Microsoft Shows Off Silverlight 4, IE9 Plans

IE9 and Silverlight 4 at PDC 09

LOS ANGELES — Microsoft opened the second day of its Professional Developer Conference 2009 (PDC09) with the announcement of Silverlight 4 and a progress update on Internet Explorer 9.

But the presentation began with a look back. The opening keynote came from Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division of Microsoft. One year ago, he was offering the first developer beta of Windows 7. Today, he got to talk about the process of testing the operating system that launched three weeks ago.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) received 1.7 million feedback messages from testers and 10.4 million aggregate error reports throughout the testing period, which ran from January, when the first public beta came out, until the code went final in July.

Sinofsky pointed out that Microsoft had to remember that developers were not indicative of the typical users, and pointed out that of all beta testers, 55 percent ran it in 1024×768 resolution, whereas only 0.5 percent were using 1900×1200, high-definition resolution like most developers use, he noted.

He then offered two videos of functionality testing that Microsoft conducted during the beta, which was blacked out on the video stream (causing much derision and laughing protests in the press room) “in respect to intellectual property” that was being streamed from the stage.

Sinofsky closed the show with a big give-away: a free laptop to all developers in the audience. There was some “fine print,” he noted — it was for paying attendees, so the attending press and analysts were excluded — but everyone in the audience was getting a new Acer laptop.

IE9 update

He had to ask the audience to stay for the next part of his speech, which was on Internet Explorer 9. Microsoft is only three weeks into the IE9 project, since it just finished with Windows 7, of which IE 8 was a major part.

Sinofsky talked about closing the performance gap with other browsers and showed that after three weeks, IE9 is already getting much closer to Firefox and to WebKit-based Safari and Google Chrome, although that was simply in isolated performance testing, not actual demos.

He also demonstrated hardware-accelerated 2D graphics, such as rendering graphical text, done smoothly with IE9’s used of the Direct2D and DirectWrite APIs. Windows 7 was the first operating system to finally start using the GPU for graphical acceleration, which Microsoft will offer to a degree in IE9.

Silverlight 4, Office 2010 betas

Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of .Net products, then came out for one of the most awkward demos ever, thanks to four demo machines failing. He announced the public beta of Silverlight 4, just three months after Silverlight 3 shipped, and showed off many of its new features in demos, when they worked.

Silverlight 4 will have direct access to Webcams and support for Webcam audio cameras, the ability to stream high-definition video across hundreds of machines. Silverlight 4 will be twice as fast as version 3 and start 30 percent faster.

There will also be much more out-of-browser support, so you don’t need to have a browser running to use its many features. Additionally, Microsoft will offer output protection and DRM support to protect intellectual property.

Visual Studio 2010, the next generation of Microsoft’s flagship developer tool, will have more support for Silverlight content creators, including a WYSISYG design interface, XAML IntelliSense support, data bindings and Windows Foundation Classes support.

The next version of Silverlight will add support for Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Chrome browser.

The beta is available now, and final code is due in the first half of next year.

Silverlight was hardly the only beta announced. Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010, Project 2010, Office Mobile 2010 and Office Web Apps are all available in beta form, effective today.

A notable improvement to Outlook 2010 is the Social Connector, which will enable users to view all the activity relating to a friend in their contact list.

The aim is to eliminate a lot of digging around for information. If one person has sent you multiple e-mails with attachments, they all appear in a single window. All meetings you have had with that person also appear in a single location. Also, thanks to an external connector, you can see that person’s LinkedIn information as well.

Finally, Microsoft announced a joint project with SAP to deliver a product called Duet Enterprise for Microsoft SharePoint and SAP. The name does what it implies, connecting SharePoint servers with SAP applications. It also allows developers to create applications that utilize both SAP and SharePoint and can interoperate with both. The product is due in the second half of 2010.

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