Microsoft has this week used its MIX08 event in Las Vegas to announce beta releases of web tools including Internet Explorer 8, Silverlight 2 and Expression Studio 2 products.
Along with IE8, the new versions of Silverlight and Expression Studio are targeted at web professionals at a time when the company is making a direct series of moves to align itself more closely within the rich internet application space.
Coming soon after the company's recent acquisition bid for Yahoo, Microsoft says these product enhancements will bridge the developer-to-designer workflow gap and help to build more interactive applications for the desktop, the web and mobile devices.
"The web is at the centre of everything Microsoft is doing," said Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect. "The investments we're making will enable developers and designers to deliver a range of connected experiences across the continuum of web applications, rich clients and other devices."
Internet Explorer 8's new features include the Activities and WebSlices tools for developers to introduce news ways for users to stay connected to the content and services of their choice. Developers and other users can download Internet Explorer 8 in beta 1 format from the web.
Newly enhanced with a software development kit for in-stream advertising, Microsoft's Silverlight 2 programming model is designed for developing and distributing rich internet applications that use graphics, animations or video within the .Net framework. Microsoft says that providing the tools to deploy and accurately track advertising will be key to making rich internet applications commercially viable.
"With Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari out there, we really don't need another web browser these days," said Keith Smith, director of product management for Microsoft's developer tools division.."What we need to do is to focus on the 'scenario' that users are in when they connect with their applications. If they're playing with an online music application, they need to be able to unplug and be mobile. Browser-based applications, supported by effective advertising that can be taken offline and work with local device processing power, represent the way ahead."
Also announced at MIX08 was the beta of Microsoft's graphics and media design toolkit Expression Studio 2. Supported by the Visual Studio integrated development environment, the new product now supports the HTML embedded scripting language PHP and also features a preview version of the Expression Blend website animation tool.
"As we provide animation tools to bring static pages to life, there's always a danger of over-use in the same way we saw with Flash during its early days," said Microsoft's Smith. "But given time, I'm sure best practices will develop and, if there is a little too much animation to begin with, then maybe that's just part and parcel of the creative process as we get used to seeing more engaging web pages."
Expression Studio 2 and Silverlight 2 are available as free trial versions from the Microsoft Expression website along with a collection of community resources including forums, blogs and news.