Synchrotron-light-based microscopic interface characterization techniques have been a major factor in the progress towards the understanding control of interface properties and performances. Their role was recently enhanced by the advent of third-generation ultrabright sources. Such superior sources expand the performances and application domains of traditional spectroscopy and microscopy techniques. This point will be illustrated with a series of recent examples produced by ELETTRA in Trieste, Italy; the examples concern high-resolution spectroscopy, spectromicroscopy and time-resolved spectroscopy. Finally, we will discuss the exciting applications which exploit the source coherence to achieve superior imaging with X-rays. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.