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Dean Guida, CEO, Infragistics

Dean GuidaMicrosoft's Windows Vista is heading for a major close-up next month at the company's Professional Developers' Conference.

That means companies that make a living in Windows programming tools are gearing up too, and taking stock of trends, tools and issues.

New Jersey-based Infragistics is one of those companies. The maker of presentation layer development tools in .NET and Java environments plans to unveil new components tools that help designers be programmers and vice-versa.

The CEO of Infragistics, Dean Guida, spoke with internetnews.com about the changes in application development for the Web, skill sets that are in demand, and advice for programmers.

Q: Microsoft's Professional Developers' Conference is next month in Los Angeles. So you're a major sponsor this year and the buildup is on. What are you working on ahead of the conference?

The PDC has always been a very important event for us. It's where Microsoft architects and senior leaders provide opportunities to discuss new technology and platforms. We take the same tack: PDC is a benchmark for working with new technology.

[For example,] at the PDC in 2003, we showed the first for Avalon, [the presentation subset for the version of Windows then-called Longhorn]. So we've had an investment for two years now, with a team working on rich media controls for Avalon.

We also have a design team of computer scientists that are also excellent designers for brochures for ads and different layouts. They have knowledge of the development process. We'll be taking some of that experience with us when Microsoft launches its Windows Presentation Foundation [which is what Avalon is now called].

Q: Can you talk about what the graphic representation capabilities of the Vista mean for designers and programmers?

The controls we built for Avalon are styled for designers. That means a whole new workflow of making applications look good and how you style them. We're capturing that in our components, so you can literally have designers drive the look and feel of the [Infragistics] components.

Right now, [in the development process], you have business people and designers prototyping how applications should look and be captured. The way it works now, sometimes the design plans are put forth in Powerpoint, or Photoshop, to show quick prototypes. Sometimes it's on pieces of paper or whiteboards.

They then throw that to the developer team and say build. Sometimes they can build what's cooked up on Photoshop, or they have to build something brand new. It's a huge duplication of effort, and the costs don't often justify that investment.

What's happening today is that our teams are making design part of our R&D effort to make sure object model components can be styled by designers.

Q: What kind of rich media applications? Can you give us examples?

Today, for example, when a developer builds an application, you have to show data in rows of a grid. Then they do the styling [such as look, feel, and layout through properties inside developer tools. Where we're going with controls is that they can show the data, but the designer job is the next stop of process. They control the look and feel, color. It puts the designer more in control.

The data can be navigated in a more 3D mode, such as like a Rolodex, with cards coming out and moving forward on the screen to reveal even more information. That's what we're doing with Avalon: incorporating video, audio, 3D and animation [into programming tools.] It's bridging the gap with rich components that can be styled and programmed by developers. It gives them more ways to navigate and present the data.

The thing about a rich user experience is that it's a rich expression of data. These rich media applications help absorb material faster, and not be confused by all this information coming at you on the screen. Using video and audio to convey a lot of data, but not letting it overwhelm you.

Q: So what does this tell us about trends with computing?

It's about building Web applications. Web-based computing is becoming more and more important. And how people access information over the Web, everyday, at home, going to the store, and in business. People want better access to information, which is why mobile phone applications are very important for rich media. People expect a lot of their computers today. We want them to be engaged, excited and wowed. So the next generation of consumers is not going to be accepting of a flat user interface. They want movement, engagement, things talking to them, sound, and to interact with it quickly.

If you think of that movie "Minority Report," how they moved 3D information around, it's becoming more like that with computer graphics and data representation. We're really moving toward that in a more engaging way.

Another huge trend is globalization of workgroups. Workgroups are all over the globe, but ways to facilitate workgroups are still archaic. Video conferencing and VoIP are OK, but they're not at the point where it's all that easy to work remotely in the same room. That's going to get better: the ability to collaborate and share information from different time zones and continents.

Q: Speaking of skill sets, lots of developer jobs are getting outsourced, shipped overseas. What's your advice to programmers on how to cope with this trend?

First, I'd say not to be discouraged about outsourcing. At the same time, it's a strong trend. A lot of code construction is going to cheaper labor markets. I'm a big proponent of engineering. I would tell programmers to focus on engineering and on understanding your data and business process. That's a safe area: The whole business process engineering arena and how things flow is a great area to go into. At the same time, the styling, look and feel of applications is mostly a cultural thing, and it's an area with a lot of interaction. So, there's just so much data work you can ship overseas.

I'm a big proponent of people staying in engineering. If we don't have strong engineering skills in the U.S. we have to bring them in from abroad as opposed to having it here and bringing that into the market. Developer skills are in demand. In fact, we're hiring like mad here. So if people are worried about jobs going overseas, you can tell them we're hiring. Just go to our Website [http://www.infragistics.com].