PDC: Microsoft unveils new programming platforms

Los Angeles (CA) - In the later stages of today's keynote presentations at Microsoft's Professional Developers' conference, four of the company's more celebrated developers, including C# creator Anders Hejlsberg and COM pioneer Don Box, publicly unveiled a staggering array of new programming platforms including the company's Atlas programming model.

Atlas represents a very radical departure from the way applications for Web deployment have been developed in the past, and is Microsoft's answer to Google's successful deployment of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript) in its Google Maps and Google Earth services.

AJAX is seen as a new standard for building "smart client" applications that can be easily deployed through Web browsers. Up to now, observers have been skeptical that Microsoft's implementation of AJAX would adopt the company's tried-and-true "embrace and extend" model of standards adoption, which generally comes with its own special spin. But as details of Atlas become available, some are still looking for what the spin might be, as Atlas appears to handle JavaScript very cleanly.

To demonstrate the company's trend towards not only standards adoption but adherence, Box and Microsoft developer Chris Anderson spent just a few minutes adapting an application using XAML - a graphical front-end for modeling forms based on XML data - to produce a very stylized front end for an otherwise boring demonstration of querying the number of cycles consumed by running processes. The query itself was a demonstration of the company's new built-in query language for .NET technology, replacing ActiveX Data Objects as the main inline programming system for handling datasets. But with a few lines of code referring to XAML styles, Box was able to produce a sleek, burnished steel application with graphically replete control gadgets in text boxes - of course, using preprogrammed styles.

What got everybody's attention, though, was when Anderson had the idea to add a query to the sample Web services application that queried the geographical location of the computer that ran the original running processes query, using only available data as criteria. The results were funneled through a socket that brings up the geographic location in a Microsoft Virtual Earth map. So with a minimum of effort, two programmers - albeit two very capable ones - were able to exploit a publicly-accessible Web service in a seemingly unrelated Web application, pretty much on a whim, or at least what was prepared to look like a whim.

But to drive the point home, the team deployed the application on a PowerBook running OS X Tiger, where the same front end appeared in a Safari window.

To recap the array of new programming technologies unveiled today that made this demo possible: To the .NET programming platform, Microsoft is introducing Language Integrated Query (LINQ), a built-in relational database that integrates datasets into programming languages such as C# and Visual Basic, without the use of APIs (external function calls). LINQ is a language extension, not an external library. It relies on a relational database engine based on the company's Yukon technology, which verifies that some part of SQL Server will become a permanent part of Windows.

The query generated by LINQ produced a list of results in XML format. An Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) front-end (the new term for "user interface") was crafted to produce a complex graphical form. But when a whimsical change was made to the underlying data, the form could be readily edited to encompass output in a format that was dynamically defined for the task at hand. In other words, no API or library had to be crafted for exploiting geographical location data from Virtual Earth; the information was simply leveraged and utilized on the fly.

Making the display of this data possible through Internet Explorer 7.0 (a new build of which was also premiered here) was Atlas technology, which is based on Asynchronous JavaScript (AJAX), a standard already in use by programmers at Google. To demonstrate the compliance of Atlas with existing standards, the whimsical test application was instantaneously deployed through a Safari browser on a Mac PowerBook running OS X Tiger.

Stay tuned to Tom's Hardware Guide for more news from PDC 2005 as it happens.