The Answer

Microsoft SilverLight to Challenge Adobe Flash and More
by: Jerry Liao

The battle on who will lead the desktop and the web space is starting to heat up. Google is doing its best to convince users to shy away from the purchase-install procedure in using applications by coming up with Web 2.0 applications. In Google’s world, your application resides on the web, so that it will be available from anywhere, anytime. The target of this Google campaign is of course Microsoft, a company that has been lording it over on the desktop for years now.

Microsoft has its hands full. Aside from trying to fight the challenges posted by Google, there is another company that Microsoft has to contend with – Adobe. The Macromedia acquisition of Adobe says it all – Adobe is seriously challenging Microsoft’s dominance both in the desktop and the web space. The battle is eminent and it can be seen already in the
naming conventions of their products. On the desktop, it’s Adobe Media Player challenging the dominance of Windows Media Player. On the web, it’s Microsoft’s new Silverlight technology challenging the almost ubiquitous Adobe Flash.

Yes, Microsoft is not taking these challenges lightly. And their latest answer to the challenge is Silverlight formerly known as (code name “WPF/E”) – a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web. Silverlight offers a flexible programming model that supports AJAX, VB, C#, Python, and Ruby, and integrates with existing Web applications. Silverlight supports fast, cost-effective delivery of high-quality video to all major browsers running on the Mac OS or Windows.

Some of its key features are as follows:

1. It supports playback of WMV files on both PC and Macintosh, with many options for interactivity during playback; with just a couple of lines of code, you can provide a platform-neutral way to handle all your movie files. Silverlight supports full-screen 720p video and offers seamless transitions between full-screen and windowed mode without losing your position in the video.

2. By separating markup (XAML) from code, Silverlight provides a familiar web metaphor for designers and developers. You can embed XAML directly within an HTML file if you want a simple, monolithic solution, or you can keep the two separate to enforce a delineation between different web development roles.

3. Silverlight and HTML integrate seamlessly together. Every XAML element can be accessed or manipulated from the same client-side JavaScript that would be used to interact with any DHTML element: there are no artificial boundaries or barriers, and you can even overlay HTML elements on top of Silverlight content.It is also very easy for an ASP.NET AJAX developer to add Silverlight content.

4. You have full runtime interactivity with Silverlight content. The contents of the XAML file can be completely server-generated, to contain information populated from a database. From JavaScript, it’s just a matter of calling the createFromXaml method to add or remove elements dynamically at runtime.

5. Silverlight is just a 1MB download on a PC (slightly more on a Macintosh because the universal package contains both Intel and PowerPC versions); it supports Windows XP and above, with Windows 2000 support to come.

6. Silverlight is blindingly fast – for example, you can play many videos simultaneously without stuttering or dropping frames (subject to network bandwidth, of course). We’re introducing a new video brush in Silverlight that allows you to use video as a texture for any 2D object (a rectangle, an ellipse or a path). This is going to allow designers incredible power to use media in new ways that have never been accessible through other existing technologies.

7. Silverlight is both client- and server-agnostic. There’s no difference between the Macintosh and PC runtimes; you don’t need any Microsoft software on the server if you don’t want to – you can deliver a great Silverlight experience from an Apache / Linux server to a Mac OS 10.4 client.

8. Silverlight is almost 100% upward compatible with WPF. Animation, 2D vector graphics, media, text – they’re all present in Silverlight and the concepts you’ve learnt in WPF carry forward (although Silverlight is a subset – it doesn’t support WPF
features such as 3D, data binding or templates). You can use the same tools (e.g. Expression Design) to generate content for Silverlight; you can take XAML from Silverlight and use it in a WPF application when you want to scale up and take full advantage of your local machine.

It is going to be an interesting clash between two dominant players each trying to pry their way into each other’s respective territory, and you can expect TechNews to deliver every update on this. To learn more about Silverlight, visit http://www.microsoft.com/silverlight/default01.aspx

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