Hey, Scripting Guy!
Let There Be Silverlight
The Microsoft Scripting Guys
Human history has long been marked by the clash of diametrically opposed forces: the Romans versus the barbarian hordes; the Hatfields versus the McCoys; the Scripting Guys versus those who believe a column about system administration scripting should actually talk about system administration scripting rather than, say, the historical clash of diametrically opposed forces. [Or, say, meat hooks ... —Ed.]
The computer world is not immune to these clashes between diametrically opposed forces. In particular, we're reminded of the clash between developers and system administrators. As Karl Marx said upon surveying the situation, "Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped."
Wait, sorry—that was actually Groucho Marx. Karl Marx said, "Art is always and everywhere the secret confession, and at the same time the immortal movement of its time." To tell you the truth, we have no idea what that means. Besides, Groucho Marx was quite a bit funnier than Karl Marx, even if Groucho's quips aren't particularly relevant to the clash between developers and system administrators.
Nevertheless, we're pretty sure that it was Karl Marx who used to make the Scripting Guys recite the automation pledge of allegiance every morning before work: "system administrators are not developers." And that was definitely true: system administrators were not developers. Developers were people who wrote computer programs, while system administrators were people who ... well, to tell you the truth, we're not sure anyone at Microsoft really knew what system administrators did. But whatever it was, it sure wasn't writing computer programs.
Of course, Karl Marx also wrote the song "The Times, They Are A-Changing." (Or at least he told us that he wrote it.)
Thanks in part to the TechNet Script Center (microsoft.com/technet/scriptcenter
), system administrators gradually discovered VBScript and began writing their own utilities, utilities that, while not as complete and comprehensive as the typical computer program, still perform useful management tasks. In writing these utilities, system administrators have had to call upon skills very similar to those used by developers.
And that's not even the half of it. The advent of Windows PowerShell™ (microsoft.com/technet/scriptcenter/hubs/msh.mspx
) means that the Microsoft®
.NET Framework is no longer off limits to system administrators and script writers. Windows Vista®
introduced the world to gadgets (microsoft.com/technet/scriptcenter/topics/vista/gadgets-pt1.mspx
), putting system administrators—or at least system administrators who write scripts—on equal footing with developers. And now—drum roll, please—there's Microsoft Silverlight, the "cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET Framework–based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web."
Sounds impressive, doesn't it? But, you ask, what does that have to do with system administration scripters such as yourself? To be honest, we're not entirely sure. However, Silverlight does make it very easy to create very cool user interfaces and multimedia presentations. And while the marketing
material invariably refers to Silverlight as a way to create Web applications, here's a little-known fact: Silverlight seems to work equally well in HTML Applications, or HTAs (microsoft.com/technet/scriptcenter/hubs/htas.mspx
), a medium much-loved by script writers. So it just might be worth your while to give Silverlight a try.
Before We Go Any Further ...
We should point out that we aren't going to discuss Silverlight's many capabilities and potential uses today; our primary goal is to show you enough code snippets to get you playing around with the technology. If you'd like to install Silverlight (it's free, by the way), go to the Silverlight home page at microsoft.com/silverlight
. You can also find the SDKs, sample projects, and lots of other useful stuff at silverlight.net/GetStarted
For now, we'll assume that you have already installed Silverlight. In addition, we'll assume that you've gone to the Code Downloads section of the TechNet Magazine Web site (technetmagazine.com/code07.aspx
) and downloaded the files described in Figure 1
Figure 1 Silverlight project components
||This is a JScript script (in its initial release, Silverlight only supports JScript scripting) used to specify the initial Silverlight startup settings, including the XAML file used to configure user interface and graphic objects.
||This is just a blank file where you can put JScript functions.
||This file is used to initialize the Silverlight control.
||This is where all the fun takes place. SampleProject.html is simply an HTML file that includes code for reading in the three .js files. It also includes code for instantiating the Silverlight control.
||What's this for? To find out, you'll have to go back to the main text of this column.
You don't necessarily need SampleProject.js, at least not to follow along with this month's column. Silverlight allows you to attach scripts to objects and events in your project; these scripts can either be hardcoded into your HTML file or (as in this case) read in from an outside "include" file like this one. Also, we're going to turn SampleProject.html into an HTA: simply rename it SampleProject.hta. That was easy, right?
Make sure you save all these files into one folder. And then get ready to have some fun.
