Silverlight at MIX10: New Framework Tracks Web Analytics

Microsoft is announcing a Silverlight Analytics Framework at its MIX10 conference next week that goes beyond Web analytics to enable developers to use instrumentation to track usage patterns for Silverlight applications running in or out of the browser. The free, open source framework will be made available on Monday on CodePlex.

Silverlight news will play a major part in Microsoft's annual MIX10 conference for Web developers and designers in Las Vegas, March 15-17.

On Monday, Microsoft is expected to officially announce the application development platform for the upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series devices, which are slated to reach retail this fall. The Windows Phone 7 Series platform is based on Silverlight and XNA.

The release of Silverlight 4, made available in beta in November at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, is also anticipated during the MIX conference.

The new Analytics Framework for Microsoft's RIA technology enables Web developers and designers to instrument their applications visually using behaviors in Microsoft's Expression Blend design tool without writing code. Designers can track how people are consuming and interacting with Silverlight applications. The framework also supports A/B tests -- alternate versions of the same page-- and Microsoft's SketchFlow tool, which is used to prototype applications.

Web analytics are commonly implemented using JavaScript tags on HTML pages with the collected data sent to third-party analytics vendors. Tracking events is more complicated for media-oriented applications and not possible for out of browser or offline Silverlight scenarios, which are supported in the latest release of the technology, Silverlight 3.

The Silverlight Analytics Framework is designed to enable Web analytics solution providers such as Google Analytics and Webtrends to write one module to collect event data in all of the different Silverlight application scenarios, online or off.

"We also wanted to support multiple analytics services simultaneously," said Michael Scherotter, Microsoft media evangelist and the principal architect of the framework. Multiple analytics vendors hooking into an application using different mechanisms can interfere with performance and appear as glitches to end users, he explained.

NBC Olympics used multiple analytic services recently to track the Silverlight application and media player it used to provide coverage of the Vancouver Winter Games. "The requirements from their advertisers and business users required them to have six different analytics vendors hooked into their application to measure audio, video and quality of experience," said Scherotter.

The source code for the media player, which supports IIS Smooth Streaming and DVR controls, was released in the Silverlight Media Framework in December on CodePlex. It currently has a limited license--the source code is under review for Ms-PL. The Silverlight Media Framework works directly with the new Silverlight Analytics Framework to enable logging of video experiences, according to Scherotter.

Microsoft is partnering with several analytics and controls vendors to enable analytics providers for the framework. Partners will be announced at the launch.

PreEmptive Solutions is among the launch partners, providing support for the Silverlight Analytics Framework data model inside of Expression Blend with the community edition of its Runtime Intelligence, a post compile injection technology for application performance and usage monitoring, which ships in the Dotfuscator Software Services in Visual Studio 2010.

"You can have the front-end Web analytics all the way to the back-end business scenarios aggregated together," said Gabriel Torok, PreEmptive's chief executive officer. "That's why I'm really excited about this."

Next generation app development is going to include a lot more feedback, particularly in Agile scenarios, said Torok, who noted that bigger companies like Microsoft already track information on usage patterns and performance. "We don't have to guess about what users are doing, performance, and stability -- all that information is going to be collected and rolled back into actionable data," he said.

The launch of the framework is scheduled during a MIX session given by Scherotter. The Microsoft Silverlight Analytics Framework session, scheduled for 2:00 PST on Monday, was added to the MIX agenda this week. Partner announcements are expected at that time.

The Silverlight Analytics Framework supports SL3, Expression Blend 3 and Visual Studio 2008. Future plans, namely framework support for Silverlight 4 and the Windows Phone 7 Series platform, and licensing information will be discussed during the MIX session, according to Scherotter. The framework is slated for release March 15 on CodePlex.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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