goes up the river then what do you do? I have been stung by this in more than one Windows update cycle myself. I know Mac owners who had to throw out full systems because their computers weren't compatible with the OS X version of the OS a few years ago. Hardware that wasn't fast but perfectly useable with the old OS..

Is there a Solution?

How do I get around that, I make sure that I have a standard "supported" chipset in any machine I buy. It's simply not good enough to say I bought a "Lenovo, a Dell, or an HP"... Learn to read the hardware specs and ask questions. If they won't tell you who makes it don't buy it. I feel safe with ATI/AMD and Nvidia nforce chipsets. Hold the CPU maker responsible make them update you to something that is supportable and sustainable. A good thing to do is check the hardware specs with the list of drivers in Microsoft documentation. If all the main drivers come on the Vista installer from Microsoft then you are good.

Also don't expect your 4-5 year old machine to be completely compatible with the next version of "Windows".. It's called LEGACY hardware.. You buy a system with drivers and software certified for that machine at time of release. The manufacturer usually only supports what they have released or bundled.

Missing Drivers? Microsoft is not to blame..

Microsoft has given driver manufacturers uprecedented early access to Vista and offered help with driver development to them. More than one company (third party) didn't even start their driver development before Vista shipped. Microsoft warned these folks, if they didn't start updating I'd consider it the 3rd party company's problem, like a certain big sound card maker that started sound with the PC industry.

It's best to be an educated user, back up your machine before you update anything, and be sure you have the right drivers and updates for your hardware.. It will make your life a whole lot easier.. Demand more from whoever you buy your hardware from as a consumer as well. Don't let them sell it as a "throw away" in a couple years type of sale. Above all keep your machine secure with anti-virus and malware protection.

For those looking to go back to XP? Why? you can in about 5 minutes turn off User Account Control, go back to the old look and feel (change your preference setttings) and you'll still have a much more secure OS and probably just as useable. There are several websites that are out there that will show you how to do this. In five years, I don't think you'll be looking back at this anyway. It's nice to see that XP is a great user experience that has so many people that like it though.  With Vista you get a completely re-written OS with security as a first thought, not as a re-write. Sure that security might be a tad slower (I haven't noticed myself) to work with but when your cursing your machine because you have to reformat or re-install or take that into your dealer for them to work on it, you might be glad you had a bit "slower" OS.. I don't actually believe though it's any bit slower.. Plus you get WCF,WPF, and other goodness in Vista, stuff you don't see but will make way cooler graphical applications possible that isn't on XP.. Also support for bigger memory sizes is there..