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Avalon Take 2

The initial promise of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) got somewhat muddled in the execution. With WPF 3.0 (aka Avalon), many developers were unclear on what to do with the Windows client technology, and the majority didn't have the skills (manual coding and hardcore XAML) or tools (in progress Visual Designer) to use it. With WPF 4.0 and Visual Studio (VS) 2010 expected in beta next month, developers can look forward to drastic improvements.

Microsoft is bringing the drag-and-drop databinding that appeared in VS 2005 for Windows Forms to WPF in VS 2010. The WPF tooling will support entities from the new ADO.NET Entity Data Model in VS 2008 SP1 as one of the options in the data sources window, along with DataSets and Web services. Now you can wire the controls in your application to your database and other data sources in a reasonable amount of time -- RAD, anyone? Milind Lele, a program manager on the Visual Studio Pro Tools team, explains more about this functionality on channel 9 and in his blog.

For Microsoft, the stakes have never been higher. WPF 4.0 is the new face of VS 2010. As most developers know by now, Microsoft has rebuilt the VS 2010 UI shell on its emergent technology. Several developers commented on the new look and their expectations in the "IDE Evolution" cover story in this month's Visual Studio Magazine.
As Mary Jo Foley explained in her blog back in 2006, the codename for the original WPF, "Avalon," is an area in medieval England known for the hardest "cider." This time around, developers can utter a collective sigh of relief as the VS 2010 WPF Designer tooling (aka "Cider") ostensibly eliminates some of the headaches that the earlier versions caused.

"I think Visual Studio 2010 is going to bring a much better way of doing databinding in the editor, better layout in the editor, better property editing in the editor," said Infragistics Director of Product Management Jason Beres in an interview last month. Beres expects the databinding improvements to drive WPF adoption.
"If you look at VS 2008 as version 1 for WPF development, this is version 2, where they have gotten a lot of feedback and they are going to implement it," he said.

This week, Infragistics is releasing a milestone upgrade to its NetAdvantage for .NET 2009 Volume 1. The suite provides controls and tooling for WPF, WinForms, ASP.NET and, in June, Silverlight 3 line-of-business controls. Infragistics is also focused on parity between the tooling for various platforms -- the new xamDataGrid, for example, is similar for both WinForms and WPF.

"That is sort of where we are going," said Anthony Lombardo, Infragistics' lead technology evangelist, earlier this week. "We're also bringing more Excel-like functionality into the grid controls," he said, pointing to areas such as the filter UIs.  

Even so, with so many platforms to choose from for line-of-business apps, how can developers pick the right tooling for their Windows client and RIA applications? Silverlight 3 will run outside of the browser. And some developers think that WPF can be used for Web apps because it runs inside of the browser, according to Lombardo.

"You look at Silverlight running outside of the browser -- is that a rich client app? It's not really," he said. "There's still parts of the framework that you cannot do even running outside of the browser. You are going to have a sandbox. It is going to be difficult to do certain things that you can do with WPF easily. There are going to be reasons to choose one platform over another."

With WPF 4.0, Silverlight 3, ASP.NET 4.0 and VS 2010 incoming, how do you weigh the tradeoffs and make the best technology decisions for your apps? Express your tips, hard-won experience or frustrations on the Web below or contact me directly at [email protected].

Posted by Kathleen Richards on 04/07/2009

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