Expression Web News

Speaking at Vancouver Microsoft Innovation Briefing

Paul from Microsoft approached me a while back about doing a one hour presentation on my work with Expression Web. The session now has a name: “Expression Web – the powerful, new, professional web editing tool” and it will take place at Microsoft’s Vancouver office this coming Wednesday at 8:30AM. For those of you who can’t make it, Paul and I will also produce a screen cast version of the session which will be available online some time in early June.


Bridging Media – Some thougts

I attended a very interesting one day conference in Vancouver today called Bridging Media. The intent of the conference was to

open the channels of communication between the broadcast and digital media communities. We aim to increase an understanding of our respective industries and strengthen our approach to building multi-platform projects.

Over the last few yers I’ve been working with pure digital media and video distribution on the web and I’m aslo the technical producer for The Pratt & Taylor Show on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific, so with one foot on each side of the divide this conference was pretty much a must-attend for me.

NOTE: For all you expression people who read this blog and right now scratch your heads because this seems to be totally off topic: It’s not. This has to do with the future of online video and content distribution – something you will be working with no matter what kind of projects you are involved it. It’s a bit of a meta-topic but it’s still quite relevant.

I won’t go through the conference here – Miss604 has done an excellent job live-blogging the entire event. Instead I’ll share with you my thoughts and perspectives on the problems presented and the whole concept of media convergence as a whole.

A bridge built from one side only will probably fall

The title of the conference was Bridging Media, and the intent was a good one. Unfortunately there were few if any broadcasters present, so the bridge was only being built from one side. The conference was attended by all the usual suspects in the digital and social media scene and also a large group of independent movie producers and they shared what I would classify as a standard from-the-digital-world view of the situation: Broadcasters rely on funding, digital media relies on other streams of revenue. The broadcasters don’t want to share our content because they are a bit antiquated and they are afraid of losing control of their own dominance and their own content. The digital realm is the future and we should just ignore the broadcasters and move on. In other words, if you build it (a digital media outlet), they (the viewers) will come, and they’ll bring money. (This of course is my very broad and biased interpretation and I’m sure many will be angered at it. So be it.)

To prove this thinking, examples like Sanctuary, Quarterlife and Ask A Ninja were brought up. And this brings me to my first issue: None of these examples are actually applicable in the conversation: Both Sanctuary and Quarterlife were created by well established producers with a strong fan base and more importantly solid funding.. If a complete unknown with the exact same idea had presented any of these concepts to investors, they would most likely be turned down or get insufficient funding. Furthermore, the chance of them reaching a wider audience would be next to zero. Why? Because the web is saturated with similar content and it’s almost impossible to break through the noise to get people’s attention. As for shows like Ask A Ninja that actually get picked up, they are flukes and one-offs. Building a business based on the thought that your show will be picked up by a major network is financial suicide. And the one commonality of all the similar shows that have been picked up is that they were started as jokes with no intention of making it big. So this whole way of thinking is fundamentally flawed. Such successes simply can’t be reproduced by entry-level content producers, at least not without a fair bit of luck (as in winning the lottery kind of luck).

NOTE: Since posting this article, Sanctuary has been picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel for broadcast release. Quarterlife was picked up by the E! Channel in early February. Both these shows were launched on the web with the intention of migrating to broadcast proving that building a fan base online can help you move to the living room screen. Unfortunately you have to be famous and have millions of dollars backing you tho…

The other idea that was touted, that you can make money off your content if enough people come to your site, is also highly questionable. Simply generating visits is not enough to generate money these days. Having a video series on YouTube that has over 2 million views combined will give you exactly $0 in revenue. To turn your content into money, you have to either use advertising or sell services. And that’s where the divide really shows itself in all it’s width and splendour.

Broadcasters are content producers

Putting on my broadcast hat, I can understand why there were no broadcasters at the conference. And I also understand why even if they were there, they would have no answers: Broadcasters are content producers that expect to get paid for the content the produce. A phrase that kept coming up throughout the conference was the question “What business are you in?” The thinking presented was that if you share your content online and want to get money from it, you should use it as a way to get other business that will generate money. As an example, Papercraft was brought up. They produce funny and informative videos on their website explaining complicated technical terms in an understandable way. These videos make no money but companies ask them to make custom videos and these make money. So it’s a completely different way of approaching the whole concept of revenue gathering.

Broadcasters and other content creators on the other hand, are not interested in using their content to advertise services. Their content is the service they provide. They are in the business of making content. If they were in the content of selling services, they would be an advertising agency. And that’s why there is a divide. The two sides are talking two entirely different languages and thinking about things in completely oposite ways.

