Like most techie geeks, our developers like to play with the latest technology and explore what’s possible. Sometimes they even get the chance to do it as part of their job…
Folks who have seen Thomas Koetzing’s peek at the upcoming version of the XenApp Web Interface component will be aware that we’ve made some fairly major changes to the look and feel. Certainly this is the most significant design uplift since WI (originally known as NFuse) was first released in 1999. As you can imagine we’re really excited by this, and we hope you’ll not only like the new sleek look, but find the usability improvements we’ve made genuinely useful. It’s been in the works for a good long time (getting on for 2 years).
However that isn’t what I wanted to highlight just yet (I’m hoping to get the people who were deeply involved in doing the usability work and defining and refining the design to talk about it). Instead I’d like to show you something else we prototyped late last year, as part of some work to explore new user interface concepts and technologies. If you follow developments in the web development world at all, you will have heard about Silverlight, the new cross platform browser-base rich internet application framework Microsoft is creating. Derek Thorslund linked to the blog announcement this week from the Microsoft team busy working on Silverlight 2.0.
From our perspective, this is pretty neat stuff. Citrix is already a very heavy user of Microsoft technologies, and our UI and Visual design teams have been eagerly following what Microsoft has been doing in building a strong design/code separation into WPF and now Silverlight. For them, the ability to easily and safely update our product UIs without disrupting the code (oh I don’t know, because someone wanted to change the look and names of a few products let’s say…) – THAT would be the holy grail for them.
But WPF and Silverlight also offer a great chance to start being more expressive and trying out fresh approaches to UI tasks. As it happens, WI is the most commonly used interface for people to get access to Citrix delivered apps, so it is a natural one to focus on. So we let a couple of developers loose with some simple instructions: learn about Silverlight and come up with something that looks cool. Well, they didn’t give us cool: they gave us bling – lots of bling! Have a look…
If you like that, have a look at this short video clip to get a better sense for what else it can do. (You’ll need the Techsmith codec.) By the way, something cool that you can’t tell from just looking is that it’s powered by a new set of web service interfaces we’re prototyping, designed to allow custom UIs to be built by all sorts of people (including us). Actually, they aren’t totally new; the first generation shipped inside the Web Interface integration for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server - give that a try if you’re using SharePoint, it works with the Windows SharePoint Services component of Windows Server 2003 as well.
Interestingly, our techie guys, along with a lot of other early adopter developers, gave Microsoft some pretty detailed feedback on what was good and what was missing from the early alpha. With the 1.1 alpha lots of standard UI controls were missing, leaving fairly low-level drawing primitives as the main tool to use, which ironically forced us to be more creative and come up with something that looks really new. However it’s great to see Microsoft is addressing the many gaps in a very major way! (See Scott Guthrie’s post for a lot more detail on what is now going to be the 2.0 version.)
Now, is this really a good user interface? I don’t know – it was a learning exercise, and a nice way to test whether our service interfaces are good ones. But will we really ever do a Silverlight front-end to XenApp though? Now that’s a very good question….
Would you like us to?