How did I end up working with Windows Presentation Foundation?

October 9, 2006 7:20 am

In one of my past posts, I talked a little about my impressions of Vista as a platform for software developers. Here’s the story of how I got involved with WPF.

My last two projects before starting on WPF were built around hosting IE in “something”.

The first “something” was an exe hosting IE and adding a bunch of window.external functionality. I took the lead in moving a somewhat old, pretty static UI infrastructure for presenting internet-updatable content to the XML/CSS/XSLT age. That involved a lot of using dynamic expressions to enable reflowing of the UI for different monitor sizes (the app was a fullscreen app). Towards the end of that project I started hearing about an XML-based application development thing coming from Microsoft, and I remember thinking “How cool! No more need for the mess of HTML / CSS / XSLT and JScript/dynamic expressions to glue it together.”

 The second “something” was an application for Windows Media Center, which at the time only offered hosted IE as its application development model (with a bunch of window.external functionality thrown in to get at the Media Center stuff, similar to how our exe had worked). Three of us wrote a pretty interesting little application that shipped for about a year and then was discontinued when circumstances changed on us drastically. Around the time this happened, the XML-based app development thing from Microsoft, better known then as “Avalon”, took more shape.

I was lucky enough to get to experience the energy that Microsoft projected at PDC05. It felt like an explosion of enthusiasm around the newly re-christened “Windows Presentation Foundation”. My eyes were popping at Greg Schechter’s talk. Manuel Clement’s talk was chock-full infectious excitement. I wanted to work with this new stuff.

Luckily the project(s) we were given to work on next required a level of “polish” that I doubted we could achieve using HTML, WinForms or any other technology we were proficient in. I advocated strongly for using WPF, and for some reason management went along. One of the requirements for one of the projects was that it had to run under Vista and more specifically under Media Center to get a great user experience. The level of “polish” that was required pretty much ruled out using HTML. We could have done all ActiveX controls, I suppose, or an HTML/Flash hybrid, but none of us had the required expertise to implement that, and the time frame was extremely tight to begin with.

To me the only way to solve the problem was using the incredible leverage of WPF to “get things done”, even with the steep, steep initial learning curve. I worked on some throw-away applications just to show my manager that this new platform had incredible potential and that I would be able to pick it up quickly enough to work with it seriously. He liked what he saw. The rest is material for another post. Let me just say now that the devil is in the details, and we had lots of challenges on the project overall. Once it’s out there I can talk more about it, but not yet.

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