The question is if there is any way of making them come together at all. Right now, the digital media community is building a bridge over to the broadcast side, but the broadcasters are digging a tunnel to the digital media side. And while a bridge built from one side is likely to fall down, a tunnell will bore it’s way to the end and start functioning whether the other side wants it or not. TV and film producers are quickly learning that the internet is an excellent marketing tool and are working on ways of leveraging this technology to theri advantage. On the other side, the digital media community feels it has content that should be presented on an equal level with the broadcasters and they are trying to push this content into the classic broadcasting channels. The problem is that once you move into the realm of public broadcasting, a whole mess of legal and financial problems arise: Who owns the content? Who made the content? Who has the rights to distribution? How do we pay the producers? Who is responsible if it turns out the content is illegal in some way? These are issues that are largely ignored by the digital media community because it is based on a somewhat anarchistic approach to content ownership (i.e. once it’s on the web it’s free). Broadcasters on the other hand have to make sure proper ownership is in place and that all the rights are where they should be. Otherwise they lose their licence. Unfortunately many people in the digital media community don’t understand (or choose to ignore) why this is so. But as a content creator I can tell you that when you find material you created on someone else’s web site, and you realize that not only do they earn money from it but they pass it off as their own, you feel creatively raped. So until the digital media community bring a more open attitude to the concept of rights and ownership, the broadcast side will be very reluctant to work with them.

At the same time there needs to be a softening of the firm and archaic guidelines that govern the broadcast side. For the most part, the systems in place both for television and films were created way before the web was even given a name. They are cumbersome, full of red tape and based on an attitude that only “proper” broadcasters can make broadcast content. That’s just not the case any more and the broadcasters just have to accept the fact that they are no longer the only roosters in the hen house. But that doesn’t mean that hot chicks farting is worth broadcasting, no matter how popular their videos are on YouTube. That brings me to my final point:

1,000,000 views don’t make you Stephen Spielberg

The fact that your video is popular on YouTube doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth broadcasting. In fact, many of the most popular videos on YouTube are such trash that they should never be broadcast. And others are blatant misinformation that has no place in the media realm. If you exclude funamenalist states like Iran, China and even the US, most countries have very strict guide lines for media outlets when it comes to balanced coverage. The internet has no such rules and as a result anyone can publish anything and present it as true. It’s a running joke that people who quote the internet need to check their sources, but it’s pretty evident that it’s not something we should laugh at. People, organizations and even governments with an agenda can use the internet indiscriminately to misinform and even blatantly lie to their audience with no reprisals. And because of clever marketing strategies and viral distribution, much of this content becomes so prolific people start believing it. Some of the best examples can be found on YouTube if you search for “global warming”. A public broadcaster would never be allowed to air much of this content because it is based on half truths and whole lies. And it’s often very difficult to tell if content produced is factual, rubbish or even part of some evil ploy. So if a broadcaster is going to get involved, these things need to be checked and re-checked and re-checked again to ensure balance and factuality. What stunns me is that many people on the digital media side don’t see such misinformation as a problem or even think exclusion of such content is equivalent to cencorship. I agree that all sides of any story have a right to be told, but when large corporations or organizations use substantial funds to deliberately misinform the public through lies and manufactured evidence we have a serious problem on our hands.

This is one of the reasons why when a digital media content producer approaches a broadcaster about distribution of her content, the broadcaster is rather reluctant to even talk to her. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just explaining it.

So should we just tear down the bridge then?

I guess I sound pretty pessimistic about the whole thing. I’m not. I just want to get all the facts out and make people understand that the fundamental problem here lies in the lack of a common language. The analogy of a bridge is actually a very good one, but it should be thought of more like a bridge over the Gibraltar strait than a bridge over the Nanaimo river. It might seem like the digital media community and the broadcasters are standing on the same land mass and speak the same language, but in reality they are entirely different countries with different languages, customs and rules. What’s need more than anything is an interpreter or a common language we can all work from. As long as the two sides think they are on the same plane, nothing will change. They need to understand that they don’t see things the same way and that to communicate they need to find a common vantage point somewhere in the middle.

All that said, I applaud the effort and look forward to Bridging Media 2.0.

Finally, for all the Expression people who by this time must surely have stopped reading: This is relevant to you because at some point in the near future, one of your clients is going to ask you how they can put a video online and get it featured on a TV show. Now you know why it’s not as simple as putting it on YouTube (and that you’re not the only one confused about why it’s so hard).

