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Microsoft Silverlight: New Competition For Flash

The company may not want to market Silverlight as a Flash killer, but it does hope that developers will pick up the new technology to create rich Internet applications.

In April, 2007, when Microsoft announced Silverlight, the press and bloggers immediately tagged it an "Adobe Flash killer." But as Silverlight 1.0 moves toward commercial release, that's not the image the company wants for the newest member programming tools family.

At least that's the message from Jesse Liberty, whose title is, according to his business card, Silverlight Geek, "I see Silverlight in terms of .NET," he said. "Silverlight, in a nutshell, is a cross-platform, cross-browser, rich Internet application development tool."



The Tafiti search interface includes a view that displays the hits in a literal tree structure -- you can rotate the tree and change the number of hits displayed.

(Click image to enlarge.)

From the user's perspective, Silverlight does work remarkably like Flash. You download and install a browser plug-in application (it's available for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, with others to come), and then you open a Web page that includes a Silverlight application -- for example, the experimental search interface called Tafiti. A poster child for Silverlight 1.0, Tafiti presents a graphically rich workspace that builds query hits into a literal tree on the screen, or lets you spin an animated lazy susan of data types to choose the kind of query hits you want to review.

(Silverlight was released on Wednesday. See our news story Microsoft Releases Silverlight; Linux Version Coming)

Two Silverlights At Once
Silverlight is the final name for technology originally code-named Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E), which grew out of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), the extremely graphical user interface subsystem in Windows Vista. (The Aero Glass UI and Flip 3D windows menu are two of the most talked-about WPF effects in Vista.)

The WPF is one of several "foundations" of Microsoft's .NET environment, which is to Windows Vista what the Win32 APIs were to previous versions of Windows. There's also the Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Windows Workflow Foundation (WF -- "WWF" was already taken), and Windows CardSpace identity management.

One of the features of .NET designed to make the Vista interface more programmable is the eXtensible Application Markup Language (XAML -- the "A" originally stood for Avalon). XAML is, as you might expect, a dialect of XML used to describe events and objects in the interface of the application being written.

Silverlight is all about making the graphical interactivity of the WPF interface work in a Web browser and across operating systems. The plug-in is a big part of that, because it will eventually include the Common Language Runtime component of .NET. XAML is another big part, because Silverlight shares a subset of XAML with the WPF.

Microsoft has announced two versions of Silverlight. According to Liberty, these are not two products, but one product at two stages of development:

  • Silverlight 1.0 is now a Beta Release Candidate, which means it's getting close to being a shipping product. It represents a first step into developing in XAML -- interface controls are described in a XAML file, but event handlers are coded in JavaScript. The Tafiti site was built with Silverlight 1.0 and some Ajax, according to Liberty.

  • Silverlight 1.1 is now in alpha. It includes support for a subset of .NET's Common Language Runtime, which means that developers can code in an interpreted language as well as C# 3.0 and Visual Basic 9. The big advantage, said Liberty, is that it supports managed code, and the Visual Designer for WPF.

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