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Xamlon's Quest: Bring Devs to XAML

A software tools maker is staking its future on helping developers prepare for streamlined coding for Web services as well as Avalon, the graphics display component in the works for Longhorn, Microsoft's next version of Windows.

On Monday, Xamlon, a La Jolla, Calif.-based company, released Xamlon 1.0, an application development package developers can use to begin coding in XAML immediately. XAML lets developers separate user interface code from application logic, so that they can change the user interface without rewriting logic and event-handling code.

Longhorn, Microsoft's next-generation operating system, expected in 2006, will contain Avalon, an advanced graphics subsystem based on XAML, a declarative, Web services-oriented XML-based markup language.

"XAML is to Avalon what HTML is to the Web," said Xamlon founder and CEO Paul Colton. Colton saw demonstrations of XAML at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference last fall. He said he decided not to wait for Longhorn and wants to provide software to let developers code in XAML as soon as possible.

"XAML is important because it brings together the best of two worlds," said Mike Sax, CEO of Sax Software, a maker of components for applications. "One world is HTML, which works very well over the Internet and lets you design very graphically rich pages that are appealing, engaging, and intuitive. The other world is that of more traditional windows systems like Java Swing, Windows, and Mac interfaces which give you lots of control and a very high level of user interaction."

Sax said XAML makes it very easy to integrate animation, panning and zooming, and other interactive graphic elements. The protocol makes it easier to send instructions for user actions from server to client, so application can live partly on the server and partly on the client.

Peter O'Kelly, a senior analyst with IT research firm Burton Group, expects some debate and division about the new development methods with XAML. But, he added, "it will make an entire class of devs more productive than they were. It will let design-oriented people create part of the user interface without having to get into Vulcan mind melds with the people producing the functionality."

Xamlon 1.0 is targeting developers building software in Microsoft's .NET Framework . The product contains a runtime engine and toolset that let developers build XAML applications for current versions of Windows that will port easily to future platforms.

"I didn't see that it really required waiting for the new operating system," Colton said. "Let's take that piece of XAML we shouldn't have to wait for and provide it as a tool for developers right now."

Xamlon 1.0 includes a royalty-free XAML engine for the .NET framework for all current versions of Windows and IE, Windows 98 and above, plus converters for graphics files made with traditional drawing apps such as Adobe Illustrator. Xamlon also will host online tutorials and community features. "We want to be everything XAML," Colton said.

XAML is Microsoft's proprietary extension to the XML standard, and Colton said that it's not clear whether his company might face the need to license Microsoft's tech in the future.

Microsoft's licensing plans for XAML remain vague, said O'Kelly. "This will be interesting litmus test for Microsoft," he said. "Will they put it into open source? If Microsoft says, 'This is important for developers, and we're putting heavy IP protection on it,' a lot of developers will have problems with it."

Sax wasn't sure how much of a future Xamlon has against upcoming developer toolsets. "Visual Studio will probably eclipse Xamlon as a development tool for building XAML apps, and now that Avalon will be available on older versions of Windows, the runtime loses much of its appeal." He said Xamlon could help move XAML to other platforms, especially the Mono project, an open source application that lets Linux, UNIX and other Mono-supported platform programmers create .NET apps.

"It's not our goal to compete with Microsoft," Colton said. He figures the company has two years to sell development tools before Microsoft enables XAML development in Visual Studio and Longhorn. He plans to continue to advance the tools, then move the company's offerings toward training and support. "They're giving us this great lead time to hone our tools," he said.

O'Kelly said the faster developers start working with XAML, the better for Microsoft. "The more people who can explore something and provide feedback, the better it will be."