The XAML File
As you might have guessed, all the excitement in this month's Hey, Scripting Guy! revolves around the XAML file. (Incidentally, XAML is pronounced "zamel," rhyming with camel. Or mammal. Or even enamel.) XAML is short for Extensible Application Markup Language. Among other things, XAML provides a way to create user interfaces using an XML-like language. Does this make it easy for someone—particularly a system administrator—to create user interfaces? You're about to find out.
To begin this quest, start up Notepad and open the file SampleProject.xaml. If you see any existing code, replace it with the following:
Note. SampleProject.hta is already preconfigured to load in information from SampleProject.xaml. To use a different XAML file, you need to edit the file CreateSilverlight.js.
After pasting in the code, save the file and then double-click SampleProject.hta. Guess what you'll see? That's right: a big, dumb, gray box.
But wait, don't go! That's exactly what you should see.
There's not much to see simply because we haven't done anything yet: all we've done so far is add a Canvas to our XAML file. But that's an important step. After all, if you want to try your hand at oil painting the first thing you need to do is find a canvas to paint on. The same thing is true in Silverlight: before we can start adding elements to our project we first need a canvas to "paint" on. And now we have one.
Incidentally, why did we get a gray box that is 300 pixels wide by 300 pixels high? That's easy: those are the specifications found, by default, in the file CreateSilverlight.js. If you don't like those default values, just open CreateSilverlight.js and tweak the settings as needed. Would you prefer a white canvas 800 pixels wide by 300 pixels high? (Which, for the examples we're about to use, is something you would prefer.) Then simply make sure you have these three lines in CreateSilverlight.js:
width:'800', // Width of rectangular region of
// control in pixels.
height:'300', // Height of rectangular region
// of control in pixels.
background:'white', // Background color of
Note. Good point: in the original .js file the background is set to #D6D6D6. Now we've set it to white. As it turns out, in a XAML file you
can use RGB values to represent colors, or you can use color names to represent colors. (See msdn2.microsoft.com/bb188314.aspx
for a complete list of color values and color names.) As much as the Scripting Guys like to refer to colors by their RGB values ("My house? It's an FFFFFACD with FFCD5C5C trim"), we decided to use color names here.
Bonus tip: you aren't limited to using solid colors as a canvas background. Paste the code from Figure 2 into your XAML file and see what you get.
Figure 2 Pretty colors
<GradientStop Color="Blue" Offset="0.0" />
<GradientStop Color="Black" Offset="1.0" />
Did you try it? Pretty cool, huh?
Of course, a blank canvas by itself isn't all that interesting. Because of that, let's go ahead and add an object to that canvas. Although Silverlight allows you to add all sorts of different objects (including ellipses, rectangles, lines, and polygons), we'll add a good old-fashioned text block to our canvas. How? By inserting the following tags between the <Canvas> and </Canvas> tags in our XAML file:
Text="The TechNet Script Center">
As you can see, this XAML stuff really isn't all that hard. We start out by using the <TextBlock> tag, making sure that we include the various TextBlock parameters (such as Name and FontSize) inside the tag. We then indicate that we're through with our TextBlock by using the </TextBlock> tag. The cool thing about this? This is pretty much how you add any object to a XAML file. Want to add a rectangle 300 pixels wide by 100 pixels high? Okey doke:
By the way, when adding a shape (such as a rectangle) to your canvas, make sure you specify a Fill color and/or a Stroke color. If you don't, Silverlight will add a transparent rectangle to the canvas. The rectangle will actually be there, but unless you have some sort of Superman-like x-ray vision you won't be able to see it.
Speaking of Fill colors and Stroke colors, that's the way you color some Silverlight objects. For other objects, you need to use a brush, such as the LinearGradientBrush we showed you (but didn't discuss) in our bonus tip. If you prefer to paint objects a solid color, you can use the aptly named SolidColorBrush. For example, take a look at the XAML tagging in Figure 3 that "paints" our text (technically, that paints the TextBlock's Foreground property) red.
Figure 3 Painting text
Text="The TechNet Script Center">
<SolidColorBrush Name="test_brush" Color="red"/>
For an even cooler effect, try the ImageBrush property, which fills text with a picture:
<ImageBrush Name="test_brush" ImageSource="Sunset.jpg"/>
And here's yet another tip: if you try the ImageBrush property, you will most likely want to increase the value of FontSize because the bigger the text, the better the effect.
Give that a try and see what happens. You will be suitably impressed.
