4-page Case Study
Posted: 4/11/2010
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Avanquest Software Development Tools Help Software Company Improve Collaboration, Reduce Project Costs

Avanquest Software, a leading software developer with operations in North America, Europe, and Asia, was looking for a development system to help it create a state-of-the-art desktop and cloud-based photo management application. The application would offer high-end editing tools in a simple package for amateur photographers. Avanquest considered using various development tools, and finally opted for Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, the Microsoft .NET Framework 4, and Microsoft Expression Studio 3. Avanquest developers now have access to graphical interfaces that render code visually, and designers can use tools that translate design decisions into usable code. The new solution greatly facilitates debugging and the creation of compelling user interfaces. Because of its stronger support for collaboration between designers and developers, Avanquest was able to both save time and use a smaller project team of 20 rather than 30 people.

Situation

Avanquest Software is one of the world’s 10 leading consumer software developers, with a strong presence in North America, Europe, and Asia. The company’s broad range of products serves several customer audiences: small and midsize businesses and the general public through retail, online, and direct sales channels; large businesses through channel sales and dedicated portals; and major telecom and computer manufacturers through licensing partnerships with original equipment manufacturers. Avanquest has 500 employees worldwide, including nearly 150 engineers in research and development at company locations in France, China, the United States, and Canada.

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* The level of designer/developer collaboration supported by Microsoft tools including Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate contributes to major gains in productivity.  *
David Vanpeene
Chief Technology Officer, Mobility, Multimedia, and Utility Division
Avanquest Software
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Avanquest created its Montreal Development Center in 2008 to develop new multimedia software products. After an initial research period, the team began to work on a combined desktop and cloud-based application for storing and manipulating photos. The product would combine photo-management features such as tagging and sorting with an image editor offering everything from red-eye correction to advanced editing capabilities. The goal was to offer professional-level capabilities in a package simple enough for the amateur photographer to use.

“Our vision was to offer technically advanced features, such as the ability to manipulate very complex vector shapes and the use of pixel shading in color rendering, in a package that is very fast and easy for the user to operate,” says David Vanpeene, Chief Technology Officer of the Mobility, Multimedia, and Utility Division at Avanquest Software.

After deciding on preliminary product definitions, the team began studying what tools would be best suited to the project. Avanquest needed a development system for creating not only the technically complex features envisioned by the project team but also clean, compelling user interfaces. In addition, the system needed to support close collaboration between designers and developers. Avanquest wanted the new product to have a time-to-profit of no more than two years from the scheduled release date of September 2010.

Solution

Avanquest first considered using Adobe Flex Builder software to develop the photo application on the Flex framework, but it ultimately decided that this would not be the most appropriate solution: “We realized that certain aspects of our photo application, such as how we wanted it to manage video memory, required a stronger tie between the operating systems of the development tool and the platforms it would target,” says Vanpeene. “We decided that we would build the solution with Microsoft software.”

The team started work using the Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 development system and the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5. Then Avanquest learned about the availability of beta versions of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4, which includes a new version of Windows Presentation Foundation. The company was also interested in Microsoft Expression Studio 3 design software, which includes Microsoft Expression Blend 3. “As we analyzed the new tools, we discovered that the new version of Windows Presentation Foundation was more extensible and could target multiple versions of Presentation Foundation, not just the latest one,” says Vanpeene. “Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate also offered enhanced debugging tools, and it supported much closer collaboration between designers and developers.” In July 2009, Avanquest deployed the new software and began phasing out its use of Visual Studio 2008 for this project.

With the solution, Avanquest designers now have access to the Expression Blend 3 tool, with a WYSIWYG interface that helps them build functioning user interfaces based on Windows Presentation Foundation instead of having to supply mockups to developers for coding. Designers can also now create data-bound controls by using drag-and-drop behaviors that used to be available only to developers. Design work in Expression Blend 3 generates immediately usable XAML code that developers can simply import into the project.

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* Instead of needing separate design and development projects, we can use Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, the .NET Framework 4, and Expression Blend 3 to help designers and developers work together.  *
David Vanpeene
Chief Technology Officer, Mobility, Multimedia, and Utility Division
Avanquest Software
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Avanquest developers use the new solution’s integrated Windows Presentation Foundation development tools to code controls and other functions of the user interface. The design view window renders XAML code visually, and developers can position controls by dragging them from the toolbox, which automatically generates changes in the code. Because Visual Studio 2010 now uses the same extensibility API for multiple versions of Windows Presentation Foundation and the Microsoft Silverlight browser plug-in—including future releases—developers can create just one experience and share it across all of these platforms. And with in-process side-by-side execution in the .NET Framework 4, developers can more easily make use of project components that target other versions of the Framework.

Debugging work is aided by the ability to use the Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate output window to view enhanced tracing of events in a Windows Presentation Foundation application, data-binding information, and the Windows Presentation Foundation tree visualizer. With the tree visualizer, developers can see Windows Presentation Foundation objects displayed in tree form and can quickly search by either string or properties. A customizable threads window offers columns with affinity masks, process names, and managed IDs, and users can customize which columns appear and in what order.

Vanpeene says the new tools took only two hours to install and have already proved very useful. “We are the first Avanquest unit to adopt Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate and the .NET Framework 4, but I expect that the rest of the company will follow suit by the end of 2010.”