Browsers News

Most Popular Browsers (or Why You Need to Code for Internet Explorer 6)

I ran some stats today on this blog and to see what browsers people use to view the site. The results were pretty much as expected and prove that even though Internet Explorer 7 has been out for quite a while now and IE8 is on the horizon, people still predominantly use the CSS mangling Internet Explorer 6. stats:

  1. Internet Explorer 6.0 – 18.34%
  2. Internet Explorer 7.0 – 11.18%
  3. Firefox 2.0 – 6.80%
  4. Mozilla 5 – 6.50%
  5. Firefox 1.0 – 4.58%
  6. Netscape – 3.34%
  7. Firefox 1.5 – 2.39% stats:

  1. Internet Explorer 7.0 – 18.58%
  2. Internet Explorer 6.0 – 16.35%
  3. Firefox 2.0 – 15.77%
  4. Safari – 3.15%
  5. Firefox 1.5 – 2.92%
  6. Mozilla 5 – 1.40%
  7. Internet Explorer 5.5 – 1.21%

(If you’re wondering why these stats don’t ad up, it’s because I took out the Google, MSN and Yahoo! search bots)

These stats are actually quite interesting. First off, it’s obvious that people insist on holding on to older versions of web browsers. God knows why, but they do. Secondly, considering that this blog only contains info on programming and design and therefore should have visitors who are predominantly programmers or designers, it’s surprising to see that IE 6 tops the list. One would expect that the people who make web sites are the most up to date on the newest versions. I also note that Safari doesn’t figure on this list but comes in at #4 on Dabbler’s (guess Mac users don’t care much about Microsoft Expression). I’m glad to see that Firefox is climbing the charts even though it still has a long way to go before it can top Internet Explorer. But what really makes me scratch my head is #6, Netscape. Seeing as that company officially dumped the navigator last month, I don’t understand why programmers still use it. It’s crap people! Move on.


Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

And now for something completely different:

The smart little anti-commenting-spam filter Akismet has been working overtime for me since I re-installed this blog in January. And over the weekend, it broke the 8,000 spam comments captured mark. That’s 8,000 ads for Paris Hilton nudies , SEO optimization and pharmaceuticals. I have no idea why this blog is generating such a colossal ammount of spam – especially since our other blog only collects a fraction of that even though it’s viewership is signifficantly higher.

All I can say is thanks to the WordPress team for pre-installing Akismet in their builds. Without it I would spend all of my time filtering comments instead of writing.

(And an apology to those that have gotten their comments deleted by accident. Problem is that if I forget to purge the filter for a couple of days, I have hundreds of very long messages to sift through and I tend to just delete everything. So if you feel wronged, just try again.)

CSS Expression Web News

Eric Meyer’s CSS Sculptor for Expression Web – Start things right

I always say that unless you start things right, you’re going to run into problems somewhere down the line. Nowhere is that more true than in building websites, especially if you venture into the realm of standards based scripting. Fortunately there are people out there who know how to do things the right way, and they are more than willing to share their knowledge with us layfolk. One such person is Eric Meyer and with his new CSS Sculptor for Expression Web he sets out to make the deceptively complicated task of making web sites look the same across all browsers easier for one and all.

If you’re one of those people who like to write all your CSS in Visual Studio and you know absolutely everything about standards-based coding, you need read no further. If on the other hand you are like me and CSS is like a second language you still have trouble with, this is vital information.

I’m not saying that CSS Scupltor will generate all the code for you or even solve all your problems. What it does is start you off on the right foot, with proper high-end runners and a good night’s sleep.

Why do I need this?

There are two answers to this question: The first one is that for some reason different browsers interpret CSS differently so unless you really know what you are doing, chances are the sites you build end up looking slightly different depending on whether the visitor uses Internet Explorer 5, 6, 7 or 8, FireFox, Opera, Safari or any number of other browsers. There is no good reason for this other than that in spite of many years of work, the “standards” that govern CSS and other web code are so vague and flexible that there is no joint agreement on exact interpretation. It’s worth noting that Internet Explorer has always been the big culprit here and that with the release of IE 8, Microsoft is finally joining the fold and matching the rest of the world. But I digress. What Eric Meyer and other CSS gurus have been telling anyone willing to listen is that with some strategic coding, you can still make the all browsers act the same way. But this requires work. CSS Sculptor sets out to do the brunt of this work for you.

The second answer is that even though Expression Web has many CSS templates, they are mostly empty and they require you to insert all the little pieces that make the code compliant. And that’s a lot of hard work on your part.

