3-D Graphics, Sparkle Get Their Due at PDC

LOS ANGELES — Anyone who has seen Steve Ballmer’s famous video clip or stage presence knows the intensity of Microsoft’s feelings for developers (developers, developers, developers . . . ).

That was evident again during the opening days of the company’s Professional Developer Conference (PDC) this week, when more than 7,000 code-writers saw new versions of the Vista operating system and Office suite.

Today, the Redmond, Wash., software giant had something for designers, offering a demonstration of the 3D animation tool Sparkle Interactive Designer.

Some industry-watchers have dubbed Sparkle a “Flash-killer,” because it could present an alternative to Macromedia’s industry-leading Flash MX and Director MX programs.

Others believe Microsoft’s primary motivation is to encourage new applications that will take advantage of the slick graphics features in Vista. Vista and other upcoming Microsoft efforts are designed to take advantage of better multi-media, thanks to growing broadband speeds and faster microprocessors.

Office 12
Click on the graphic for a larger view (Source: Microsoft)

It’s still unclear whether Sparkle will be ready at the same time as Vista, which is slated for release next year.

Sparkle will be part of Microsoft’s Expression suite. The package also includes: Acrylic, for 2D and 3D graphics tool; and Quartz Web Designer, for Web pages. The underpinnings of the suite came from Microsoft’s purchase of Creature House in the fall of 2003.

The key advantage of Expression is that it cuts down on labor-intensive and time-consuming work of developing sites with multiple animation aspect. It is also built on Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML, pronounced “zaml,” a standard language for online transactions) to conserve processing power and encourage interoperability with other development programs.

“Historically it has been difficult for designers and developers to work together — the tools weren’t well integrated,” David Treadwell, vice president in charge of the Expression, said in a keynote address. “Designers would throw [a prototype] over the wall and developers would try to replicate it.”

For users, sites built using Expression suite, should run smoothly without the fits and starts that sometimes accompany rich-media sites.

With Expression, images, video and text are easily integrated and automatically scaled when users shrink or expand the window.

Treadwell said sites built with existing tools compared to new Expression suite will be the difference between the black-and-white TV of the 1950s and the large-screen high-definition sets of today.

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