Microsoft: This free Windows 10 app lets developers express themselves in pixels

Microsoft offers a new platform for aspiring developers interested in building web apps with JavaScript-based TypeScript and hardware programming with C++.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Microsoft Research has released a new app called "Expressive Pixels" that gives makers a new tool to create animations for LED displays or to insert as animated GIFs into emails.

The free Microsoft app is available now from the Microsoft Store and offers technically adept Windows 10 users a new way to create animations like Emojis to display on LED screens. 

Taking a leaf from the hugely popular Raspberry Pi hardware, Microsoft hopes Expressive Pixels software inspires up-and-coming developers to take a leap towards becoming fully fledged developers. 

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Microsoft is pitching the app as a way to "expand non-verbal communication, drive creative applications for developers to use via open source APIs and lower the barrier to entry for aspiring programmers, designers and researchers."

Besides the app, Microsoft Research has released firmware source code so that users of Expressive Pixels can interact with the hardware to create LED display communications. 

Microsoft's software library handles all the animations and images to make it easier for programmers of varying degrees of expertise to create works for LED displays. 

Microsoft Research has also published nine short videos on YouTube that explain how to use the app to create layers and fragments in animations, how to create and export animations and how to manage animation galleries.   

The company first released Expressive Pixels in 2017 as an "authoring tool tailored to producing visuals for LED matrixed displays" with firmware and open-sourced code that was "tailored to run on ARM Cortex M0 and above embedded Arduino platforms". 

"Microsoft Expressive Pixels is an open source release so makers everywhere can realize their own ideas and create. The app's online community gallery is powered by Microsoft Azure to enable users to share animations. The images created on Expressive Pixels come alive on readily available LED displays from 3rd parties such as Adafruit, Sparkfun, and SiliconSquared, and digital device such as a PC," it says on the Microsoft Store listing

The Expressive Pixels gallery, which runs on Microsoft Azure, allows users to share animations. 

The images created on the Expressive Pixels app can be deployed on LED displays from Adafruit (64×32), Adafruit DotStar (8×8), Adafruit Featherwing DotStar (6×12), Sparkfun (32×32), Sparkfun 8×8, and SiliconSquared high-resolution RGB displays.

It also ties in with Microsoft MakeCode, an on-ramp program for novice programmers from Microsoft Research and the group behind Microsoft's code editor tool group, Visual Studio. 

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MakeCode helps users program applications for microcontroller-based devices like Adafruit kit. It also makes use of Microsoft's JavaScript-based TypeScript language for building web applications as well as C++ for interacting with hardware. 

Microsoft has published a page on GitHub for Expressive Pixels so that users can provide feedback and request new features. 

"MakeCode devices can be connected to LED displays and integrated into new creations. Animations created in the Expressive Pixels app can be easily integrated within MakeCode programs by incorporating its Extension Package. This provides new and fun ways and capabilities for MakeCode programmers to light up their creations along their programming and creative journey," Microsoft says.

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