To give you an idea of exactly what CSS Sculptor does that EW doesnt, I’ve built two examples. They are both out-of-the-box layouts with standard text inserted. They were both created with about 5 mouse clicks and I only made minor adjustments to get this demo up and running – specifically I separated the CSS from the CSS Sculptor project and put it in a separate file and I inserted the dummy text from the CSS Scupltor project in the EW project to have some filler. Both these pages were made using Expression Web 2 Beta and they have no alterations of any kind from me. You can see the Expression Web example here and it’s CSS code here. The CSS Sculptor example is here with it’s CSS code here.

Anyone can see that the two examples are miles apart in both layout and functionality and you’ll also notice that the CSS part of the generated pages are hugely different. And while none of the pages will apper exactly the same across all browsers (mostly due to lack of defined elements like a background colour), the CSS Sculptor page is by and large fully working while the Expression Web page is unuseable garbage (notice where the footer is located).

OK. So what exactly does it do?

As is obvious from the examples above, CSS Sculptor spits out a lot more code than the native CSS generator in Expression Web. The code generated by CSS Sculptor also contains parts of Eric Meyer’s CSS Reset code which goes a long way in ensuring browser interoperability. In addition, the program gives you a ton of plug-and-play options like menu bars, colour schemes and so on to get you started quickly and easily. To top it off, it even inserts both dummy text and plenty of commented out instructions and explanations to make it easier to understand exactly what’s going on. To an avid coder this might seem excessive or even unnecessary, but to a designer who dabbles in code it will be a life saver.

So should I buy CSS Sculptor or not?

Whether this application is for you depends on what you do and how you do it. Like I said before, if you know what you’re doing and you usually type out your CSS in Visual Studio for a perfect result with no testing, you’re not likely going to use this app even if you should. If on the other hand you are constantly creating new CSS layouts and you find yourself sifting through the web again and again to figure out why your margins keep shifting or why your header is hiding under the main body, this is a good tool to get your on your way.

I’m not saying that CSS Scupltor will generate all the code for you or even solve all your problems. What it does is start you off on the right foot, with proper high-end runners and a good night’s sleep. That way you spend less time fiddling with the framework which means you have more time to tackle the intricate details. And time saved means more time for the important stuff.

Personally I can see a hundred uses for this application and I’m not going to think twice about shelling out the dough to get it. Eric Meyer’s CSS Sculptor for Expression Web will sell for $99.99, retail but for the first couple of weeks after it is released, WebAssist will be offering a discount on it. For my purpose, the many colour schemes and other nifty editing options included are superfluous, but that’s because I like to see what I’m doing when I’m doing it and I tend to change my mind a lot during the designing process. Even so, having a quick and easy way to get the framework up and running properly means a lot less wasted time and increased productivity, and for that alone it’s worth it.

Eric Meyer’s CSS Sculptor for Expression Web is a simple one-click install that snaps into Expression Web automatically and requires no work on your part. Once installed, it shows up on in the program and works flawlessly. And although it doesn’t build stunning websites for you all by itself, it gives you a solid foundation to start from.

CSS Expression Web News WordPress as CMS

WordPress as CMS – The Project

I’ve been talking about this for a while now and it’s time I got a little more specific. It is my contention that with some small tweaks, WordPress can be used as an excellent Content Management System (CMS) and used to serve small-scale business websites. This isn’t something revolutionary – a simple Google search on the words “WordPress” and “CMS” gives you many interesting entries – but I don’t think the full potential of this alternate use has been explored. So I’ve taken it upon myself to see just how much I can get out of this small little program and if it can be used to serve my many clients in a more effective manner.

Why WordPress

That’s the first question I get: “Why WordPress? What’s the point? Why don’t you just use a CMS like Joomla! or Drupal?” To answer the last question first, in most cases using Joomla! or Drupal is like trying to kill an ant with a tank. Not only is the tool way too big and wasteful to do the job, but chances are the ant slips between the belt threads and you don’t actually achieve your objective at all. These huge Open Source CMSes are excellent if you are building large-scale community based websites with multiple blogs etc etc but for small business applications they are often too large and cumbersome. What’s needed is a simple, easy to understand CMS that gives the client the ability to quickly edit, update and manage her website with the least ammount of hassle. Sure, you can build something like that yourself, but why bother when there is already an application that pretty much does what you want available for free?

