RealTime IT News

Microsoft Takes Silverlight 'Everywhere'

Microsoft  today unveiled Silverlight, an application that will allow developers to disseminate content across multiple platforms. In doing so, it is warning Adobe  that it won't have the rich Internet application (RIA) space all to itself.

Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering RIAs, two- and three-dimensional graphics, text, animation and video to a wide variety of form factors and platforms. Potential markets for this application include streaming video, peer-to-peer file sharing and ad-serving.

Unlike most Microsoft products, this tool is intended to attract developers and users who may not be Microsoft devotees. Indeed, Silverlight was code-named Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere for a reason: Microsoft realized that if it was going to attract customers producing dynamic media, it was going to have to offer a development environment that worked outside Windows.

Silverlight thus runs on Safari and Firefox browsers, as well as set-top boxes and mobile devices. Like the Windows Media Player, end-users would have to download the runtime once before being able to use it.

By making its announcement today at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas, before it even ships the beta version of Silverlight at the end of the month, Microsoft may be hoping to slow the momentum gained by Adobe among developers of rich-media content.

The two companies have been on a collision course over the graphics software space since Adobe acquired Macromedia in April 2005.

And having lost the portable document file (PDF) format war to its rival, it clearly doesn't want to lose ground on what it sees as the next important Internet vector, which is video.

Last year, Adobe unveiled Flex, a cross-platform development environment of its own. It also introduced the alpha version of Apollo, a development environment and runtime that allows developers to create RIAs that can be used off line.

Silverlight is also intended to make it easier for designers and developers to create applications without working at cross-purposes, for instance by giving designers a tool for creating user interfaces (UIs) that developers can use without having to recode in C# or C++.

Brian Goldfarb, group product manager for the Web platform and tools marketing group at Microsoft, told internetnews.com earlier this year that Silverlight "is about providing tools to work better together in a way that provides a simple skill set environment."

Brad Becker, a product planner for Microsoft rich client tools, also explained that Silverlight uses XAML, an extension of XML, to tag applications in the same way that XML tags content, making it easier for designers to export the design elements of an application.

Microsoft began working with XAML as early as 2005 as an application toolkit for developers working on applications for Windows Vista.

Becker said Microsoft recognizes that, just as developers need to create applications for a diverse set of platforms, so it has to support the more creative aspirations of designers.

"It shouldn't be that just because you meet the functional need [of an application], that that's good enough," he told internetnews.com during a visit to the software maker's Redmond, Wash., headquarters earlier this year.

The software maker is also tying Silverlight into Longhorn, the next version of Windows Server, which is expected to launch later this year. Longhorn would give Silverlight greater scalability and provide other performance and cost-related features like bit-rate throttling.

Microsoft is also rounding out its suite of Expression Studio developer tools to work with Silverlight.

Expression Web helps developers validate their work across different schemas of HTML and browser types. Expression Media is a digital asset management tool that helps customers publish existing video to the Web.

Expression Design is an illustration tool and Expression Blend is a tool for creating wireframe diagrams to help developers create workflows for new applications.

The packages will range in price from $99 to $599.

Microsoft introduced a slew of other products aimed at the media and entertainment industries, including Interactive Media Manager, a server-based application to manage the digital content lifecycle from creation through to distribution.

Microsoft plans to provide more details and formally unveil Silverlight on April 30, during the Mix07 conference.