PDC News Day 2: IE9, Office 2010, Silverlight 4, Pivot

Wednesday, the second day of Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference, was jam-packed with news about upcoming products, beta releases and more. If you didn’t tune into the live stream, here’s what you missed:

Internet Explorer 9

Arguably one of the bigger announcements from PDC, Steven Sinofsky gave attendees a first look at what’s coming in IE9 with a demo of an early build. The updated browser will support new web standards including HTML5 and CSS3 and will also have a faster JavaScript rendering engine. Sinofsky admitted that JavaScript performance in IE8 was much slower than other browsers and it’s clear that addressing this problem was a key goal for the IE9 team. A post on the IE blog shows a chart comparing the script performance on IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Although still a test build, IE9 has narrowed the gap considerably when it comes to speed:

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The new browser will also include “hardware accelerated rendering” which means it will now render graphics and text using the graphics card instead of the CPU. For the end user, this means that online images, videos, animations, and web fonts will be displayed faster, more clearly, and will use less CPU in the process of doing so. This is one of the better features of IE9 as it takes advantage of Direct2D and DirectWrite technologies to do something that today’s other browsers don’t – and it’s more useful than both Google's Native Client and Mozilla's WebGL for accelerated 3D graphics, said Dean Hachamovitch, IE’s GM.

Office 2010

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At PDC, Office 2010 launched into beta along with SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010, Project 2010 and Office Web Apps. Office has been given a new look with updated logos and icons, but the most exciting development is the Outlook Social Connector. With this tool, you can track conversations and stay up-to-date with everyone you communicate with via email without having to switch over to another program or website.

Likely inspired by the demands for more social inbox experiences provided by plugins like Xobni as well as third-party services like Gist, the Social Connector will also focus on social network and email integration. As with Xobni, the connector tracks your communication history with your email contacts, your upcoming meetings, and it helps you easily find attachments they may have sent. It also offers activity feeds for each person based on their actions on both business and consumer social networks, including SharePoint 2010’s new social features and Windows Live

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The first consumer network to support the new feature is LinkedIn, the professional business networking site. With the LinkedIn integration, you’ll be able to track your connections, email them, send invites, and more.

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The Social Connector is available now in the Office 2010 beta and the LinkedIn integration will go live early next year.

Silverlight 4

Another major announcement was the developer release of the Silverlight 4 public beta. The updated platform includes a number of new features like webcam and microphone support for sharing audio and video in Silverlight apps, performance improvements that allow it to run 200% faster than Silverlight 3, support for Google Chrome, Deep Zoom enhancements, multi-touch support, and the ability to bring data into the app via copy/paste or drag-and-drop. For example, you could now drag an Office document into a Silverlight application, if desired.

To show off the new capabilities, a Silverlight Facebook app was demonstrated (TechCrunch has the screenshots).  In the app, cycling through the photos was a much faster experience that what it would be in the browser.

Silverlight 4 is a developer release only so no end-user runtime is being provided at this time.

Pivot

Pivot is a new Microsoft Live Labs experience that lets you interact with “massive amounts of data in ways that are powerful, informative, and fun.” Essentially, it’s a visualization tool for organizing datasets to discover new patterns and insights. The tool, built in SeaDragon and powered by Silverlight, does the visualization over the web. In other words, it’s streaming the data, not caching it locally to your hard drive.

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In Pivot, datasets are organized as collections which are displayed using thumbnail images. The collections consist of objects that share some common attributes. In Pivot, you can analyze all these objects in a broader context. For example, as the video explains on Pivot’s homepage, they used Pivot to look at all of social lending organization Kiva’s loans and sort them by loan type.

Another example of Pivot in action is Brandon Watson’s Crunchbase Viewer which allows you to sort through the massive amounts of data stored in the online database about internet startups.

In order to use Pivot, you need an invite. You can request one here.

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