06:32 PM

Microsoft Releases Pilot of GUI Design Tool For Windows Vista Apps

Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer is a preview meant to give GUI designers a chance to try some of the tool's new features, such as 2D and 3D graphics, and animation.

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday launched a test version of its upcoming graphical user interface-design tool for applications built for the upcoming Windows Vista operating system.

Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer is available as a download. The Community Technology Preview is not a production tool, but is meant to give GUI designers the chance to try some of the new tool's "innovative features," such as 2D and 3D graphics, animation, dynamic layout, data binding, style and template editing and resource management, the Redmond, Wash., company said.

In addition, Microsoft released an update of Expression Graphic Designer, which is used to create graphics and export them to Interactive Designer for deployment within a user interface.

Both tools are meant for developing Windows applications that run on WinFX, which is the Vista presentation platform for displaying the user interfaces of Windows software. Vista is scheduled to ship later this year, but no timetable has been released for the production versions of the design tools.

The WinFX runtime components are also available for download to Windows XP computers, or they can be packaged with third-party software for XP. The components equal 40 megabytes.

The new designer tools build GUIs in Microsoft's XAML, or extensible application markup language. Other GUI languages exist from other vendors, including Mozilla's XUL, Oracle's UIX, and Macromedia's Flex. Macromedia now belongs to leading graphics software maker Adobe Systems Inc.

"XAML is the key innovation," Forest Key, director of product management for Microsoft's Developer Division, said. "It's what the tools understand natively."

The Expression product line also includes a tool for building GUIs of browser-based Web applications. A preview version of Expression Web Designer, which would eventually compete with tools such as Macromedia Dreamweaver from Adobe, is targeted for release in March at Microsoft's Mix Conference in Las Vegas, Nev., March 20-22.

The currently available tools are meant for easier collaboration between GUI designers and developers using Microsoft's Visual Studio suite of Windows development tools.

"We're breaking down the barriers between designers and developers," Key said.

Microsoft is doing that by providing designer tools that export XAML files that can be easily integrated with Visual Studio applications, which do most of the heavy lifting in terms of data processing.

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