There are a couple of other reasons why I want to tap the full potential of WordPress for this project: First off, WordPress has an extensive and growing library of plug-ins and ad-ons that make it a very powerful piece of software. Seccondly, blogs have become an excellent way of promoting yuour business by letting your clients interact with you on a semi-informal basis. And WordPress is a blogging platform. Nuff said. Thirdly (and maybe most importantly), WordPress blogs has an uncanny ability to get synced up with search engines like Google and MSN almost immediately upon being launched. Through a couple of very interesting experiments I’ve learned that the best way to get your website listed on Google is simply to build it on a WordPress platform. And if you are running a business, geting listed on Google can be the difference between being noticed and going under.

Project Outline

What is needed to make this work? One major hurdle used to be the ability to put the standard blog front page on a sub page. This used to require quite a bit of coding, but in WordPress 2.3 and above it’s actually built into the main setup.

The next big issue is to get out of the standard header, body, footer layout scheme that all WordPress themes are built on. Although this feature is unneccesary in most cases, I can think of a dozen scenarios where you want individually styled pages with their own CSS backend and right now, that’s not something you can do right out of the box. I’ve been theorizing about this problem for some time and the solution appeared most unexpectantly at a session at MIX08 where the presenter to save time ignored the whole WP theme and built an external page with the loop calls inside it. It was a bit of an aha moment for me that you don’t actually need to stick to the rigid frame of WP, and although it is technically not correct to do so, if it makes my life easier, to hell with correctness.

Another question is to what extent one can use the Custom Fields to make styling changes in pages. I’d like to experiment and see just how far I can push this feature.

Finally, is it possible to make a non-WordPress site utilizing the WordPress infrastructure and database? In other words, can I build completely separate pages outside of WordPress and then use the loop calls etc to insert the required info in such a way that the site can be managed from the regular Admin panel without the client having any access to the controlling files. This final question is the crucial one because in the end what is needed is a manageable CMS that gives the client unlimited access to the content but limited or external access to styling, layout and other important files so that nothing can be “broken” by mistake.

The Future

In the coming weeks I’ll be launching two sites built on a WordPress as CMS v0.1 platform (pretty much stragith WordPress with some heavily customized themes) and once these are done I’ll dive head first into a major hacking project to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. With any luck I’ll have a fully operational and customizeable CMS to use as a base for my client sites before the summer. In the spirit of cooperation I have every intention of blogging about all my findings and sharing the code and hacks with the online community. I’ll also blog further on how to modify WordPress blogs using Expression Web to help bring some beauty to the blogosphere.

MIX08 News

MIX08 Roundup

With a couple of nights of rest and some time to process all the info I tried to cram into my head in 3 days last week, I think it’s time I shared my two cents on MIX08. I won’t go into great detail but give you some observations and thoughts on the announcements and sessions I attended.

Before I start tho I’d like to extend a big thanks to Paul and Qixing from the Canadian UX team for all their hard work in making me feel welcome. You can read their rundowns of the event at the CanUX blog.

MIX08 was crammed full of announcements, demos and pre-launches. Of all of them I think Internet Explorer 8, Expression Studio 2 and Silverlight 2 were the most important ones. But that’s just me. And here are my thoughts:

Internet Explorer 8 (IE8)

For the first time ever I can picture Mozilla and Opera developers scrambling to clone the new features in Internet Explorer rather than the other way around.

As a web dev-igner (I’m not sure I like that term but it kinda makes sense doesn’t it?) I’ve had a hate-on for Internet Explorer for a long time. And it’s no secret that my sentiments have been shared by pretty much anyone who has ever tried to make a web site look the same in Internet Explorer and any other browser. For some unknown reason, Microsoft has always chosen to interpret web standards differently from everyone else and as a result it’s been nightmarish to write code for sites to be displayed uniformly over multiple browsers. As if that wasn’t enough, Microsoft has persistently denied (or rather refused to comment on) these problems, and MS fanboys and pedantic coders have perpetuated the claim that this is not an IE problem but bad coding on the dev end. Well, no more.

At the first keynote of the event, MS openly admitted not only that the way IE has parsed CSS in the past was atrocious but that IE7 was a browser so full of garbage code and glitches that it should never have been released in the first place. And with that came resounding applause. I’m not sure people fully grasp how important this announcement is so I’ll spell it out for you: By making IE8 compliant with the standard set by every other browser on the market, not only is MS admitting fault but they are showing that they listen to consumers and work hard to correct the wrongs they have created. Now technically one shouldn’t have to celebrate a company doing what it should have done a long time ago, but in this case it demonstrates such a drastic turn that it’s worth noting none the less.

The implications of IE8 are significant because it means that once the program is out of beta and market penetration has kicked in, devs no longer have to worry about filling their sites with IE hacks just to make them look good.

There are several other interesting features in IE8 like Activities, Web Slices, Ajax task-bar behaviours, php and CSS debugging tools and so on. You can read more about all these features at the Beta site.

