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Microsoft targets programming newbies with new Vedea visualization language

In mid-November, Microsoft researchers dropped a few hints about a new visualization language, codenamed Vedea, that was coming from Microsoft. On December 3, via a blog post, Microsoft officials provided more specifics about it.
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Written by Mary Jo Foley, Contributor on

In mid-November, Microsoft researchers dropped a few hints about a new visualization language, codenamed Vedea, that was coming from Microsoft. On December 3, via a blog post, Microsoft officials provided more specifics about it.

Vedea is a prototype experimental language designed by Microsoft Research UK that is aimed at helping users create interactive infographics, data visualizations and computational art. Vedea is patterned after the Processing language (http://processing.org), according to the Softies. A downloadable test build of the Vedea will be available early in 2010, according to the December 3 blog post by Microsoft UK Researcher Martin Calsyn.

Like Processing, Vedea's target audience isn't traditional programmers. Calsyn explained:

"(Vedea) is designed to be accessible to people who are either new to programming or whose primary domain of expertise is something other than programming. We wanted to give those users a tool that they can use to realize their own vision and visualizations without having to engage skilled programmers, but have it be an environment that skilled programmers would not find limiting."

Calsyn noted that Vedea is a project of the Microsoft Computational Science Studio (MCSS). The MCSS unit also is the team behind the recently introduced Microsoft Computational Science Studio, a “a tool for enabling non-programmer scientists and researchers to harness vast amounts of storage and compute power for running the multi-scale models that are needed to truly understand and predict complex natural systems."

MCSS performs a lot of modeling and computation work that requires a way to help users visualize the results. Calsyn elaborated:

"Simple charts are ok in general for simple data sets, but not for facilitating deep interactive exploration of data with many dimensions or for facilitating the type of exploration that leads to speculative visual exploration or visually-inspired "aha" moments."

The kinds of infographics that Vedea is designed to create aren't the usual pie charts or bar charts. Calsyn notes that the more advanced infographics created using Vedea will combine color, hierarchy, shape and line into new, more complex visuals. The graphics features in Vedea build on the native capabilities of XNA and GDI, he blogged. Vedea programs can be edited in Notepad or via an HTML text input and are compiled by the Vedea runtime, he said.

Vedea also is built on the forthcoming .Net 4.0 Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR), Calsyn said, and is dynamically typed. Syntactically, Vedea looks a lot like C#, he said, with a few distinctions. He blogged:

"In its simplest form though, there are no class decorations – just a collection of functions.  You can introduce classes if you want to do object-oriented programming, but they are not required and your topmost functions aren’t wrapped in any of the syntactic trappings of a class."

Because Vedea is a Microsoft Research project, there's no guarantee as to if or when it will become a commercial product or incorporated into a commercial product. But given the fact that Processing is being taught in an increasing number of universities, I'd bet Microsoft will want to make sure it grabs a piece of the visulization mindshare among academics and students.

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