Tube trains show off Windows Presentation Foundation

If you have any interest in .NET Framework 3.0 I recommend this keynote presentation, from Microsoft’s UK developer launch for Vista and Office last weekend. It was given by Sanjay Parthasarathy, Vice president of the Developer and Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft Corp. He reiterates the themes Microsoft watchers will have heard before: unifying designer and developer, SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), Office as a platform, Enterprise mashups and so on. I’d advise skipping forward to about 38.30 and viewing the presentation given by a couple of developers from the London Underground on their WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) application for managing the network.

The London Underground is a busy network, clocking up 971 million passenger journeys last year. The WPF app is a real-time visual presentation of its status, based on the familiar tube map. There are “teardrop” indicators which show where there is congestion, technical problems, crime or other incidents. You can click an indicator to open a detailed panel, and dock the panel to get live update. All the data is driven by web services. Everything zooms and drags; you can show or hide specific lines and indicators; and finally there is an amazing 3D view which seems to model the entire system so you can access a report on any part of it with a click. Of course there is an option to see little trains chugging round and stopping at lights; how could this fail to enthuse developers?

The claim is that WPF/XAML combined with SOA makes creating this kind of application much easier than in the past (the whole thing is an XBAP – browser-hosted WPF).

I certainly found the demonstration thought-provoking. This particular case study is a great fit for a highly visual presentation, but to what extent does this also apply to the mainstream business applications that occupy so much developer time? What about the danger of prettification – highly visual apps that are slower and harder to use than the simple GUIs they replace? That app you are working on right now – would it benefit from a WPF redesign?

If you have any insights or comments on the above, I’d love to hear them.

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1 comment to Tube trains show off Windows Presentation Foundation

  • I think this is a really difficult area, I’ve been thinking about how to update CRUD apps and I’ve not really got good answers.
    Possibly you should talk to Jon Harris @ Microsoft to see what he thinks CRUD developers should be doing.
    The one obvious advantage for these sort of apps is the ability to produce different views of the data for different user bases without changing the core code which is something I’ve done in the past with a XAML like system for a traditional Windows Forms app.