Benefits

With the Microsoft solution, Avanquest designers and developers can work together more effectively, which improves productivity and reduces costs. Creating compelling user interfaces is easier, and debugging has become faster and simpler. Expanded integration also gives developers more flexibility in creating the final product.

Improved Collaboration

The interoperability between Microsoft design and development tools eases cross-discipline collaboration and reduces complexity. “Instead of needing separate design and development projects, we can use Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, the .NET Framework 4, and Expression Blend 3 to help designers and developers work together,” says Vanpeene. “When the whole team uses the same language and tools, the work is more efficient and the final product is much better.”

Because designs created in Expression Blend 3 generate the same XAML code used by the developers working in Windows Presentation Foundation, the development process is shorter and simpler. “With designers and developers working in the same code base, we are able to significantly reduce the time and personnel we must devote to synchronizing the design work with the development work,” says Vanpeene. “The level of designer/developer collaboration supported by Microsoft tools including Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate contributes to major gains in productivity.”

For example, improved collaboration made it possible for Avanquest to form a smaller project team. “With another solution, developing our new photo application would have required a team of about 30 people,” Vanpeene explains. “By choosing Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, we only needed a 20-person team. As a result, our time-to-profit is less than two years, and we are able to invest more money and time to create a more powerful, more user-friendly final product.”

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* By choosing Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, we only needed a 20-person team. As a result, our time-to-profit is less than two years.  *
David Vanpeene
Chief Technology Officer, Mobility, Multimedia, and Utility Division
Avanquest Software
*

More Compelling User Interfaces

The new solution is making it easier for Avanquest to design a high-quality user interface in its new photo application. “With Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, we found new ways to interact with users, such as by using vector shapes in the photo-editing process and by using pixel shading as much as possible,” says Vanpeene. “Coding tools, such as drag-and-drop binding and customizable controls, also made it easier for us to create a compelling user interface.”

Expression Blend was also helpful for creating a rich user experience. “By using Expression Blend 3, we were able to design custom controls that are compelling to users and that support a high level of interactivity,” says Vanpeene. “It’s very helpful for designers working in Expression Blend 3 to create controls that combine several standard Windows Presentation Foundation controls, for example. Our overarching goal was to make everything as simple as possible to use and understand, and the Microsoft tools made that much easier to accomplish.”

Faster Debugging

The new solution also eases debugging, making it possible for the Avanquest team to save money and time by finding and correcting problems earlier in the development process. “Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate gives us much better visibility into debugging sessions, especially for a multithreaded application like this one,” says Marco Villeneuve, a Data Architect at Avanquest Software. “Being able to customize what information is visible and how it is laid out in the threads window is a big help.”

Avanquest is especially pleased with the much simpler process of debugging Windows Presentation Foundation code. “It’s now very easy to use Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate to trace events in a Windows Presentation Foundation application,” says Vanpeene. “The Windows Presentation Foundation tree visualizer is a much improved method for inspecting and searching Presentation Foundation objects. We also really like the ability to debug Windows Presentation Foundation bindings in Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate.”

Expanded Integration

The in-process side-by-side execution available with the .NET Framework 4 made it possible for Avanquest to build on initial product components that targeted the .NET Framework 3.5. “Because there is support for multiple versions of the .NET Framework running in the same application, we were able to make use of project components that targeted earlier versions without first needing to migrate them to the .NET Framework 4, which saved time,” says Dany Laporte, a Software Engineer at Avanquest. “It was also very easy to toggle between versions of the .NET Framework if there were any problems.”
 
Vanpeene especially appreciates the variety of development projects and work methods that the new solution can support. “Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate brings together so many options in one package that it helps us think differently about what is possible in our work. It’s one of the best tool sets I have ever used.”

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about Avanquest Software, the company, its products and services, please visit the Web site at:
www.avanquest.com

Microsoft Visual Studio 2010

Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 is an integrated development system that helps simplify the entire development process from design to deployment. Unleash your creativity with powerful prototyping, modeling, and design tools that help you bring your vision to life. Work within a personalized environment that helps accelerate the coding process and supports the use of your existing skills, and target a growing number of platforms, including Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and cloud services. Also, work more efficiently thanks to integrated testing and debugging tools that you can use to find and fix bugs quickly and easily to help ensure high-quality solutions.

For more information about Visual Studio 2010, go to:
www.msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Document published March 2010
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 500 employees

Organization Profile

Avanquest Software is one of the world’s 10 leading software developers, offering more than 100 titles to corporate and consumer customers. Headquartered in France, Avanquest employs 500 people.


Business Situation

An Avanquest project team sought development software for a photo application. The development system needed to support close collaboration between designers and developers.


Solution

Avanquest is using Microsoft software including Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, Microsoft Expression Studio 3, and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.


Benefits
  • Improved collaboration
  • More compelling user interfaces
  • Faster debugging
  • Expanded integration

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate
  • Microsoft Expression Blend 3
  • Microsoft Expression Studio 3
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • Windows Presentation Foundation

Vertical Industries
Architecture, Engineering & Construction

Country/Region
France

Business Need
  • Collaboration
  • Business Productivity

IT Issue
  • Development
  • Personal Productivity

Languages
English

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