Expression Studio 2

With the 2nd release of Expression Studio, Microsoft has lifted the software package from the “good idea, but needs more work” stage to the “solid competitor and a threat to the status quo” stage.

If you read this blog religiously you know I was started it to force myself to learn how to use Microsoft Expression Studio. And you also know that after testing the software I’ve actually transitioned my entire work flow from Macromedia to Expression. But being a first-generation software package, Expression had some serious limitations including (but not limited to) colour matching issues, horrendous bitmap compression, nonstandard sizes, no php support, FTP issues and so on and so forth. Through my communications with Microsoft staff I knew that all of these issues were being addressed, and with the release of Expression Studio 2 Beta I see that in almost every case the problems have been fixed.

I have yet to test out the Beta releases but from my playing around with the software in the Sandbox at MIX I can tell you that it’s an entirely new experience. Whether it be small things like individually lockable and visible sub-layers in Design or monster improvements like direct layered PSD imports in Web the improvements are impressive, substantial and necessary. Expression Design 2, Expression Web 2 and Expression Media Encoder 2 are programs that are going to become the basis of my operation and that of many others and I have no doubt they will steal a significant market share from Adobe.

The one program that still needs some work is Blend, but only because the evolution to Silverlight 2 has been so dramatic it doesn’t look like the program developers have managed to keep up. The new features demonstrated in Silverlight 2 are astounding and make it a true competitor Adobe should fear. But as of now, many of these features are only accessible through XAML hard coding. This is facilitated by Visual Studio which has extensive Silverlight and WPF coding support but for a designer it would be great if Blend could catch up. And I think it will, it’ll just take a little more time.

When Expression Studio 2 comes out of beta, it will be a full upgrade you have to pay for. But before you cringe and start waving your clenched fist in the general direction of the nearest Microsoft logo I have inside information that the price of the upgrade will be very reasonable. That’s all I can say without getting myself or anyone else in trouble.

For now you can download all the new Beta releases for free.

Silverlight 2

With the introduction of Silverlight 2 and the upcoming NBC Olympic online broadcast, Adobe should stock up on anti-anxiety meds.

When I first was introduced to Silverlight last year, I reacted like most others: Oh, Microsoft has created a Flash clone… wonder how that’s going to work out. In hindsight I realize that thought was not only misinformed but quite frankly stupid. After six months of fiddling with this new application and seeing demos at MIX I can honestly tell you that Silverlight will become a true competitor before you know it. And here’s why:

[DISCLAIMER: The following is my personal theories about product development and usage. I have no stats, research or information to back up my claims and there is a good chance I am way off. Nonetheless, I think you’ll find my reasoning compelling and my conclusion viable.]

When Flash first came on the market it was mainly an animation platform. But it didn’t take long for web developers to see the potential in the application and before long it became a full fledged web development platform largely based on code. The problem is that Flash was never meant to do this and therefore the back end coding became a total nightmare. As designers and developers went from drawing out their animations in the timeline to simply plonking in an empty movie and then attaching 300 pages of ActionScript, Flash started showing signs of not measuring up to the demands of it’s users. But since there was no viable alternative, the platform retained it’s place as the number one web animation (and now also video streaming) application.

And that’s where Silverlight comes in. You see, Silverlight picks up where Flash hits a wall: Flash is a complicated animation platform that can be manipulated through a very limited package of code. Therefore there are very real limits to what you can do. Silverlight on the other hand is a hard-code platform that can be manipulated through an animation platform (Blend). And since it runs on C#, there really is no limit to what it can do. In other words, Microsoft has picked up where Macrodobe stalled. And unless Macrodobe puts on the thinking cap and comes up with something radical now, they’ll be left in the dust.

I can see you shaking your head at that last comment. “Come on” you’re thinking. “Flash has something like a 98% penetration rate and all the major video sharing networks are using this platform. There’s no way Silverlight can catch up.” Really? Isn’t there? Coming from a broadcast background I can tell you that as a video platform, Flash is equivalent to old VHS tapes: Unless you do things exactly right, the video looks like shit. That’s because video was a last-minute ad on to the Flash platform. Silverlight on the other hand was built around video first. As a result it supports fully scalable, high-definition video right out of the box. If you’ve tried to build a custom Flash video player from scratch you know it’s a total pain in the ass; it requires intimate knowledge of ActionScript, a deep understanding of how Flash streams and parses information and a lot of time and patience. It’s a long and arduous process and it requires pages of code. In Silverlight, building the exact same player should take you no more than 10 minutes and the results are guaranteed as long as your video compression is up to par.

