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'Popfly' To Help Bring Silverlight to the Masses

Microsoft has revealed one way it hopes to foster rapid adoption of Silverlight, its new technology for building rich Internet applications.

The company on May 18 announced an alpha release of Popfly, a vehicle for developing mashups, Web sites and Silverlight-driven rich content through drag-and-drop chunks of code called "Blocks." The alpha will be open to about 2,000 testers.

The Popfly effort has two main parts. Popfly Creator is the toolset. Popfly Space is an online "community of creators," in the words of Developer Division head S. "Soma" Somasegar, for hosting and sharing projects built with the technology.

In a statement, the company said "Popfly is targeted at all non-professionals ranging from users with no programming experience who want a visual way to create dynamic Web experiences to Visual Studio Express developers who want an easy way to share their Windows applications."

The code running inside each block is written in JavaScript and users can employ AJAX, DHTML or Silverlight for presentation layer purposes, Microsoft said. The Block Builder SDK contains source code for a number of blocks and can be used to create custom ones, according to Microsoft.

There are key limitations present in the alpha release. For one thing, Microsoft is not allowing users to make custom blocks that tap into password-protected data sources.

Also, Popfly cannot be used for apps that involve any server-side processing; and it currently does not support Silverlight 1.1 code. That version of the plug-in includes a version of the Common Language Runtime and a dynamic languages layer, making it a much more powerful development vehicle than the 1.0 version. The company says it is now "investigating" possible support for 1.1 in Popfly.

Popfly arrives some months after other mashup-style Web development environments, notably Yahoo Pipes. A FAQ section on the Popfly Web site includes this exchange, apparently in preemptive response to any charges Microsoft is playing catchup:

Q: Aren't you just copying Yahoo, Google, or [insert startup name here]?

A: If anything, we're going back to our roots in 1975 when Microsoft originally launched BASIC for the Altair 8080. Tools like BASIC and Visual Basic 1.0 democratized development by enabling users to easily build applications on DOS and Windows.

Microsoft also said Popfly is not the project often referred to as "Visual Studio Live." It said Popfly can be used to wrap Live services, and is built on top of "the same foundation as other Live Services like Windows Live Spaces."

More information about Popfly is available at www.popfly.com.

About the Author

Chris Kanaracus is the news editor for Redmond Developer News.

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