But Wait: You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
We have to level with you: up until now we've been keeping the good stuff to ourselves. It's cool that you can display text in Silverlight; it's even cooler that you can draw rectangles, ellipses, and polygons. But all that pales in comparison to the animations that can be added to a Silverlight project.
Again, about all we can do in this article is introduce you to some of the ways you can create Silverlight animation; we simply don't have room to go beyond that. (Don't blame us; we keep suggesting that TechNet Magazine become Hey, Scripting Guy! Magazine, but apparently our e-mails haven't been getting through.)
Without further ado, here's a cool effect that causes our text to slowly (but surely) fade in. Add the code in Figure 4 between the <TextBlock> and </TextBlock> tags in your XAML file.
Figure 4 TextBlock tricks
Admittedly, it looks like there's an awful lot going on here; fortunately, much of this is just boilerplate tagging. To begin with, you can't just add an animation to a XAML file; you need to indicate when that animation is supposed to play. That requires us to specify a set of Triggers for the TextBlock. In this case, we're going to create a trigger that will start the animation any time the TextBlock is loaded:
In Silverlight, animations must take place on a storyboard (a term borrowed from the movie industry). That's why we have the <BeginStoryboard> and <Storyboard> tags.
In order to make our text fade in, we need to modify the Opacity property. We will gradually increase the value from 0.0 (transparent) to 1.0 (solid color). Because Opacity happens to be a Double property (a property based on a double-precision numeric value), we use a DoubleAnimation animation. And just how do we use a DoubleAnimation animation? Why, by indicating the object we want to animate (in this case Test, the name we gave the TextBlock); specifying the target property (Opacity); and then specifying both the animation range (from 0.0 opacity to 1.0 opacity) and the duration for the entire animation (5 seconds). In other words:
Note. Make sure you use the syntax 0:0:5 (hours, minutes, seconds) to indicate 5 seconds. Using the value 5 by itself will not generate an error, but it will cause the animation to take 5 days to complete.
Did you try that? Now try this: within the DoubleAnimation tag, set the AutoReverse property to True:
Your animation will fade in and then fade back out.
Set the RepeatBehavior property to Forever and your text will continue to fade in and fade out, well, forever:
Is forever a bit long? Then set RepeatBehavior to, say, 3x, to make the animation play 3 times and then quit.
That's all pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. However, what if you don't like text that fades in and then fades out; what if you like text that gradually changes color? Well, then you should use a ColorAnimation animation:
From="Red" To="Blue" Duration="0:0:5" />
Note. Just make sure you start out with red text if you try this one. Remember, we already showed you how to paint your text red.
That was fun, wasn't it? And yet, you seem a little disappointed. Oh, so that's why: the ColorAnimation was nice, but you were really hoping to be able to make things fly around the screen. Hey, don't mope; what kind of software would Silverlight be if it didn't let you fly things around on screen? Try this:
As you can see, we're causing our TextBlock to slowly move from its beginning position to a spot 150 pixels from the left edge of the Canvas (Canvas.Left). If we wanted to move the TextBlock up and down, we just use the Canvas.Top property:
Could we—be still our beating hearts—combine these animations and make the TextBlock move both from side-to-side and up-and-down? Beats
us. But here's a hint: paste both animations into your XAML file (one right after another) and see what happens.
Note. OK, we lied: we knew all along you could combine these animations. In fact, you could stuff a whole bunch of animations into a single Silverlight project. It's a little tricky—you might have to include additional tagging to ensure that one animation ends before the next begins. But this also enables you to do some pretty fancy animation simply by typing in a few XML-like tags.
Sorry, Folks; Show's Over
The Microsoft Scripting Guys work for—well, are employed by—Microsoft. When not playing/coaching/watching baseball (and various other activities) they run the TechNet Script Center. Check it out at www.scriptingguys.com.
© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited
Yes, we know: we hate to go, too, especially now that we're just getting to the really good stuff. But don't fret; this doesn't have to be good-bye. If you'd like to know more about Silverlight, drop us a line at email@example.com
. If there's enough interest, well, we'll see what we can do in future columns. In addition, be sure to stop by the TechNet Script Center (microsoft.com/technet/scriptcenter/resources/tnmag/archive.mspx
); we'll post links to complete XAML examples (eXAMLs?) for you. Until then, as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels said at the end of their manifesto Letter from the Brussels Communist Correspondence Committee to G. A. Kottgen, "Good night, and please drive home safely."