As for the penetration issue, 1.5 million people are downloading the Silverlight plug-in every day and when the Beijing Olympics start in August and NBC launches their humongous (and potentially internet killing) video application running Silverlight, every sports fan with a high-speed connection in North America is going to have the app installed and ready to go.

I had a chance to talk to a lot of people from different parts of the business at the show; from programming teachers and instructors to designers, developers, students and end users, and they all pretty much said the same thing: They have to invest in this technology because even if it doesn’t kill Flash, it will become equally important in no time. I could see the department heads and teachers from schools and universities go through a full range of emotion – from fear and hatred at having to build all new programs around this new and unfamiliar technology to elation and lust at the potential it presents. I myself found my brain racing as the possibilities, especially when it comes to video distribution, became clear and I realized just how limiting the Flash platform really is.

You can get more info on Silverlight by visiting the site.

If you are curious about all the sessions at MIX08, you can watch them at the site.

MIX08 News

Facelift in preparation for MIX08

The New LookFinally, after much promising but little doing, I found the time to redesign the Pink & Yellow Media Blog from the bland WordPress theme to something a little more suiting.

I figured since I’m going to MIX08 in Vegas and just got a pile of new flashy cards printed there’s a good chance people will be stopping by to see what I’m saying so I should really make an effort to give a good first impression. I hope this will suffice.

The graphics were made using a multitude of software including Illustrator (for the swooshy lines), PhotoShop (for the lens flare) and Expression Design. Once completed I chopped it all up in Design and used Expression Web to reformat the theme to fit the new look. All in all the entire process took around 8 hours with php re-coding.

Drop me a line and tell me what you think!

MIX08 News

I’m going to MIX08

I'm going to MIX08Thanks to my new friends at Microsoft I am attending the Microsoft MIX08 conference in Las Vegas in March. With the introduction of Microsoft Expression software into my work process, the conference will be a much welcomed opportunity to interact with other adopters and Microsoft staff and broaden my own understanding of the software and it’s abilities.

I’ll be blogging from the event so stay tuned!

For more info on the MIX08 conference, visit the official website.

News Vista

Vista Whoas and Woes

Finally, after 4 years of hard work, one of our trusted workstations finally gave in and decided to die on us. I guess the pre-Core 2 Duo Prescott processor couldn’t handle the workload any more (running PhotoShop CS2, Premiere CS2, Firefox, Opera and a host of other programs at the same time isn’t exactly kind on the processor). So we were forced to get a new system, and with it came the inevitable transition to Windows Vista.

I’m one of those guys who has an aversion for adopting new and untested technology no matter what it is. And when it came to the new Microsoft OS I would rather have waited for the first Service Pack to come out before making the transition. After all there are always some major kinks that have to be sorted out before any new OS can be considered completely trustworthy (something that rings true even in the “infallable” Mac world as the latest release of Leopard has shown). Thus my policy was simple: I’m not switching to Vista until I get a new computer. And with the death of our old workstation my hand was forced.

After installing the new OS and getting the new computer up and running I have a few thoughts and realizations (I’m sure I’ll have more later on – the system arrived on three days ago) that I’d like to share – some good, some bad.

The System Itself
First off I just want to describe the system itself so you get an idea of the baseline. My wife who uses this computer does a lot of video editing, primarily for her lifestyles blog . Knowing this we decided to go for an Intel Core 2 Quad processor (the Q6600 I believe) . The system also boasts an ASUS P5K se motherboard, 4gb of ram, two 500GB Western Digital hard drives and a monster CoolerMaster power supply. The only thing we cheaped out on was the graphics card so instead of the store recommended GeForce 8800 we went for a GeForce 8400 with 256mb RAM. Considering we don’t do any 3d gaming the 8800 would be a colossal waste of money and we saved over $360 on the smaller card (which retailed for an astonishing $69!).

The computer came fully assembled but without any software installed. I had three discs in my hand: Windows Vista Home Premium OEM, the ASUS motherboard system disc and the graphics card drivers.

Installing Vista took a mind-bending 10 minutes. This was quite surprising – installing XP on my old system took at least 4 times as long. And apart from my moronic accidental choice of Canadian French as the system language (which took me almost 20 minutes to rectify – guess I should have just started from scratch) the install was completely unproblematic and went smoothly. Once the OS was up and running I inserted the ASUS disc and installed all the drivers (onboard audio, networking etc). This required two reboots which were done by the computer – I could have just left the house but it only took 7 minutes to complete. Once the networking was in order Vista started downloading updates but the download and install of these was putting a negligible load on the computer and I could easily move on to the next steps. Installing the graphics drivers was just as easy and once installed my weird monitor setup was immediately recognized and set up properly. In XP I always had trouble calibrating the two monitors (one ViewSonic and one LG) but this was all done automatically. I don’t know if I should credit Microsoft or Nvidia for this but it was impressive none the less.

