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
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 1.0 beta
- Silverlight 1.1 alpha
- Expression Studio 1.0 RTM
- Expression Blend 2 Preview
- Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio "Orcas"
- Silverlight 1.0 Ships
- Expression Media and Expression Media Encoder Ship
PRODUCTS WITH YET-TO-BE DETERMINED SHIP
- 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.
Michael Domingo has held several positions at 1105 Media, and is currently the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.