Silverlight 1.0: Following a Flash Playbook?

Microsoft is quietly preparing to ship the first ‘release candidate,’ or RC, of the initial version of its Silverlight cross-platform media player technology, perhaps as early as the end of July.

However, getting it into users’ hands and onto their computers is just the first step – third-party developers will need to write compelling applications to make Silverlight ultimately successful. And a full-scale developers’ release is still a ways off.

The announcement of the upcoming RC testing phase – the last test step before commercial release — came via a blog post by Tim Sneath, a Microsoft client platform technical evangelist.

“In just a couple of weeks, we’ll be ready to publish the release candidate of Silverlight 1.0 to the web. We’re in the final stages of stabilization as we close in on launch; fixing the last few bugs, doing detailed security penetration testing work, resolving any remaining inconsistencies and completing the last fit and finish work,” Sneath’s post said.

That should make for a good start in the consumer realm, but developers will have to wait for version 1.1 – possibly not available until next year — before they can really begin to take full advantage of the new platform, according to one analyst who covers the company.

Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering rich Internet applications (RIA), two- and three-dimensional graphics, text, animation and video to a wide variety of form factors and platforms.

Its promise is that a media application written for Silverlight will run on any supported platform – so far, that means Windows or the Mac, running Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari browsers. Additionally, developers will be able to write applications using the .NET Framework 3.0 developer libraries and runtime, and Visual Studio languages, including Visual Basic, C#, Python, and Ruby.

The version 1.0 release, however, only supports applications written in Java Script.

Company executives officially debuted Silverlight, previously codenamed Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPF/E), at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas in mid-April.

A couple of weeks later, Microsoft executives announced the beginning of the beta test of Silverlight 1.0 and an alpha test of version 1.1. At the time, the company said 1.0 is targeted to ship this summer, meaning it’s one of those rare occurrences in the software industry — right on schedule. No delivery date has been given for 1.1.

But while version 1.0 will support applications written in Java Script, developers won’t get .NET Framework capabilities until the release of version 1.1, which is currently still only available as an alpha test release. That makes Silverlight 1.0 of limited interest to developers.

“Silverlight 1.0 is very much an interim product [and] it’s not one that developers are interested in,” Greg DiMichillie, lead analyst for application platforms at researcher and industry newsletter Directions on Microsoft, told

Therefore, the first release is targeted at users’ computers in the same fashion that Adobe’s Flash media player – Silverlight’s chief competitor — did.

“[Something like] 87 percent of all Internet-connected PCs have a [recent] version of Flash installed,” DiMichillie said adding, “Microsoft wants to follow the Flash playbook.”

In order to accomplish that, however, users need a compelling reason to install Silverlight, like several huge streaming video sites choosing to use the technology, he said. In fact, Netflix has demoed a Silverlight movie viewer and CBS television has announced an initiative to use it. That’s a good first step.

“The point of Silverlight 1.0 is to get it onto users’ computers [and] then they can update it to 1.1 when that’s ready.” The big question, however, is when will 1.1 arrive – when the promise of .NET functionality meant to enable more creative use of the technology is delivered.

“It could very well be 2008 before 1.1 ships but I think they’re still aiming for this year,” DiMichillie said.

Microsoft officials declined to comment beyond the blog post.

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