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Microsoft Shines Its Silverlight

MIX07 was another first for Ray Ozzie.

In his keynote speech at Microsoft's annual Web development conference, the company's chief software architect addressed a large developer-focused audience for the first time in his current role. Unfortunately, Ozzie's presentation got something of a mixed reaction, no pun intended.

Ozzie's speech focused on a blend of old and new news including the much-anticipated first beta of Silverlight, the browser plug-in for cobbling together interactive Web-based applications, along with Expression Studio 1.0, Silverlight Streaming and Silverlight's Common Language Runtime support. But he still wasn't done. Without missing a beat, Ozzie drew back the curtains on a new technology, along with its obligatory acronym: rich Internet application, or RIA.

While the RIA concept has been around for years, Microsoft appears to be gaining some traction with it recently. Company officials believe RIAs encapsulate the idea of pushing the envelope with AJAX and Web applications within the context of what Microsoft is calling its software-plus-services initiative. "To support that rich interaction," said Ozzie, "we've now gone well beyond AJAX through the power of browser extensions, extensions for media and advanced controls."

In his MIX07 keynote, Ray Ozzie showcased the old and new pieces of Microsoft's Web development strategy.RIA development isn't being done at the expense of Windows-based desktops, but rather to extend their reach. "There's a resurgence of interest in service-connected desktop applications, and applications that connect the activities on Web sites to local media, local documents and local applications," Ozzie explained in his speech.

Proving Microsoft's commitment to that concept, most of the examples Ozzie showcased during the keynote were mirrored on Macs -- even debugging sessions -- as well as on mobile devices and even gaming consoles.

Ozzie devoted the rest of the keynote to kicking the tires on Silverlight, formerly known as Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere. While attendees were generally impressed with the Silverlight demos, some developers had reservations and were taking a wait-and-see approach to its adoption.

"We won't be using it until 1.1, 1.2. But even with 1.0, you have to install the plug-in with the browser, [so] it's something that's questionable. We have machines that are locked down with Group Policy," says Raj Kaimal, a Texas-based systems analyst. "If someone tries to install something on a machine, they have to call an administrator and get that thing installed on those machines. Installing a plug-in is a question mark right now."

Silverlight Roadmap

MAY 2007

  • Silverlight 1.0 beta
  • Silverlight 1.1 alpha
  • Expression Studio 1.0 RTM
  • Expression Blend 2 Preview
  • Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio "Orcas"

SUMMER 2007

  • Silverlight 1.0 Ships
  • Expression Media and Expression Media Encoder Ship

PRODUCTS WITH YET-TO-BE DETERMINED SHIP DATES

  • Silverlight 1.1
  • Silverlight for Mobile Devices
  • Expression Studio 2.0
  • Visual Studio Orcas

But demos can be like boomerangs that quietly whisper through the air only to come back and hit with a kick. One such example was Ozzie's demonstration involving Major League Baseball's MLB.tv, which included live game stats, live game video and replay, and video sharing. Another example showed NetFlix delivering jagged-less video performance for on-demand movies over the Web. Both application concepts were developed in the Silverlight .NET runtime environment.

Still, developer skepticism abounded.

"I'm not sure which components our company will be able to use, if any, immediately. I worry about putting a download in front of the user in our specific application. We don't want to do anything that would cause the user to shy away from the sale," says Brad Godkin, a .NET developer.

Answering recent criticisms that Silverlight is merely an Adobe Flex clone, Ozzie contended it's more than that, pointing to the technology's high-definition, 720p video quality, its ability for developers and designers to collaborate in the programming language of their choice (although support for Ruby, which will be in the 1.1 version, was met with silence), and its scalability to render video and vector-based content on TVs to PCs to mobile devices without taking a performance hit.

"Essentially, our video story is better than Adobe's or Real's or anyone else's story, and it's cross-platform," said Brad Becker, group product manager for the Expression suite, in a conversation with Redmond after the keynote. "Because it's the VC1 codec, that's already a Windows Media Video codec, and people like CBS who have thousands and thousands of [items of] content already encoded don't have to re-encode it into Flash video or for Real or something else," he explained.

During the same keynote, Scott Guthrie announced the addition of a Dynamic Language Runtime, intended for encapsulating Silverlight development, as well as a go-live license that effectively gives developers permission to use the Silverlight plug-in on production Web sites.

Another demonstration that drew a positive response was that of Silverlight Streaming. The essential idea of the technology is to allow Microsoft to play host, with some limits, to Silverlight content. Ozzie said that developers and designers have up to 4GB of storage to play around with Silverlight-enabled content and have no immediate host for the media. It's up to developers how they want to use the storage, whether they want to stream high-quality short pieces or smaller but longer-duration content streams.

About the Author

Michael Domingo has held several positions at 1105 Media, and is currently the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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