AOL Debuts Silverlight Gadget

AOL says it is shipping a preview version of what may be the first Windows Vista gadget that takes advantage of Microsoft’s new Silverlight cross-platform media player technology.

The AOL Social Mail Gadget for Vista provides one-click access to e-mail, AOL Instant Messenger service, photos and video directly from the Windows Vista desktop, Roy Ben-Yoseph, AOL’s vice president of e-mail, told

The gadget is designed to scan the user’s inbox and identify which five people they communicate with most often. The user can add or remove people from his or her “A-list” and with a single click can email or IM people on the list, according to AOL.

Previously codenamed Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere, Silverlight is a new cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in technology for delivering what Microsoft describes as rich Internet applications on both Windows and Apple Macintosh computers running Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari browsers. Those apps can include two- and three-dimensional graphics, text, animation and video.

“We wanted to create a mail experience that’s different from what has been done before,” Ben-Yoseph said.

Microsoft debuted Silverlight at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in mid-April, and talked more in depth about it at its own Mix07 conference in Las Vegas in early May.

Silverlight has been portrayed by many industry observers as an Adobe Flash “killer,” though since the technology is not yet in commercial release, that’s still an open question. Silverlight 1.0 is currently in beta test.

One of Microsoft’s pitches for Silverlight is that, since it’s based on .NET Framework 3.0, applications written to run on it will be portable to other supported platforms.

AOL said its Social Mail Gadget is designed to let users e-mail and IM with the five people in their A-lists directly from their desktops, as well as view videos and photos without opening a separate application. (Windows gadgets are small, so-called “light weight” applications that can be run on Vista.)

The AOL Social Mail Gadget will come with two “skins” – changeable graphical designs – surfboards and guitars. It also has the capability for users to provide their own skins for personalization.

The AOL Social Mail Gadget for Vista preview is available for download now. AOL is shooting to have a full-scale beta test within the next couple of months and a release version later in the year, Ben-Yoseph said.

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