This brings me to an interesting point: When Vista came out I read and heard a lot of complaints about how you needed a supercharged graphics card to run all the fancy new visual effects and such. This just isn’t the case. Like I said, the graphics card in this computer was a $69 GeForce 8400 and I had zero problems running the full Aero interface with all the bells and whistles AND rendering out Premiere video while having both PhotoShop, Firefox and numerous other programs in the background.

I did encounter one weird problem with the graphics that took a while to rectify: For some reason the video monitor in Premiere was severely aliased causing all sorts of crazy strobing and line effects in the output. This problem did not appear when playing back video in Windows Media Player or any other application which lead me to believe it had to do with the graphics drivers. After some fiddling I found the problem in the way the graphics card was set up. Because Premiere utilizes the graphics engine in the graphics card to render previews the card needs to be told Premiere is to be considered a 3d application even though it’s not. Once this was done the aliasing problem disappeared.

Once the system was up and running with all it’s components it was time to install all the external components we have. Most importantly we run a NAS drive as a server and this needed to be set up immediately. The 500GB Western Digital NetCenter comes equipped with a small program called WD EasyLink which I installed from it’s disc. The program went in and went active with no problems and the little WD icon appeared on the bottom right hand side of the screen as it should. On my XP machines I had to mount the two volumes on the drive by mapping them in My Computer so I did so without really paying attention only to find that Vista had already done it for me so I now had two links to each of the drives. Because I’m a curious guy I uninstalled the app and reinstalled it to see if Vista really did find my drives for me and I was pleased to see it did. This bodes well for future expansions of my server system. I will further explore the networking capabilities and functionalities once I find some extra time.

Another thing people have been complaining about has been the lack of working drivers and incompatibilities with existing programs. I installed all the programs from the previous system (Adobe Production Studio Premium, Macromedia Studio MX2004, Microsoft Expression Suite, Firefox, DivX and a pile of other nicknacks) without running into a single issue. I am curious to see what happens when I try to install Nero Burning Rom 6 which already had some issues in XP.

The only driver problem I encountered was in installing our Canon N670U scanner. The Vista driver on the Canon site would not open properly and Vista just spat out a message about the archive being corrupted. I tried downloading it several times with the same result. Then I remembered that I’ve seen a similar problem before and I downloaded the scanner driver from a different country’s site (I believe it was New Zealand?). Not surprisingly this driver worked perfectly and the scanner turned up as a TWAIN source in PhotoShop.

Dual Monitor Problem
As I said before the system has two monitors. And with that comes one problem that makes absolutely no sense to me at all: When you right-click on something that is resting on the left-hand monitor, the menu appears in the gadgets bar on the right hand side of the right hand monitor. This problem is persistent and only applies to the secondary monitor. Needless to say it is quite annoying, especially when dealing with drop-down menus. I’ll need to do some further research into whether or not this is a screen driver issue or a bona fide Vista glitch.

Other Hardware
It took me a little bit of time to figure out how to mount and format a blank harddrive on the system – all the menus have changed and things are not where they “ought to be” but the integrated search function made quick work of figuring this out.

All my external components (WaCom Tablet, camcorder, several external hard drives etc) were identified and installed without any fuss.

The only thing I still haven’t figured out is the ReadyBoos function. The computer came with a special high-speed 4gb ReadyBoost USB drive that I plugged in when I fired it up for the first time. I vaguely recall setting up something with it but I was too busy figuring out exactly how the new OS worked to really pay attention. Now I can’t find any reference to ReadyBoost in the help files and I’m a bit lost. I’m sure it just requires some minimal research but here again is that time issue. I’ll get to it eventually.

Overall my first impression of Vista Home Premium is very good. I did not encounter any of the problems I thought I would, all the software and hardware works perfectly and I’ve not seen any plug-and-play issues as of yet in spite of the non-standard setup. I’m sure I’ll have more to say in a week but for now I am very pleased with the transition.


Shooting a Short Film over the weekend so….

I’m shooting a short film for a local film festival over the weekend so I am drowning in prep work. Unfortunately my Expression odyssey is taking the bulk of the hit. I will however be back at it on Monday next week so stay tuned. There is more to come, I assure you ;o)