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Coming Soon to a Developer Near You: Silverlight 2.0

Microsoft is nearly ready to begin beta testing the long-awaited developer version of its cross-browser, cross-platform streaming media technology -- Silverlight 2.0 -- the senior executive in charge of the product said on his blog Friday.

When exactly that will be, however, he remained mum about.

In his posting, corporate vice president Scott Guthrie also showcased a handful of the features coming in Silverlight 2.0. The update will be the first version of Silverlight that lets developers use the .NET Framework along with Visual Studio programming languages instead of simple JavaScript.

For instance, version 2.0 will include a Windows Presentation Foundation-based (WPF) user interface framework meant to simplify writing rich Internet applications, or RIAs.

[cob:Related_Articles]"The WPF UI Framework in Silverlight is a compatible subset of the WPF UI Framework features in the full .NET Framework, and enables developers to re-use skills, controls, code and content to build both rich cross browser Web applications, as well as rich desktop Windows applications," Guthrie said.

Microsoft first demonstrated Silverlight at the National Association of Broadcasters' annual gathering in April 2007. The company released a beta version of Silverlight 1.0 and an alpha version of 1.1 last spring. In late November, Guthrie announced on his blog that Microsoft had renamed Silverlight 1.1 to 2.0 in order to reflect the significance of the upgrade.

Version 1.0 shipped last summer. However, 1.0 only supports writing applications using JavaScript, which limits its use by serious developers, analysts say.

With Silverlight 2.0, developers can use Visual Studio 2008 and Expression Studio design tools to build Silverlight applications. The ability to program Silverlight 2.0 with Microsoft's Visual Studio core development tools suite, gives Microsoft a shot at competing against other streaming media technologies, primarily Adobe's Flash, they say.

In classic Microsoft "eating its own dog food" fashion, the company began running a beta test of its Download Center software distribution site powered by Silverlight 1.0 in early January.

The pending beta release will also provide a set of "built-in" controls meant to simplify application creation, including form controls, layout management panels, controls for common functions such as sliders, calendars, list boxes, and others.

"The built-in controls support a rich control templating model, which enables developers and designers to collaborate together to build highly polished solutions," Guthrie added.

In his latest post, Guthrie highlighted other Silverlight 2.0 capabilities as well.

For instance, he said, Silverlight 2 does not require the .NET Framework to be installed on a computer in order to run.

"The Beta1 release of Silverlight 2 is 4.3MB in size, and takes 4 to10 seconds to install on a machine that doesn't already have it," Guthrie said.

Guthrie did not provide any update to the company's plans for shipping Silverlight 2.0. In November, Microsoft said it plans to release Silverlight 2.0 in beta test form in the first quarter, with final release targeted for sometime this year.