The soon to be released Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R3 will contain a new Silverlight for Windows Embedded that will change the way great applications are developed. There are some videos available on the Windows Embedded WEB site that explain this new feature better than I can, but I want to give you a quick overview.
Silverlight for Windows Embedded is not the same Silverlight that you may have seen being used by WEB sites. Instead it is a subset of the browser plug in designed to be used by stand alone applications. Silverlight is a fancy marketing name for a XAML (pronounced zamel – rhymes with camel) engine. XAML is special case of XML, a markup language. The XAML file describes the user interface and the engine interprets it to draw to the display.
The development process will change to include a designer who is a non-technical person who can design the user experience. If you have worked with a designer before for app development, the designer may have drawn the user interface design, but then a Software Engineer had to write code to implement the user interface (UI) and the logic behind it. Now the designer will use Microsoft’s Expression Blend tool to draw the UI and deliver a XAML file to the Software Engineer. The Software Engineer will then create the logic behind the user interface, but won’t actually write code to draw the UI.
How does this work? The Software Engineer will use the XAML API to integrate the XAML file into the project. This can be done by including the XAML file as a resource or by opening the XAML file at runtime. Yes, that means that you could actually have different XAML files to present different users with different user experiences.
The Software Engineer then creates the logic for the application as event handlers for the things that happen in the user interface.
I had a chance to experience this a little today in a Hands on Lab at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) Boston. I took the side of the designer and created a slick little progress component that beat the heck of the usual slider bar in looks (well if I were a better graphics artist it would have anyway.)   From this I can see how Silverlight for Windows Embedded will encourage and enable better user experiences for embedded applications.
The upside is that the user interface for embedded devices will most certainly improve; the downside is that the XAML engine will increase the OS footprint. I don’t yet have any size estimate for the XAML engine as it was released, but in the spring the estimate was between 1 and 2 MB.
Copyright © 2009 – Bruce Eitman
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