What is WPF?

It's what's behind Hydrology Studio's cool looks

By now you’ve seen some of the marketing hype surrounding Hydrology Studio and its use of Windows Presentation Foundation. We’ll call it WPF for short. Hopefully your curiosity is the reason you’re about to read this blog post. Don’t think WPF is unique to Hydrology Studio. Most modern-day programs use this platform. But the hydraulics & hydrology software you’re used to using, probably doesn’t. We’ll call those, forms-based programs.

WPF is the latest Microsoft technology for building rich windows applications. It is a new beast built from the ground up, designed to completely re-create the way Windows user interfaces are built. And you may have guessed, the web had a lot to do with it. Among many other technological advantages WPF offers, these are two that matter most to you as a user.

WPF Takes Advantage of Modern Hardware

Multiple monitors are now much more common and high-definition displays are the norm in engineering offices. Many displays ship with their DPI (dots per inch) set to 120 instead of the standard 96. Forms-based programs have to play tricks to try to make things look the same when changing DPI, but it doesn’t work very well. Instead of the user interface (UI) looking sharper, the UI just gets smaller. WPF however is DPI independent. So if you have two monitors with different DPI settings, Hydrology Studio automatically adjusts itself to the hardware its running on.

It’s built on top of DirectX, (commonly used in high-tech computer games) which can take advantage of new graphics cards as they come out. Compare the windows, charts and graphs Hydrology Studio renders with equivalent charts  in your existing forms-based programs.

You’ll notice there’s something unique. They’re smoother and faster. Everything that is drawn is vector-based as opposed to the old pixel-based model. Buttons, text, borders, lines, you name it, is rendered through the DirectX pipeline. Forms-based programs, on the other hand, have been stuck using the same display technology for more than 15 years.

WPF Separates UI from Logic

Let’s face it, programmers are not artists. That’s not to say they don’t try but… most forms-based programs are ugly. They force their programmers to use both sides of their brain and that can get ugly. Their icons and toolbars are ugly and dated looking. The entire application is colored gray, flat gray. They just don’t look nice, especially compared to things we’re beginning to see on the web.

Users have a much greater expectation for pretty UIs these days. WPF solves this problem by separating the user interface design from the code logic. WPF was built with the explicit idea that a programmer will make things work and a graphic designer will make things look nice. Two unique disciplines working independently on a program at the same time.

This opens up a myriad of design opportunities for WPF programs. As you look around Hydrology Studio, notice the many custom-designed images, color gradients, shadow effects, etc. All were created by a graphic design professional. The code used to compute hydrographs, pond routings and the like was developed by a Microsoft Dot-Net programmer.

WPF is no doubt the beginning of the future of Windows development. It already has allowed software developers to design applications like Hydrology Studio. Ones that clearly stand out from forms-based programs. It is the most radical change to hit Windows user interfaces since Windows 95. If you’re currently using Hydrology Studio, thanks and congratulations. You’re way ahead of the curve. If you’re not using it, download it today and see WPF in action.

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